How to Write a Personal Thank You Note
Writing thank you notes can be learned
Writing thank you notes have become an obsolete practice. To the most recent two generations, thank you notes went out with the stone age. The best we can hope for from the majority of young people is a "thx" in a text or in a tweet. But for those who are interested in starting this archaic, but most needful activity, this hub is for you.
Because of the effect of this digital age on our culture, where the diminutive composition has become the norm, many don't really know what a thank you note looks like. Here you will find some tips, advice, and samples to school you on how to express gratitude in the written word. The focus will on writing personal thank you notes - for gifts, hospitality, kindnesses, etc.
When in doubt, for adults, ink is best. For young children, it may be safest to use a pencil if they are still learning to write. Ink just looks nicer. If you want to be creative and artistic when writing a personal thank you note, different colors of ink are a nice touch, especially if you hand make your card.
Handwritten notes are best because they are more personal and reflect time and thought. However, typewritten is acceptable as well. Not everyone has legible handwriting or printing. Some are hindered by disabilities or other challenges that would hinder the process of writing a note by hand. If you are going to type your note you will not likely be able to type on a card. However, you can type a message and slip it into a note card.
Although the message in a thank you note is the most important part of it, the medium one chooses can go along way in enhancing that message, e.g. a colorful or elegant sheet of stationery, card.
The GenX-er's and Millenial's don't generally know what stationery is, so for that purpose, I offer a definition and image.
Stationery, in the broader definition, is writing materials, such as paper, pens, pencils, ink, and envelopes. In the context of this hub, stationery is paper of certain size with accompanying envelopes. Often times stationery is colored, monogrammed (the writer's initials), or with images on them. They come in varying sizes but are most often smaller than a standard sheet of notebook or computer paper. They are also known as note paper or letterhead.
Many choose to say thank you with a card. If you want to convey that you're not interested in putting any time or thought into the note, then buy a card with a thank you sentiment already in it, sign it without any personal note, and send it. This is not to say buying a card with a beautiful sentiment of thanks is wrong, but it is best, if you write a something in it to personalize it, especially if the sentiment already imprinted on the card is one sentence or a few words, such as THANK YOU FOR YOUR THOUGHTFULNESS.
The best choice of cards would be a card that is blank inside. This allows you to write what you would like to say, not what Hallmark thinks you should say. These kinds of cards can come in a package (usually 10-12 note cards) with the words THANKS or THANK YOU on the cover and blank inside to write your own message. They are very small cards, decorative, and come with envelopes. I always have a stash of these cards in my desk and I use them often.
If you want to send a very special thank you, buying a blank card off the shelf with a beautiful or humorous image is a good way to go. The image could be of something the recipient likes, such as animals, hearts, flowers, angels etc. These are usually larger than the packaged cards. I recently bought three cards from a friend who is a photographer and makes them into cards.
If you are the creative, artsy type, hand making cards are the best of all. What can be more personal and meaningful than to receive an artistic, handmade card. I received a handmade card from a friend I stayed with, thanking me for being her guest (never received one of those before). In the meantime, my thank you card was en route to her mailbox. It was such a treat to receive her handmade card as I knew she put a lot of time and consideration into it.
If you have the resources, cards are a good choice for a thank you note. The colors and images make it a brighter thank you to the recipient.
Date your note
Why bother with putting a date on your note? The reason is that the recipient will remember the occasion when he looks at it in the future. I keep what I call a "warm fuzzy file." It consists of notes of thanks, birthday cards, drawings and photos with sentimental value. They are encouraging and heartwarming. I am always disappointed when there is no date to remind me of the occasion if it's not coming to me.
Dating for personal than you notes can be written in any form you choose.
Now it is time to get started with the message. The greeting need not be fancy. Most people will begin their note with "Dear Rebecca." That is standard and appropriate in every situation. If you are addressing it to an intimate friend or family member, a more casual, or expressive greeting can be used, like using a nickname or term of endearment, but keep it appropriate to the person and situation and don't be too flippant or silly as it detracts from the serious heart of the message, which is your gratitude.
Start with the thank you
The opening is the most important part of the message. You want to get right to the point, which is to express your gratitude and recognize their thoughtfulness, kindness, and/or generosity. Let's say Aunt Wilma sent you a handmade quilt for Christmas:
Dear Aunt Wilma,
I am so thrilled with the quilt you sent and I so appreciate your taking all the time and care that went into making it. I feel so honored.
