Monday, January 10, 2011

How to Write a Thank You Note

I'm not such a pessimist as to suggest that the art of hand-written gratitude is dead; most certainly, it is not. Just a few days ago I received in my mailbox a most perfect note from a five-year-old.

The entire concept seems simple enough, yes? Have we not all been taught to "Say Thank You"? As one half of the Please And Thank You formula, it's something we've heard over and over. Even so, and as pleased as I am to receive thank-you notes when I do, I admit (snob that I can be) to feeling a little disheartened when said note reads as follows:

Dear Jenny,

Thank you for the gift. It is great, thank you. Thank you so much.

Thanks again,


Maybe we simply need to learn how to do this. I mean, thanks for your time, AND we can do better. Let's do better.

First, use nice stationery (with an e), or a nice card. It doesn't have to be pricey; you can get a boxed set of cards at Target for just a few dollars. You could make your own by recycling other greeting cards or Getting Your Craft On. What you use should reflect you through the style and design. You could even use paper from your notebook, just make sure to carefully remove the stray pieces of paper from the wire binding.

A sampling of my own collection of cards.
I have many because I use them.
Note: Your manufactured card is
not required to have the words Thank You
(in any language)
printed on it in order to use it for this purpose.

For you 20-Somethings-And-Younger whose style it might be to have your photograph on every single thing to which you sign your name: If you order your Thank Yous from the Costco Photo Lab (or similar), that's fine, but if you have your entire thank you message pre-printed on the card, in addition to your 'signed' name, without any sort of hand-written personal message? Minus fifty points.

As I see it, there are (at least) three elements to a Great Thank You:
1) gratitude
2) personalization/appreciation
3) sincerity

Most simply: saying thank you. However, it doesn't have to be repeated three times, particularly when those four times are the only component of your letter.

I've put these two ideas together for a reason. Primarily, personalization is nice because it is the element which shows that the author knows exactly to whom they're writing.

"It was lovely to see you at my reception."
"I know you had so much to do that day, I'm glad you took the time to attend my luncheon."

Secondarily, appreciation can be applied, or in some cases, substituted for the personalization.

For the thank-you note to the couple who you don't really know -- the husband works with your dad, and that's how they ended up at your wedding reception:
"The crock pot you gave to us will certainly come in handy for our Sunday meals."

In either case (personalization and/or appreciation), sincerity need not be counterfeited, which brings me to . . .

This is found in the tone, and also in the closing, or complimentary closing, or the what-you-write-before-you-sign-your-name. You know, the, "Sincerely" (obvs), "Yours truly" (the second and following word/s are not capitalized), "Love," etc..

Also, say what you mean and mean what you say. If your intention is to return your gift for cash, don't say that, but be an adult and think of something kind. In the same vein, don't lie: If you didn't see them at your reception, don't say it was nice to have them there; it is possible that their gift was sent to be delivered by another person.


It isn't difficult, and it shouldn't be overwhelming. Plus, it takes mere minutes to accomplish. Even if you have many to write, just take the time, one by one, and get it done. It's worth it.


dalene said...


c jane said...

Dear ~J,

Thank you for this post. It was lovely to read your guidelines about this subject. Writing thank you cards is a resolution of mine.

I do not intend to trade this in for cash. It was too valuable.

Yours Truly,

p.s. How did I do?

{natalie} said...

Dear Jenny, I love this post. Just yesterday my kids and I were working on our Christmas thank you notes. Also, I sent a birthday card with cash or a gift to all my nieces and nephews last year and kept track. I received one written Thank you note. It was disappointing. I am teaching my kids they still have to write it out.

Ps is that you - the first commenter on my blog?

Mrs. Organic said...

I am in thank you debt, currently, and have let my supplies run low. I hate it when I do that.

Waldo said...

I will tell you that nowhere is the lack of style or ability to write a coherent thank-you note more evident than in the Army. As officers, we have to do a ton of "formal" receptions, etc and so we end up writing thank-you notes All. The. Time. And the ones that I have seen are all generic and lame (not ours- La Yen has class). This is such a big issue that every year, in the annual publication of the Army Officer's Guide, there is an ENTIRE CHAPTER devoted to protocol and correspondence. It's no wonder that Jooj sent you such a well-thought-out note :) (see above ref: class).

mel said...

I'm a big fan of the hand written thank you note. I'm glad you posted about how simple & easy it is to write a quick thank you note.

~j. said...

dalene - thank you!

ceej - Ver-nice. (The t in truly doesn't need to be capitalized.)

{nat} - Good for you, teaching your Littles to write it out. And, sadly for me, no -- I wasn't fast enough to win that prize.

Mrs. O - What a great reason to head to the store! That is, when you're feeling up to an outing.

~j. said...

Waldo - She had me well before Rovot Dog. I wonder: who wrote Army's Book on protocol and correspondence? La Yen should teach this at Army -- you're right, she's got this down.

mel - Thank you! Who doesn't like getting hand-written mail, right?

