The Art of Thank You Note Writing

by Brett & Kate McKay on October 23, 2008 · 52 comments

in A Man's Life, On Etiquette

Gratitude is a virtue every man should cultivate. Yet gratitude means nothing if you haven’t mastered the art of expressing it. A man should use every opportunity to express to those around him how much he appreciates their love, support, and generosity. One of the key ways of expressing gratitude is the thank you note. Unfortunately, many men today completely overlook this aspect of etiquette and consequently, break the hearts of sweet little grandmas everywhere. Every gentleman should be knowledgeable of the whens and hows of writing thank you notes. Being a frequent and skillful writer of them will set you apart from your uncouth peers.

When to Write a Thank You Note

  • When you receive a gift (especially if the gift is from your Italian grandma — if you don’t write a thank you note, she’ll put the moloch on you).
  • When someone performs an act of service for you.
  • When someone goes above and beyond what is asked of them, whether at work or in a friendship.
  • After a job interview.
  • When you stay overnight at someone’s home.
  • If someone shows you around their town or city when you’re vacationing there, regardless of whether you stayed at their home or not.
  • When someone has you over for dinner.
  • When someone throws a party or event for you.
  • Anytime someone does something extraordinary that warms your heart. Don’t be stingy with the thank you note. There’s never a wrong time to write one.

Some Ground Rules

1. Always write the note as soon as possible. Send it within two weeks of attending the event or receiving the gift.

2. Send it through the mail. Email thank yous are certainly convenient, but except in response to very small things, they are not appropriate. Some may say, “Well, a thank you is a thank you. Why does it matter what form it takes?” Sending a thank you note through the mail shows effort. It shows that you took the time to put pen to paper, addressed an envelope, and bought a stamp. It’s tangible; they can touch it, hold it, and display it on the mantle. It makes your thank you far more sincere.

3. Use real stationery. Having to run to the store to buy a card every time you need to write a thank you note will make you drag your feet about writing them. So invest in some nice looking stationery. It doesn’t have to be fancy; buy something with a neutral, conservative theme so that the cards can be used for a variety of occasions.

How to Write a Thank You Note

1. Begin by expressing your gratitude for the gift/service. Your opener is simple: “Thank you very much for ______________.” If the gift was money, use a euphemism for it. Instead of “thank you for the dough,” say “thank you for your kindness/generosity/gift.”

2. Mention specific details about how you plan to use a gift or what you enjoyed about an experience. If you are thanking someone for holding an event like a party or dinner, be specific about what you enjoyed about it. If you are thanking someone for a gift, tell the note’s recipient how you plan to use it. This is true even for a monetary gift; tell the giver what you plan to spend it on or what you’re saving for.

3. For some recipients, add some news about your life. This isn’t always appropriate; obviously if you’re writing a thank you note for say, a job interview, you don’t want to tell them how you recently caught a two-foot bass. But if you receive a gift in the mail from people who see you infrequently and who would like to know more about what’s going on in your life (read: your grandparents), give a brief sketch about what you’ve been up to recently. You know Aunt Myrtle will love it.

4. Close by referencing the past and alluding to the future. If the person gave you the gift at a recent event, write, “It was great to see you at Christmas.” Then say, “I hope we all can get together again next year.” If the person sent the gift in the mail, and you see them infrequently, simply write, “I hope to see you soon.”

5. Repeat your thanks. “Thank you again for the gift,” makes the perfect last line.

6. Valediction. Valedictions are the words or phrases that come before your name. The hardest part of a thank you note is often choosing a valediction that appropriately conveys the level of your relationship with the recipient. “Love” can sometimes seem too gushy and “Sincerely” can seem too formal. If your affections fall somewhere between those two expressions, here are some neutral valedictions that can fit a wide variety of situations and relationships:

  • Yours Truly
  • Truly Yours
  • Kindest Regards
  • Warmest Regards
  • Best Regards
  • Respectfully

Any other tips on writing thank you notes? Drop a line in the comment box and let us know.