There are many variations that you could use, but you want to make it more interesting and meaningful than "Thank you for the quilt." If you are not the creative type, it will be fine, but if at all possible, try to make it a little more enthusiastic. Here are some more examples:
1. Dear Aunt Wilma,
Thank you so much for the amazing quilt. What a treat. I am so thrilled.
2. Dear Aunt Wilma,
How can I say adequately thank you for the beautiful handmade quilt? I am so deeply touched for the time, labor and love that went into making it. What a privilege to receive one of your famous works of art.
To receive a handmade quilt is a really big deal. Even if you don't like it, you can at least appreciate the love, time, and labor that went into it; so Aunt Wilma needs a very enthusiastic thanks. A simple "Thank you for the quilt. It was very nice of you," sounds rather ho-hum and generic.
In these three examples, the writer is showing deep pleasure and gratitude. She is using words that reveal the extent of her emotions - "thrilled," "deeply touched," "honored," "privileged."
It is not going too far by expressing your being honored. Quilts are expensive and time-consuming to make. It can be a painstaking process. Aunt Wilma does not pound out a quilt a week, and she seldom gives them away because of the cost, time, and labor. So this writer is most appropriately honored to have received one.
Now if Aunt Wilma sent you a scarf from Walmart, you might not go quite that far, but you do want to make it meaningful:
Dear Aunt Wilma,
Thank you so much for the beautiful scarf. It was so thoughtful of you.
Dear Aunt Wilma,
Thanks for the nice scarf. It was nice of you.
Do you see the difference? The first one uses the words "so much," "beautiful scarf," and "thoughtful." Whereas the second one is nondescript and general. Stay away from generic, general words like "nice," "neat," or "cool."
Of course, there are other situations for which you write a thank you note. But the same guidelines apply. If you went to a dinner party or stayed the weekend with a friend, thank your hostess/host for her/his/their hospitality and recognize their kindness in having you.
Dear Carol and Don,
Thank you so much for your hospitality this weekend. Rick and I so enjoyed our stay there. It was so kind (generous, thoughtful, etc) to have us to your home for the weekend.
Why and how
After your initial thank you, you want to tell Aunt Wilma why you like the quilt or scarf and how you will use or how it will bless you:
Dear Aunt Wilma,
Thank you so much for the beautiful quilt. I am so thrilled and honored to receive an Aunt Wilma original quilt. It looks so lovely on the bed. Jack and I were pleasantly surprised to see the same shade of blue in the flowers as the paint in our bedroom. And it is so warm (the why's). I know it will bless us for many years. I will always see your love when I look at it. I am the envy of my friends (how it will bless).
If you are not a creatively expressive person (I tend to go a little over the top), just follow the format your own, simple way:
Dear Aunt Wilma,
I want to thank you so much for the quilt. It is just beautiful. It means so much that you took the time and care to make it just for me. It looks great on the bed and it is so warm (the why's). I am looking forward to many more years of the warmth and beauty it provides.
A little less flowery, but expressive nonetheless. You want to be true to who you are. If you are simple, you can keep it lovely in a simple way.
Again, you can use the why and how with most other thank you messages.
Dear Carol and Don,
Thank you so much for your hospitality this past weekend. Rick and I so enjoyed our stay there. It was so generous of you to open your home to us. We enjoyed the beach with you and Don and the meals you cooked were amazing. It was really wonderful to have a relaxing weekend, away from the hubbub of city life.
Brief and appropriate conversation
After extending your thanks and appreciation, why you like the gift, how you will use it and how it will bless you, it would now be time to converse very briefly, but keep it focused on Aunt Wilma. This is not the time to inform her about your car accident a month ago and plans to sue, nor does she need to hear about your upcoming gall bladder surgery. Rather, show interest in what Aunt Wilma has been up to and what she has planned or how you would like to see her again.
Dear Aunt Wilma,
[Thank you paragraph],
Jack and I really enjoyed seeing you at the family reunion in July. Kevin (the cousin, Aunt Wilma's son) says you are having your kitchen remodeled this winter. That is quite an undertaking but know you are a patient soul. We hope to make it up to see you in April when Mom and Dad celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary at the resort.
