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How and When To Write A Thank You Note Letter

Updated on January 21, 2011
"A young girl writing a letter" by Etienne Adolph Piot.
"A young girl writing a letter" by Etienne Adolph Piot.

Thanks you notes are a sadly dying art. Email, text messages and phone calls are killing the in-the-mail thank you note, and some people don't even know when they should write a proper thank you note! The best general rule of thumb is: When in doubt, write! You can never go wrong in writing a thank you letter. For more specific guidance, read on.

Yes, the most important thing is that you say thank you in some way when somebody gives you something, goes out of their way to assist you, makes time for you or otherwise shows you a kindness — even if you only do so with a call or email or text. Yet there is something special about an actual thank you note sent through the mail, and it is a custom at risk of being lost.

Sending a proper thank you note is classy. It sends a strong message to the recipient that you have set aside time for him or her, that whatever that person is being thanked for actually meant something to you, the recipient. And there also are plenty of times when it is absolutely okay simply to email or phone your thanks.

So how do you know when you should write and mail a thank you note, and when a more casual 'thanks' will suffice?

Situations where it is best to write a proper "snail mail" thank you note

WEDDINGS: Traditional weddings provide many, many opportunities to perfect the art of the thank you note. There's the wedding presents themselves, for which the bride and groom have a year to thank the giver. There also are showers and bachelor and bachelorette parties which may or may not include presents.

These presents are a way for the giver to celebrate your marriage and feel involved, so the least you can do is acknowledge their generosity and the spirit of the gift. A good thank you note in this instance should include a line or two about how you and your new spouse will use the gift. Often, the wife writes all of the thank you notes for wedding presents, but I believe it is a nice touch for the groom to write thank you notes for presents from his family and friends. A marriage is a partnership after all!

I also believe that wedding guests should write a thank you note to the hosts, usually the parents of the bride. Very few people actually write this kind of thank you note, but consider the significance such a thank you note can have! A child's wedding is one of the biggest life events a person can have. The hosts will love to hear that you had a good time, and will also value the memories you share of the special event — especially since it will provide a new perspective on the occasion.

JOB INTERVIEWS: A really good thank you note after a job interview can make you shine in the interviewer's eyes. More important, failure to write a thank you note can make you seem unprofessional and inconsiderate — two traits your prospective employer does not want. You want to stand out when pursuing a new job, but you sure don't want to stand out for having bad manners and for missing common courtesies.

When it comes to job interviews, it is okay to email a thank you note. Email is the medium of most business communications, after all. A classy and good rule of thumb, however, is to email a quick email immediately following the interview, and then to follow that up with a longer, more thoughtful letter. Try to get the thank you note in the mail the same day as the interview takes place.

CHRISTMAS and other gift-giving HOLIDAYS like Bar Mitzvahs, birthdays, Hannukah, confirmations, etc: Plenty of people don't bother writing thank you notes anymore, and that is too bad. Growing up, sitting down to write thank you notes was simply one more holiday tradition that we observed, and it was a nice one, at that, since it extended the Christmas season beyond Dec. 25. Sending a proper thank you note to the gift giver when the recipient is receiving lots of gifts from different people also helps to de-commercialize these events. Taking the time to show that a gift is truly appreciated makes holidays less about consuming and more about generosity and connection and relationships.

When someone THROWS A PARTY IN YOUR HONOR: If you have friends or family who host a 40th birthday party, a baby shower, a bridal shower or a fundraiser for a cause dear to your heart, a thank you note is an absolute must — and the barest minimum. In addition to the thank you note, proper etiquette is to give a present to the host at the time of the party as well as to write a thank you note after the event takes place.

HOUSEGUEST: If you have stayed in somebody's home for a weekend or visited their vacation house, you should bring a host or hostess gift, and you should also send a thank you note when you return home. Having houseguests is fun. It is also exhausting. Acknowledge that your visit was likely a joy and an inconvenience, and show your appreciation by taking the time to write a note.

OTHER times when a thank you note may not be required, but is surely a good and nice thing to do: Following a dinner party or other significant event to which you are invited; after a business event or luncheon; when somebody make a contribution to charity in your honor or at your request; any time you feel that you have been done a service or an honor. Thank you notes don't take long to write, but they go a long way to making people feel happy and valued.

Why you should encourage your children always to write thank you notes!

One rule of thumb for parents is to require your children to write and mail thank you notes for all Christmas and birthday presents. It is true that most kids these days do not write thank you notes to aunts and uncles, grandparents or godparents, but encouraging your children to go that extra distance while they are young will instill in them good manners and proper etiquette that will be invaluable later in life. A thank you note may not be expected, but if your child gets in the habit of sending thanks through the post, they will be more likely to send thanks later in life when it can be more important.

Easy tips to write better thank you notes

Be personal. Make the person to whom you are writing to feel like you have sat down to write them a letter, not that you are dashing off a thank you note to them at the same time you are writing dozens of other thank you notes. Do this by recalling something specific about the event where you saw this person, or some other personal anecdote.

Be specific. Go into detail about why you are thanking this person. Did they give you time or a present? Did they make you feel good or did they do something particularly thoughtful? Spell out why you are giving thanks. If it is for a present, specify how you will use it or why you wanted it. If it is for their time, spell out why you appreciate that.

Be brief. There is no need for a thank you note to be long. Often, you can be in and out in three or four sentences, so long as you are personal and specific. And by keeping a thank you note short, you are more likely to write them since it feels less like a dreaded chore and more like something easy that takes no time at all.

And if you were given an item you do not like or want, still be specific. Say, for example, you got a Christmas fruit cake and you absolutely hate fruit cake. You can still write a kind, honest and appreciative note without letting on that the gift was a dud by saying something to the effect of: "Thank you so much for the fruit cake. It is so seasonal and really captures the colorful spirit of the holiday." You don't say you liked the cake, and you don't lie.


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    • profile image

      Eileen Spencer 7 years ago

      I love this post. It takes such a short time to write a nice, personal note to someone who has taken such a lot of trouble to make you happy -work for a party, buying a gift, or any number of services people do for each other. I still have a collection of cards by me at all times to send off on these occasions. I also send e-mails immediately after a dinner party at a friend's house or a similar occasion. This is what friendship is about and we must cultivate communications like this. Small graces are the glue of society.

    • Dynicky profile image

      Dynicky 7 years ago

      Excellent Hub! I will do the thank you note after job interview! Thanks for the tip

    • rwelton profile image

      rwelton 7 years ago from Sacramento CA

      Very good and necessary post. All parents should read it, get it, and train their children while they are young. Thanks