{ 49 comments… read them below or add one }

1 mike October 23, 2008 at 8:17 pm

…i wish this was posted like one week ago…but definitely bookmarking this post! Thanks!

2 Exurban Jon October 23, 2008 at 8:23 pm

I am amazed how rare thank you notes are — at least among men.

When I was hired for my current job, the boss thanked me several times for my brief message of appreciation. He said that he interviewed about 30 people over a two-day period and I was the only one to have sent a note.

In my last position, it was the same thing. None of my competition ever considered a thank you note. Better still, my boss kept that basic little card front and center on his desk the entire time I worked for him.

Quite an impact for the price of a stamp.

3 alfred webster October 23, 2008 at 10:07 pm

this post was very helpful, you’re always posting good things to know
thank you

4 Jojo Robles October 24, 2008 at 12:23 am

i hope it’s not too late for me to thank you. i read your website regularly and i can say that i have learned a lot about manning up. too sad that it takes a website to teach me that though. still, i think i owe you some gratitude.

thank you!

respectfully,
Jojo Robles

ps: i hope you don’t mind, but it’s supposed to be “stationery,” not stationary. :)

5 Jack October 24, 2008 at 3:46 am

This is a timely post for me, as I’ve recently started writing thank-you notes and other handwritten notes. I find that drafting is easier as I do more of them. In fact, when I did a mess of them recently, I wrote thank-yous to friends who deserved them over the years who didn’t receive them.

Although I write many thank-yous with your structure, I frequently start with something like, “It was great to see you at …” or “I was so glad you came to ….” Starting off with something other than “thank you” feels less rote and helps me get in the groove of writing.

Along the same lines, I’ve abandoned greeting cards. I now write birthday notes and mail them. Stationery looks better than greeting cards and costs less to boot.

6 Blue October 24, 2008 at 3:49 am

Awesome blog

7 Confident Nerd October 24, 2008 at 5:52 am

Basic post and I cannot disagree with it. It is a very simply concept, yet extremely powerful.
There are services out there that let you type a letter, and they will write it and mail it out for you. Now I just have to find the link.

8 Barry October 24, 2008 at 7:00 am

The best thing to do is to get a box of thank you cards (or the stationery mentioned) and have it on hand before you need it. Stamps as well. Any excuse to procrastinate a thank you note will mean it never happens. Write it the same day, while it is still fresh in your mind. Life gets busy.

I do use email sometimes, but only for the most casual stuff. The stranger that gave me a jumpstart. Someone who gave me a coupon. It can work well when a note would be over the top. Or even verbal ones for small favors. People just like to be appreciated.

One advantage of a thank you note is that it can uncover missing gifts. Two times recently, thanking someone for one gift allowed the sender to ask if the other part was received. This allowed the recovery of two would-be lost gifts.

9 Nick October 24, 2008 at 7:08 am

This is good to teach many young men at this current time. I have written thank you notes for years, but now have been reminded to get them out earlier and earlier. It surprises people when, as a young man myself, I write thank you notes. It only takes a couple minutes.

Nick.

10 Stuart October 24, 2008 at 8:00 am

I send tons of thank you notes. One tip: create a simple database to track what you say to whom. It will keep you from duplication when you write additional notes to the same person. Over time people while see that you give genuine gratitude.

11 Paul October 24, 2008 at 8:36 am

Everything here is great, except the link to Man Cards—”manly” is not synonymous with “offensively hideous.” Simple off-white or gray stationary is attractive, classic, and perfectly manly. You can get it on the cheap at your local Hallmark, or personalized and pricey from someplace like Crane. Find yourself something subdued and restrained, saving the bold colors for, well, almost anything but paper and dress shirts.