Since you spent the weekend with Carol and Don, it is likely you covered all the goings on in their lives and yours and what the immediate future looks like. Try to find something that will not seem redundant.
Dear Carol and Don,
[Thank you paragraph]
We know it has been difficult for you two. We are so glad that you are able to finally take that long-awaited vacation next month. You'll have to allow us to reciprocate your hospitality in February when you are up for the business conference. Until then, enjoy your time together and relax.
In these two examples, you are showing your interest in the lives of your friends and Aunt Wilma, how meaningful it would be to see them again or see them happy etc. Again, this is just a thank you note, not a letter.
Reiterate, wish well and close
To close, write a line reiterating your thanks, and/or wishing them well. I usually say "Thanks again," "take care," "see you soon," or something to that effect. Then add your ending with your signature. If you are writing on behalf of you and your spouse, since you are the writer, place your name first.
Thanks again Aunt Wilma. Do take care of yourself.
Cindy and Jack
If you are thanking someone you are not close to, "Sincerely," is all that is necessary. People used to say "Coridally," but it sounds too cold and disconnected. Be careful of being too familiar in such situations also.
Sometimes there are unfavorable circumstances which make thanking someone very difficult. Let's say Aunt Wilma is the family critic and shrew. Her personality can be abrasive and/or passive aggressive. Nothing you, your spouse and children, your parents, or other family members do is right and Aunt Wilma is the imagined victim of your careless, and ruthless insensitivity. Last Christmas she wouldn't talk to you because you didn't call her back when you were ill in the hospital and caused her undue stress by worrying. She told your mother and cousin Kate that you were an ungrateful, and unfeeling niece and your husband was insulting by explaining why you couldn't call her. Because you are on her hit list, she has sent you something with a passive aggressive message revealing that you are disdained. Because you are not the monster she accuses you of being, and you have integrity, you know and are willing to write a thank you note. But how to do so civilly and without lying? Keep it as simple and brief as you can, skip all the conversation and niceties, but find something positive in the mix:
Dear Aunt Wilma,
Thank you for the candy dish (which you gave her last year, she hated, is now chipped, and she is pretending to have forgotten it was you who gave it to her originally). Jack and I will put it to good use when the grandkids come over for the day.
We hear there is a heat wave in your area. We do hope you are managing to stay cool.
Thanks again and take care,
Cindy and Jack
If the situation is really bad, rather than the heat wave comments, it would be fine to just say, "hope all is well."
If you lie and say things you don't mean they will most likely see it for what it is, dub you a hypocrite, and may double their efforts at making your life miserable. It may be that Aunt Wilma will twist what you said in the note, and find ill-meaning that doesn't exist. But you have done your part and that is not your problem.
If the situation is yet worse, a card with a simple thank you printed will have to suffice if, no matter what you write, will incite their vindictive wrath.
A postscript or P.S. is simply an additional written message after your signature. Usually, post scripts are just a sentence or two. For Thank you notes, the shorter the better. They are not a necessary element of a thank you note; however, if you have an additional comment, by all means, add one. Here is one to Aunt Wilma:
P.S. Fluffy (Cindy and Jack's cat) finds the quilt ever so snugly too.
For Carol and Don:
P.S. We're really missing the hot tub.
Tuck in a photograph
Adding a little photo is a nice touch if you can fit it in the envelope. Cindy might tuck in a photo of Fluffy sleeping blissfully on the quilt, or just a photo of the quilt on the bed so Aunt Wilma can see how nicely it goes in the room. Or she could tuck in a little photo of Fluffy if it is something Aunt Wilma would enjoy.
Carol and Don might appreciate a little photo of the two couples together during their weekend.
Just an added delight to share.
Would you be willing to write a thank you note in a very negative, sticky situation?
Have fun with it
Your thank you note to Aunt Wilma (the nice one from the earlier part of this hub) was received with delight. Carol and Don found theirs meaningful as well. It really isn't too difficult to write a good thank you note. For those with a flair for words, use what God gave you, but don't make it overkill. For those with a more simplistic style, know you can create a quality, personal thank you note with no frills.
Writing thank you notes does not have to be boring, time-consuming, and tedious. Follow the general guidelines and have fun with it. Keep your recipients pleasure in the forefront of your mind. Your goals are simple - showing gratitude, appreciation, and interest with sincerity.
© 2013 Lori Colbo