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I am applying for a postdoc position, and one of the required documents is a covering letter. Internet has models and templates and guides for such letters in rich supply. One thing, however, strikes me as strange: they normally contain the address. At first glance, maybe it is to be expected that a letter should have an address - but in this situation, I am uploading the file directly into an electronic application system, so it is utterly obvious what the document is, and who it should reach. I suppose almost all applications work in a similar way these days.

Firstly, I am curious if the address still serves any useful function. Or is it just a decorative element / historical artefact / etc.?

Secondly, should I actually include the address in an electronically submitted cover letter?

To clarify: I am asking about the address of the recipient of the application, not my own address. (While it is the case that I give my contact details in a separate form, I see how it could be convenient to duplicate this data.)

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    So I suppose you don't want them to send you anything (like an official job offer)? – Jon Custer Jun 21 '16 at 18:18
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    "it is utterly obvious what the document is, and who it should reach" - unfortunately, it is not so utterly obvious these days that a random applicant is able to properly format a tidy-looking letter with a recipient's and a sender's address on it, even though it is likely a skill that will be required sooner or later in the job. – O. R. Mapper Jun 21 '16 at 18:34
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    Your question made me curious, and so I reviewed some job applications for a position we filled last year: in mathematics it is very common to not include the recipient's address, and somewhat common to not include your own address either. (Listing both in the old-fashioned style is also quite common.) Personally I think the letter looks better if you include your own address, but that it is totally fine to omit the sender's address. But please be cautioned that this is only my opinion, and people who have the power to hire you might disagree with me. – Anonymous Jun 21 '16 at 18:44
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    Your cover letter should demonstrate that you know how to write a professional formal letter. Similarly, you should dress formally for an interview. Yes, a tie serves no functional purpose, but it demonstrates your ability to follow professional norms and customs. The postal address is the letter’s tie. – Thomas Jan 18 '18 at 19:05
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While your submission may indeed be electronic, you should be aware that your packet may not be reviewed fully electronically. It is not at all uncommon to verify a packet is received and complete electronically, but then various workers at the institution may be responsible for printing out each element individually - often on a shared printer in a busy office, collating all the items together into actual filers/stacks/folders - at times in multiple copies - and then physically delivering the items to the intended recipient.

This may all be done by a particular office, such as HR, and regular employees - even department chairs - may not even have access to the online system (this varies by institution). Or they may have access, but a secretary or office manager handles it all for them anyway. Your physical printed documents may journey all the way across town from a business office to your intended recipient, by courier or other such means. It could be mislaid in any of dozens of ways, including by your recipient themselves (have you seen the stacks of papers some people accumulate?).

If the institution you are applying to doesn't do things this way, well then of course the address may indeed serve no useful purpose at all. But do you know how exactly they interact with and use the system, and how all other people who review your application use it?

This is ultimately a large part of why some old fashion methods, like addressing documents that we expect to be digitally delivered to the intended recipient, remain in use today - because the paperless office is still not a universal, especially in academia, and especially for anything hiring or committee related. If it doesn't cost one anything significant to ensure their materials will fair well regardless of the complexity or nature of the intended institution, it remains reasonable to go ahead and slap that unnecessary address on it - because if it isn't used, no one is likely to care.

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    Yes, for a search that I was tangentially involved in, the admins printed out the files and rescanned them as PDFs in order to collate them. :p – RoboKaren Jun 22 '16 at 9:02
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You can of course omit the recipients postal address, but you need to properly identify him (incl. his institute, faculty, university). Otherwise a number of people will simply discard your letter.

Definitely put your own full postal address. Email addresses, even if signed and certified etc., do not feel very trustworthy.

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The reason for placing your address on the cover letter is so that the recipient can contact you, and/or email you required documents. Since you are applying for this position, don't you want to make it easier for the recipient/committee to contact you?

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