12 Exurban Jon October 24, 2008 at 9:34 am

Here’s a quick tip for job interviews:
- Bring thank-you cards and stamps with you.
- During the interview, ask for the business card of each interviewer. This ensures you have their correct name, title and address.
- After the interview, immediately fill out notes while the details are fresh. I usually write them in my car in a nearby parking lot.
- Drop the note in a mailbox that day. I usually scope out a nearby post office to ensure quick delivery.

13 Marshall - bondChristian October 24, 2008 at 10:03 am

I think posts like these are the reason we keep coming back to this site. Thank you for the reminder and instructions.

I agree with Jack in that I try to avoid starting with the “Thank you for…” intro. Otherwise, great post. I think the main point is simply to do it. As others have said, just sending one regardless of the content puts you way ahead of everyone else.

By the way, I actually have an Aunt Myrtle. :)

14 Gus Oltz October 24, 2008 at 4:24 pm

Mr. Robles’s observation on “stationery” v “stationary” brings to mind something the article did not mention: the mechanics of writing. “Mechanics” means spelling things properly, correct usage (which means using the correct word: “stationery” for something to write on, “stationary” for not moving), and punctuating correctly.

If your message is full of punctuation errors and misspelled words, it says that neither your message nor your reader was worth the effort of making sure these things were done correctly. What a strange thing to say in a thank-you note! (It’s just as true for memos, meeting minutes, blog entries, etc.)

If you are uncertain about how to do these things, either enlist the help of someone who knows what to do, or get a book, such as “The Everyday Writer” by Andrea Lunsford. If you prefer a more modern method, check out Grammar Girl’s podcast.

I know I sound like a fuddy-duddy, but this is important, and I don’t want any of you to be at a disadvantage.

15 Alex October 24, 2008 at 9:42 pm

I it ok to type thank you note and still mail them? My hand writing is well not all that great, this is why I ask.

16 Alex October 24, 2008 at 9:42 pm

Oh ya and what exactly do you say in a interview thank you, just thank you for your time?

17 Brett October 24, 2008 at 9:44 pm

@Alex-

It’s not considered appropriate to type your thank you notes. Just try to keep the handwriting as neat as possible, and even if it’s a little sloppy, it’s better than typing it out.

18 Success Professor - Danny Gamache October 25, 2008 at 2:50 pm

Excellent post. These are some really good thoughts, and saying thank you is vital and yet something we do far to little, and far too poorly. Your post goes well with a recent post I wrote about the Principle of Thankfulness. You can check it out here:
http://successprofessor.ca/2008/10/12/the-principle-of-thankfulness/

19 Virilitas October 26, 2008 at 3:42 pm

I like your suggestion about using a euphemism for money when referring to it in thank you notes.

20 B. Wilde October 26, 2008 at 7:52 pm

Certainly seems like we have gotten away from taking the time to write a thank you note. I believe we underestimate the meaning it has for recipients. I know I appreciate it when someone takes the time to send me a note. Great post.

21 Johnny October 27, 2008 at 5:35 am

I often write thank you cards for my career. They definitely do say more than just an email. As said by Paul, those Mancards were pretty bad. I found some at Staples, that were both neutral gendered and pleasing to the eye. If you just need to write one or two, I actually found some at a local store, Charleston Angler, that have Redfish, Spotted Trout, etc. Quite pricey though.
My handwriting also leaves something to be desired. If both cursive and print is bad, which one do you go with?

22 Jim October 27, 2008 at 11:33 am

I just ordered another 4 boxes of the best ‘man-cards’ ever: Artist Bob White’s Small Fry Cards at http://www.whitefishstudio.com

23 Peter Hopkins October 28, 2008 at 11:02 am

Another excellent post! There really is no excuse not to take a few moments to pen a short, yet sincere, note of thanks. The excuse I run into most often is “I don’t write because my handwriting is so terrible.” So, does that mean you don’t endorse checks because your handwriting is so terrible? Your handwriting is part of your persona. It’s OK, really. Of course, try to keep your writing neat and clean, but don’t let what you consider to be hen scratchings keep you from being considerate and respectful.

