How to write a thank you note in 13 steps

The note was so unexpected, and so flattering, that I carried it around in the back pocket of my jeans wherever I went. One day, during a school field trip, it poured down enough rain to stain my legs blue from my jeans. I remembered the note, and soon found the ink on the note bleeding down the card. The once crisp note of appreciation was now a soggy mess.

I still have the note — I can make out most of the words, even though it is now also yellowed with age. A casual phone call or e-mail of thanks is nice, but not a treasure. A personal handwritten note is so significant, and so rare today; it will likely be kept and stored in a desk drawer for years to come. Handwriting and mailing a thank you note will take you more time than hitting the send button for an email. However, it’s a small investment when you think of the time the giver spent selecting, choosing and purchasing your gift. Now that the gifts are unwrapped, here’s a little primer on writing thank you notes. Which, really is, a gift within itself.

First, here are some thank you notes, reprinted from the Saturday Evening Post; 1/14/1956, Vol. 228 Issue 29, p38-38, 1p.

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  1. Start with a supply of fun colorful stationery that you like. This will definitely make the task more pleasant, and something you might actually look forward to using. Yes, it is nice to have some made with your initials, but don’t let that stop you. Just get some cards! Avoid the swirl “thank you” – pick something plain and generic, as there will be some notes that you’ll want to send that will look silly with that big thank you on them. Use small cards – you note will be brief, and you don’t need all of that pressure of a blank page – it could give you writer’s block!! Post cards are perfectly acceptable too. Keep your stationery supply, and stamps, well stocked.
  2. Handwrite your note – it doesn’t matter how poor your handwriting is. The written word is so rare today; your note will be a rare sight of beauty.
  3. You say you can’t write? Any note that simply says thank you is better than no note at all. It’s just a matter of courtesy to let the giver know you received and appreciate the gift.
  4. Check the spelling of the giver’s name before you start to write.
  5. Make your note come alive by using present perfect tense. This means write the note as if it is happening right now. “I think of your kindness whenever I put those gloves on when I scrape the ice off the car windows in the morning.”
  6. Name the gift in the note. State what the gift is, how much you like the gift, and how you will use the gift.
  7. When the gift is cash, refer to the gift as a “generous gift,” “your kindness” or “your generosity.” Always mention how you will spend the gift. If you are saving it for a special purchase, just say, this is going into my college fund, or down payment for the house. Never mention the amount, or use the word cash or check, or moola.
  8. As with all good writing, use the word “you” more than “I”. Consider this famous quote: The six most important words: I admit I made a mistake. The five most important words: You did a good job. The four most important words: What is YOUR opinion? The three most important words: If you please. The two most important words: Thank You. The one most important word: We. The least important word: I.”
  9. Mention the occasion for the gift, and then allude to the future. “It was so great to see you at Christmas, and I look forward to seeing you at the reunion this summer.”
  10. Restate your thanks again at the closing of the letter.
  11. Two gifts the same? Keep it a secret. Planning on returning the gift or exchanging it? Keep it to yourself. If you don’t like the gift, praise the giver for thinking of something so original, and for the time she spent. Also, make sure to let the person know how much you appreciate spending time with them.
  12. If you have quite a few thank you notes to write, create a log with the name of the gift received, the date, and a place for when the thank you note was written and sent. This keeps you from feeling overwhelmed, and lets you work on just a few thank you notes at a time.
  13. Thank you notes should be sent within two weeks of receiving the gift. Establish a rule in your home; we don’t use the gift until the thank you note is written. Make it a family policy that no toy will be played with until the thank you note is written. It’s true, that sending thank you notes is becoming a lost art. Thank you notes are a great way to creating a sense of consideration for other people.

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31 comments on “How to write a thank you note in 13 steps
  1. My mom used to get phone calls all the time from her friends, raving about my thank you notes. What can I say? I’m a born writer!

    For those who aren’t, though, these are VERY helpful tips. I hope thank you notes return to being trendy. There’s something about a nice pen with fun ink and nice paper that always makes me smile.

    Happy TT!

  2. Great list. We have an immediate thank you note rule here that we come close to following. It’s an important part of the ritual of receiving gifts. People deserve to feel appreciated. Kind words and gratitude are essential to healthy relationships. Thank you notes are the most straightforward, tangible reminders of that. God bless.

  3. One of the (read:few) things I learned in finishing school was how to write a good thank you note. It has really come in handy. The only thing I would add is to make sure you tell the person how you are going to use their gift. People really like to know that their gifts will be used. For all my eye rolling about finishing school, I do grind my teeth when I don’t get a thank you note. 😉

    Very great list! Happy TT.

    My TT is up: Thirteen people who inspired me in 2007.

  4. When I was a child, the rule was that my sister and I had to write our thank you notes the day after Christmas. We complained about it, of course, but I’m glad I was taught to do that.

  5. I am actually in the process of designing thank you notes to be printed. Then I’ll write the notes inside. The goal is to get them written and mailed by mid January.

  6. Boy, this is nearly a lost art. I like to hand write notes. I even carry note cards in my ebay store so I can have a nice selection for me, but I can tell you they are not a big seller for me. It’s sad really that people can’t take the time to say thank you this way anymore.

  7. Its so true how rare it is to receive a hand-written note of any kind – let alone a hand-written thank you note. Thanks for sharing, Susie.

    Merry Christmas & Happy New Year to you and your family.

  8. I am a letter writer. I’m not sure how that happened, because my parents are not. (Except when I was at camp, they always sent me mail at camp..) But I agree that a letter that you can hold and read and carry around…so much better than email!!

  9. Thank you notes are so important.

    Julia and I did hers yesterday. We made cards from my scrapbooking supplies. She glued little decorations on the cover, I wrote the note inside, but was certain to use her exact words for describing the gift (for example, “the bear I can make myself” and “the pretty pink Barbie with a sparkly dress and crown”) and then she signed her own name. We had such fun making them and suspect that the recipients will enjoy them, too.

    Wonderful post!

  10. I have my notes for thank you notes sitting right next to me so your list couldn’t be any more timely. Thanks for the great ideas. I especially agree with keeping the size of the cards small so you don’t feel like you have to write a lot.

    My boys wanted to email their thank you notes, but I explained that it’s “just not done.”

  11. Wonderful timing! When my daughter was little I would not let her cash checks until she wrote the thank you notes. Does not work anymore, it’s gift cards these days.

  12. I couldn’t agree more about the importance of thank you notes. The rule at our house, for grown ups and the little boy, is that you can’t have the present until you write the thank you note.

    I know that brides have up to a year to send a thank you note and that they are probably very busy and all, but I think it’s really bad form to wait that long. The sooner the better.

  13. Pingback: On A Limb with Claudia » Blog Archive » Thursday Thirteen - People who inspired in 2007

  14. I’m very adamant about handwritten thank you notes. People often comment on them and they’ve been hung up in places of business that I’ve sent them. I hope my daughter carries on this tradition long after I’ve stopped asking her to send them. Great post! Happy New Year!

  15. I especially love the “dont use it until you’ve expressed our gratitude” rule: that should be a requirement for everyone! I’m getting my Christmas thank you’s out tonight (so, I think I’m just making the deadline), and I’m so glad to see that thanks is upmost in other people’s minds as well.

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