How to Write (and Not Write) a Thank You Note

Over the course of my 41 years, I’ve written what I estimate to be hundreds of thank-you notes. Throughout my school years, I probably sent only a smattering of thank-you cards until senior year. Then graduation gifts prompted a steady flow of handwritten thanks for months.

In college, I went on two summer mission trips and raised financial support to do so. I wrote thank-you notes to all my supporters. After college, I continued in ministry, continued with support raising, and thus continued with sending thanks via notes. I later got married, and, with a wedding, come many gifts–and many opportunities to write words of gratitude to the givers.

I believe experience has rendered me qualified to speak on the subject of writing thank-you notes. And I think everybody should have a working knowledge of how to write a nice one–and if you don’t write thank-you notes, I think you should. My father-in-law once asked me if I had majored in English (nope; biology) because one of his family members had told him I’d written a lovely thank-you card.

I can’t change a flat tire or drive a stick shift, but I can write a thank-you note, y’all. I share with you my expertise herein.

HOW TO WRITE A THANK-YOU NOTE:

1. Write it. Meaning, hand write it. Emailed thank-you messages are useful in some situations, but not for an extravagant gift and certainly not for a wedding or graduation gift. An emailed thank-you might be fine where, for example, your neighbor leaves you a basket of fresh tomatoes from his garden on your porch. Even then, a phone call might be better. (yes, an actual phone call–not a text.) But your grandmother sends you a care package for your birthday? That merits a written thank-you card sent to her. If you just KNOW you aren’t going to hand write a thank-you note, or if you are trying to establish a paper-less lifestyle, go ahead and send an email or Facebook message. It’s the thought that counts, and I just happen to think that a hand-written note usually conveys a little more consideration.

Recently interviewed for a job? A nicely worded thank-you note sent to the interviewer will make an impression–for this, I definitely recommend going the handwritten route.

2. Be specific. If you received that expensive Kitchen Aid stand mixer for Christmas from your Mama, state that in your thank-you note. Like this, perhaps:  “Dear Mama, Thank you so much for the Christmas gift! I am excited to get the Kitchen Aid mixer that I’ve had my eye on for so long.”

3. Tell how you will use or enjoy the gift. For example, “Dear Grandma, Thank you for the beautiful necklace! I have a green dress that will go perfectly with it.” Or, “Thanks for the book you sent me for my birthday. I look forward to reading it on our trip to the beach next month.”

4. Send it in a timely manner. I know there are rules of etiquette about having a year to send thanks for wedding gifts, but as far as other gifts go, I think a proper thank-you note should be mailed within a month of receiving the gift. And if you are given money or a check? Thank before you bank.

So there’s my input on what to do–and here’s some on what not to do.

HOW NOT TO WRITE A THANK-YOU NOTE:

1. Do not give a pre-thank-you note. Once I helped decorate for an event with a co-worker. She and I were assigned the job of creating “ambience” for a rather fancy shin-dig. We had a budget and a plan and a shopping trip to get supplies. When we arrived at the venue, my teammate and I began unloading so that we could set up. As we walked in the door, the organizer of the event met us at the entrance and handed us each a card. She’d written a thank-you note for our work on decorating this event before it had even taken place. She complimented the loveliness of our efforts before she’d seen any of it–before there was anything to see. Although I knew her heart was in the right place, it made the thank-you note feel nothing but perfunctory–just a duty she had to dispense with, to get it over with. She got the job done, but I didn’t exactly feel appreciated.

2. Do not make it generic. My husband and I attended a wedding of some friends when we were newlyweds and received a thank-you note for the present we gave to the new couple. The note looked like this, “Thank you for celebrating with us and for giving us a gift.” No greeting with our names, no mention of the gift that we gave, nothing specific whatsoever. I got the impression that these cards were written before the wedding and then stuffed into envelopes with the addressee’s information written (only) on the envelope (not the card itself). Again, I suppose it sort of, kind of got the job done. But I can’t say my hubs and I felt thanked.

So, there you go! Some tips to help you in your thank-you writing. And one word about stationery…I keep a box of note cards (sometimes blank, so that I can add whatever message I’d like to the inside; other times, I have thank-you notes with “thanks” already printed inside) so that I’m prepared for sending notes of gratitude. Sometimes I can even pick up packs of (unused) thank-you notes at Goodwill. I also occasionally use those $10 off coupons from Kohl’s that periodically arrive in our mail to buy packs of thank-you notes. But don’t let a lack of formal or pretty stationery hinder your plans…An index card with a handwritten message of gratitude stuck in a plain, white envelope will stand out as a thing of beauty in a mailbox otherwise full of junk mail and bills to pay.

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4 thoughts on “How to Write (and Not Write) a Thank You Note

  1. Great post! I love “Thank before you bank.” And your examples of what not to do were fun to read 🙂

    I have two thank you notes past due right now (both for kids’ gifts, which I’ll have Eve dictate to me), and I have to say this has inspired me to get it done tomorrow when she is awake. Dollar Tree always has 10-packs of very nice small, blank cards with pretty artwork that I pick up occasionally to have on hand.

    And oh, my mom never would allow us to use cards with a printed “Thank You” on the front, no matter how elegant the script!

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    1. Lauren, the Dollar Tree IS a great resource. True confession: My frugality often trumps my creativity, so I use those free greeting cards that my parents receive for being supporters of various charities (diabetes foundation, for example). When Mama told me at our last visit she might throw them away, I quickly grabbed the stack and brought them home. So they are useful even if not so original since many have the pre-printed text. And I think it’s a great idea to have the thank-you for children’s gifts written in their own words–with my 9-year-old, I will have him dictate to me, I write his words in print on a piece of paper, then he copies in his own hand onto the note or card. That way, he can concentrate on nice handwriting without having to worry about spelling. But with the little ones, dictated thank-you’s are perfect. Great way to foster gratitude in their hearts, I think.

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  2. When my children were younger, I made personalized thank you notes. I used letter magnets to put “thank you” on the refrigerator and took a picture of them in front. Them I simple wrote the thank you on the back. I think it cost me ten cents each to print a stack of them at Walgreens.

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    1. Ali, I like the creativity you put into this. The “personal touch” means a lot, especially to grandparents. Sometimes I will ask my boys to draw a picture for the person we want to thank and then will help them get the “thank you” message onto the picture. Those personalized pieces are the ones most people treasure most, right. 🙂

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