If you have ever spent hours trying to look up a name that you KNOW is on your mailing list, but can’t seem to find, then you understand the importance of accurate and consistent data entry. By standardizing the way information is entered, you increase the usefulness of your database including:
- More accurate query results
- Better success rates for mailing
- Less guess work for data entry staff or volunteers
When considering how to standardize your database, you will have many decisions to make. Should you use all caps, or normal capitalization? Should you store street addresses and apartment or suite numbers in separate fields?
There is no right or wrong answer to many of these questions. It depends on your priorities and how you intend to use the data. Put some thought into it, choose one way to enter data, and enter it that same way every single time.
This is so important I’ll say it again: be consistent.
In the sections that follow, you will find some suggestions for standardizing your data entry. You may wish to use this as a worksheet for developing your own set of data entry guidelines with your team.
Example: You’ve just returned to the office after busy day at a public fundraising event. Your organization had a table where you collected contact information from attendees who want to be added to your mailing list. You log in to your database software back at the office, and prepare to enter the information for this married couple:
Mary Ann T Carson-Roth and Stuart Roth
123 West Main Street, Apartment Six
St. Paul, Minn. 55101
How do you enter this information?
When deciding how to format names, think about how the names are used. Will you use your database for a mail merge? If so, will you use both a formal and informal greetings? How will the way you enter names affect queries? It is generally recommended that you use standard capitalization, although the Post Office convention is to use all caps.
- Title: Use the common abbreviation, capitalize the first letter, and end with a period. Example: Mrs.
- First Name (First) / Middle (MI) / Last Name (Last): Use standard capitalization. If the record is for a couple, use these fields for the name of the primary person. You may use a full middle name, or middle initial. If using an initial, do not use a period after the middle initial. For un-hyphenated last names with two parts, use the “MI” field for the first part of the name. For hyphenated last names, put the entire last name in the “Last” field. If a middle initial or other information is unknown, leave the field blank. Example: Mary Ann / T / Carson-Roth
- Title2 / First2 / MI2 / Last2: This second set is generally used for a spouse. You will want individual records for each partner if you need to track their information separately. Example: Mr. / Stuart / Roth
- Salutations: This field can be used in mail merges, to store a nickname or preferred name. Example: Mary Ann and Stu Roth or Mr. Stuart Roth and Mrs. Mary Ann Carson-Roth
- Company: Spell out the organization name. Avoid abbreviations.
Choose a format and stick with it. Frequently organizations will use the US Postal Service addressing standards. That enables you to more easily get bulk mail rates and verify addresses.
- Address: Use this field for apartment, suite or floor numbers. You can also use this field for building names or “care of” instructions. Example: Apt 6; City Hall; C/O Nancy Goodman
- Address line 2: Use this field for street addresses or post office box addresses. For numbered streets, use the number (e.g. 3rd Ave). Avoid abbreviations in proper names (e.g. Saint, not St.) You can also include the apartment or suite number in this field. Example: 123 W Main St; 800 Washington Ave N Ste 500
- City: Spell out the city name. Example: Saint Paul
- State (St): Use standard two-letter abbreviation with no periods. Example: MN
- ZIP Code (Zip): Use nine-digit code with hyphen when available. Example: 55101
Databank Clients can also check out thedatabank’s address verification support article for more information. Address verification keeps your data standardized and conforms to postal code preferences.
Guest post by Beth Palm, former Databank Client Support Specialist.