Living the Scream said...

I hate to admit it but I am horrible at writing thank you notes. I am definitely going to try to do better!

Vern said...

When I got married I made my husband write "his" side of the thank you notes. What I wouldn't give to have a few samples to share with you here.

Emily said...

Perfect and timely post. I think we need to start a serious movement encouraging people to hand write more and email less. What do you think? Shall we start a revolution?

hairyshoefairy said...

I completely agree. I also thought this article was a good one for guidelines. I like your guidelines, though. They're easier for me to remember. And really, who doesn't love getting a little card in the mail?

Naomi Miles said...

One of my pet peeves addressed... thank you!

Kalli Ko said...

Dear Jenny,

this was genius, just the other day I gave my in-laws a thank you for Christmas gifting and my MIL said "you had a good mother to teach you to write thank you notes", and she was right, I DO have a good mother!

bless you,


Kate said...


I totally agree with everything you wrote. I'll probably always agree with everything you write. I'm very agreeable. And you're smart.

But something I don't agree with is in your poll that the majority of people would rather be invisible than fly. What's up with that?

Seriously though, Amelia is still a wee bit too young to actually write or even draw anything (but she's got scribbling down). But I'm planning teaching her to write actual thank you notes as soon as she's able. I think it's important.

And I'm glad you agree.

plainjanedoe said...

My seasonal greeting cards have become seasonal thank you cards this year...

the emily said...

I always write thank you notes (I learned the hard way after not writing them after my wedding. for real. I still feel sick when I think about it, 9 years later), but sometimes I have a very hard time knowing what to say beyond thank you. For my best friend's thank you for the Christmas present she gave, I actually quoted the golden girls theme song (as a joke) because I seriously just wanted to say "thanks" but needed more in the card beyond that. I love good thank yous, but sometimes, they're just hard to write.

Steph said...

Is it awful that I have never written a thank you note? Nevermind... I know the answer. It is totally awful. I just never saw the purpose. I always thank the person several times in person or over the phone. And will take them a treat or a meal in return. Maybe it stems from laziness... or terrible handwriting... I really don't know.

Your in guilt...


criticalcrass said...

you'd be so proud of me! i sent out TWO thank you cards last week (finally) to the recipients of the gift card giveaway i had on picky (last month).

they were short and sweet and to the point. they were on HALLMARK cards because i care enough to send the very best, with a badass quote about there being no such thing as luck as said by obi wan kenobi. but most importantly, they followed your most excellent guidelines. :]

Jen said...

Can I add prompness to the list? I am currently putting off writing a large stack of thank you notes. I promise, I'll do them tomorrow.

Thank you for your suggestions. Which I will use. Thank you, thank you, thank you.



the Lola Letters said...

Dear j,

This is brilliant and MUCH needed! It is one of the main goals I am working on over at Housewife on Fire this week. Thank you for writing it out so beautifully, so that I don't have to! ha ha!

I've linked to this post from my site. {Hope you don't mind!}

Sincerely, and with DEEPEST regards,


~j. said...

Living the Scream - You can do it!

Vern - What I wouldn't give to read them.

Emily - Hand write more and email less for thank-yous, absolutely.

hairyshoefairy - Thanks, I'm glad the guidelines are easy to remember, I hope they simplify the process.

Naomi - You're welcome!

~j. said...

Kalli - Yes, respect to The Connie. Always.

Kate - Thanks for agreeing! And the invisibility/flight? I can't know. I'm still trying to choose. It seems you prefer flight...any specific reasons?

plainjanedoe - Seasonal thank you cards. Very nice.

the emily - I think if I received a note with the lyrics to the Golden Girls theme song I would be over the moon. That's awesome. Reminds me of Mark Payne.

~j. said...

Steph - Aw, you can do it! Don't feel guilty, don't worry about your handwriting. Just try it!

criticalcrass - Aw, how thoughtful to send a note to the gift card recipients. Hallmark's great, I've spent hours in those stores!

Jen - Promptness? Sure, but give yourself a break when you've just, you know, had a baby. (She is so beautiful -- a million congratulations to you & your boys!)

Lola - How lovely! Link any time! I'm enjoying your Housewife on Fire site, thanks for sharing your thoughts & talents.

Anne said...

Great post! I love getting sincere thank you notes, and I need to send more myself!

Giggles said...

It's so sad that this is so needed. And it is so important too. The little card means a lot. I've had several people not send me thank you cards after their weddings and for that and other reasons, I really don't talk to them much any more. Thank you cards aren't hard. But they are valuable.

Found you on MMB.

Emily said...

we all need a reminder aobut what is important...thank you for taking the time to explain WHY a good thank you note is important...and HOW to write a good thank you note. I needed a reminder and kick in the pants to get my notes from Christmas done. Thank you so very much.

Karen Tapahe said...


My grandma worked hard to teach me such things and I was afraid people had completely lost touch with this concept.