How to refer to all U.S. states, territories, and districts?
August 21, 2020 12:55 AM   Subscribe

How should I refer to all the United States' 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the territories of American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and US Virgin Islands collectively in an online menu?

I'm working on some web applications where people will choose one of these 56 areas from a pull-down menu. A lot of websites just say "Choose a State" in such cases, but I'm looking for a short way to refer to them all, shorter than "Choose a State, Territory, or District". Or any out-of-the-box solutions? My best idea to get around it is to split it into 2 different lines in the pull-down:

Line 1: Choose a State...
Line 2: ...or District or Territory

Or would that be especially jarring?
posted by mistersix to Writing & Language (17 answers total)
Choose a Location?
posted by AlexiaSky at 1:30 AM on August 21, 2020 [1 favorite]

"Where in the U.S. are you?"

Being someone with a non-standard location on many websites, I've found 2-part interfaces like you describe confusing because I'll read the first part ("Choose a State", in your example), think "wait, how does that work for my case?", worry about it, look through that dropdown and fail to find an option relevant to me, worry some more, and only then see the second part ("... or [option more relevant to you]") and then feel annoyed. Personally I actually like "Choose a State, Territory or District" because it's clear about what it includes.
posted by trig at 1:47 AM on August 21, 2020

Response by poster: There are sometimes other menus next to the state/district/territory menu with other location types, so I need to specify the location type. Like if I’m looking at a map of California, I may have a select list of counties in California, as well as a list to let the user go straight to another state/district/territory.
posted by mistersix at 1:50 AM on August 21, 2020

choose a state or jurisdiction
posted by oceano at 2:37 AM on August 21, 2020 [3 favorites]

Region. Put the Districts and Territories at the top, a line, then the
States in alphabetical order. The District/Territory people will see stuff at the top and know they're in the right place, the State people will be all too familiar with the big-list-o-states. Everybody knows they're picking the right thing.
posted by zengargoyle at 2:45 AM on August 21, 2020 [8 favorites]

U.S. Census Bureau uses the term geographies.
posted by oceano at 2:46 AM on August 21, 2020 [2 favorites]

Is this a list of (or with) postal abbreviations? If it is, how about "select your postal code" or something similar?
posted by zorseshoes at 4:44 AM on August 21, 2020 [2 favorites]

Postal code usually refers to ZIP codes, so that would be a very confusing way.

The answer is going to depend on context. It’ll change depending on whether you’re asking for an address as part of a form, or just a state picker. If the latter, you could do something like “where in the US are you?”, as suggested above. For address forms, the companies I’ve worked for have always just said “state” and included the territories in the list. I’m not sure if anyone from any of the territories (other than DC, which is normal to list as a state) ever actually used any of our forms, though, so I don’t know what the user experience is like. It doesn’t seem like a huge problem to me, though. If the other fields are Address, City, and ZIP code, it’s pretty easy to figure out that the State field is the subnational region, because what else could be?
posted by kevinbelt at 5:07 AM on August 21, 2020

I think "Choose a jurisdiction" is good, alone or combined with "Choose a state."

I wouldn't use "region." To me, that generally means larger areas, such as Midwest, New England, etc.
posted by NotLost at 5:54 AM on August 21, 2020 [1 favorite]

If you are limiting the options to the US, please state that somewhere. The number of times I find myself scrolling through these lists on a sign up page looking for the United Kingdom or should it be Great Britain or perhaps we are under England...
Some websites do have an "other" option for the rest of the world, but there is little consistency with this.
posted by Lanark at 6:25 AM on August 21, 2020

Best answer: Washington, DC resident here and I would recommend “US State/Territory” as the name of the drop-down. It’s fine that we aren’t technically either.
posted by capricorn at 6:50 AM on August 21, 2020 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Echoing Capricorn, as another DC resident: you must keep "State," as that's what we're used to. Anything else would just confuse everyone. If you want to add something else to the line, fine.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 7:00 AM on August 21, 2020 [2 favorites]

"Jurisdiction" feels like it could be confusing, because it's only tangentially related to what you want and I'd consider it to be under the umbrella of legal jargon that not everyone would know. "U.S. State, territory or region" feels like the right option here. I don't think that you have much to gain looking for something shorter than that. Seconding to use a single dropdown for all of them.

If all of these places have zip codes (I don't know if they do, so that's something to check) and if you need to collect a zip code anyway, then it might be useful to look into putting the zip-code field first and have it auto-fill the state/region. There are zipcode lookup databases and services that can make quick work of handling that.
posted by Aleyn at 10:25 AM on August 21, 2020 [1 favorite]

Choose a location?
posted by at 12:10 PM on August 21, 2020

Best answer: “State/Territory.” Don’t overthink it.
posted by thecaddy at 12:45 PM on August 21, 2020 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: To clarify - these projects don't involve the user picking where they are, so saying "you" or "your" won't help; they are browsing or searching information about a particular state, county, or city. If they're looking at a place like Georgia, they need to be able to either drill down to a specific county in Georgia or just jump to another place like California in one click/pull-down instead of taking 2 actions to first go up to the U.S. then back down to California. This is not the site, but similar to this:

Where you have both "States/Territories" (maybe that is the answer) and "County (or Equivalent)" in the upper right. Except that site doesn't appear to show you state/territory-wide info; on my sites, you get state/territory-wide info when selecting a new one, and can also get county-specific info.
posted by mistersix at 1:22 PM on August 21, 2020

Best answer: The word is administrative division but just using state/territory is fine.
posted by mikek at 2:59 PM on August 21, 2020

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