If you have ever spent hours trying to look up a name that you KNOW is on your mailing list, 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.
Also, visit thedatabank's address verification article for more information. Address verification keeps your data standardized and conforms to postal code preferences.
Main Member Information
Example: You’ve just returned to the office after busy day at the state fair. Your organization had a table where you collected contact information from fair-goers who want to be added to your mailing list. You log in to the Databank, 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
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. Following are some suggested formats for the main fields in the Databank. Common abbreviations appear in a later section.
- 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 contact histories, giving records, or activist records separately. There is a Householding function that will eliminate duplicate mailings to the same address. Example: Mr. / Stuart / Roth
- Salutations: This field can be used in mail merges, to store a nickname or preferred name. Use “Salutation 1” for an informal address, “Salutation 2” for a formal address. Example: Mary Ann and Stu Roth or Mr. Stuart Roth and Mrs. Mary Ann Carson-Roth
- Company: Spell out the organization name. Avoid abbreviations. You may wish to have a distinct field (not this one) to indicate a person’s employer, if your organization does not have a relationship with that employer. You can also keep a general record for the organization, and leave the name fields blank.
Choose a format and stick with it. Frequently organizations will use the US Postal Service addressing standards (see Common Abbreviations section below). That enables you to more easily get bulk mail rates and verify addresses. When you are using the Databank’s automatic Label function, the fields will appear in this order:
First Name, Last Name
Company (skipped if the field is blank)
Address line 2
City, State, ZIP
- 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 S Ste 303
- 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
- Country can be left blank unless it is not the United States.
- Home Phone / Work Phone / Fax / Pager / Mobile: Use all ten digits. If there is an extension, use a consistent format to enter that information. One common way to do this is to use the abbreviation “ext,” with no comma. (E.g. 6124552255 ext 3) When doing data entry, there is no need to type in the hyphens. The Databank will automatically add these for you. Example: 6515551234
- Email: Use all lower case. You can enter more than one email address in this field; separate them with commas. Keep each member of the household in a future record. Example: email@example.com,firstname.lastname@example.org
Make a Key
There are many places in your databank where you might use codes and list abbreviations. Unless you are lucky enough to own a secret decoder ring, it is important that you make a key. This will help you to be consistent in use of the codes, and it will allow future generations of users to translate them.
Flag fields, found in the main member table, can be used to mark members of a certain group or mailing list. You can name a flag field for a specific purpose; for example, name it Newsletter and then use the code to indicate which version of the newsletter this member should receive. Flags are limited to two characters, so you’ll need to create a key (see above).
It is recommended that you develop naming conventions for campaigns and segments. Creating and storing Campaigns in an orderly manner will make finding Campaigns and producing reports much easier. It may be useful to structure your numbering system like the library’s Dewey decimal system. You can customize a numbering system to meet your organization’s needs. Just be sure everybody is using the same system.
Sample Campaign Numbering System:
1000 – Prospecting
1100 – Direct Mail
1110 – New Year Mail to Union Members
1120 – Puppy Letter to ABC Members
1200 – E-Mail Marketing
2000 – Membership Renewals
3000 – Special Contribution Appeals
4000 – Events
4100 – Annual Banquets
4110 – Banquet 1999
4111 – Dinner Ticket Sales
4112 – Raffle Sales
4113 – Ad Book Sales
4200 – Annual Bowl-a-Thon
5000 – Advertisement Space Sales
5100 – Newsletter Ads
5110 – Jan 99 Newsletter
5120 – Mar 99 Newsletter
5130 – Jun 99 Newsletter
6000 – Merchandise Sales
6100 – T-Shirts
6110 – Sales at Earth Day Rally table
6120 – Sales from Website
6200 – Bumper Stickers
6300 – Books
7000 -- Miscellaneous Income
Here are some common titles you may come across:
- Dr. = Doctor
- Mrs. = Married Woman
- Ms. = Single or Married Woman – in place of Mrs. or Miss
- Mr. = Mister
- Prof. = Professor
- Hon. = Judge, Commissioner
- Rep. = Representative
- Sen. = Senator
Addresses: The US Postal Service publishes a set of standard abbreviations. Below are some of the most common ones. A complete list can be found on their website.
- Ave = Avenue
- Apt = Apartment
- Blvd = Boulevard
- Rm = Room
- Cir = Circle
- Ste = Suite
- Ct = Court
- N = North
- Dr = Drive
- E = East
- S = South
- Hwy = Highway
- W = West
- Jct = Junction
- Apt = Apartment
- Ln = Lane
- Rm = Room
- Pkwy = Parkway
- Pl = Place
- Plz = Plaza
- Rd = Road
- Sq = Square
Thanks to the following for supplying background information and sample data entry guides which were used in developing this tip sheet:
Action 4 Kids
Action4Kids Style Guide
Guidelines and Issues for working with Address Data
United States Postal Service
Domestic Mail Manual
For more information, visit these data standardization resources:
University of Memphis
The Master Genealogist
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