Write On!

24 John October 28, 2008 at 2:10 pm

My mother used to HOUND me to write thank-you notes when I was young, and I didn’t really recognize their importance — or how bloody easy they are to write – until the people to whom I owed thank-you notes (e.g., grandmothers) had passed on.

I hope you’re planning to put this blog into book form someday. If I ever have a kid, he’ll get a copy as soon as he’s old enough to read.

25 David Barnes November 13, 2008 at 8:46 am

The final step(s) should be:

Put it in an envelope, write the address, add a stamp and post it straight away.

Unless you send a lot of mail, adding it to a “to be mailed” pile will mean it never gets done. Put your shoes on and walk to a mail box.

Make sure you have a ‘writing kit’ on your desk with everything you need: paper, envelopes, pen, stamps. If you have to scrabble around looking for these in order to write a short thank you note, you won’t do it.

Around birthdays, Christmas or whenever you’re likely to receive gifts, keep a notebook on you and write down who gives you what.

And finally: do as I say, not as I do.

Dave

26 free letter samples November 14, 2008 at 1:48 am

Truly, saying thank you is difficult to thank you and that too to those people who come into the professional circle. Thanks for giving the write up . It was very helpful.

27 Marion Hose January 15, 2009 at 9:03 am

Here’s another vote for personalized stationery!

It’s just so easy to get these days. Not like it used to be. I remember getting my first box of personalized stationery years ago and the frisson of “now I’m a grown-up” which accompanied it. But I had had to save up for months before I when to the local printers and ordered It. These days I go online and look through dozens of designs in minutes. I pick out the one I like best and it’s usually delivered in the next couple of days. There are plenty of places to go but the one I’ve settled on is called giftsin24.com. They do other sorts of personalized printing too (baby cards, wedding announcements, etc. etc,), but the place i usually start is here: http://www.giftsin24.com/browse/category/932/1

28 AJ Kumar January 23, 2009 at 10:25 am

great post!! I’ll be sure to practice what you preach. :)

AJ Kumar

29 david brian goodwin January 24, 2009 at 5:40 am

WAR

Dropped bombs exploding
Bullets flying
Civilisation slowly eroding
While innocents lay dying.

Shrapnel falls like rain
Women and children fall
We all see the pain
And do nothing at all.

What cost of war
When civilians are dead
People don’t want this anymore
Living in dread.

Rally religions together unite
Divine intervention will come
Not in gods: name do any of us fight
Thy kingdom come.

DAVID BRIAN GOODWIN

30 Liz March 3, 2009 at 12:05 pm

Well Done!

Wish not only men, but more people in general would write thank you notes.

Seems to have become a lost art.

- Liz

31 Stephen December 23, 2009 at 3:01 pm

Many of these I learned from my mom.
One tip I would add on the valediction part, when writing a thank you note, “Gratefully” is an excellent valediction.

32 karmen Olmo January 26, 2010 at 2:08 pm

This was a great post. I want to share a system where you can select or make your own letter or postcard, write with your own hand written font and the system prints and send the postcard to the recipient. Real cards, hear felt cards. You can even try it for free at:
http://www.livingcards.com

33 John Ekin May 21, 2010 at 7:06 pm

GREAT post… I owe a ton of any small success I enjoy to being as diligent as possible in sending thank you note’s. They are POWERFUL both in business and in bringing joy to people’s lives. One of my mentor’s when I was young started all his correspondence with either “Hope all’s well with you” or “Hope you are well and busy” for biz contacts.

Don’t know if you’ll agree, but some valedictions I’ve used are:
Cheers,
All the best,
Wishing you continued success,
and
Fondly (for those occasions when “Love” isn’t really appropriate).

Would love to hear more on this topic… THANK YOU!!

34 Daniel January 11, 2013 at 6:59 pm

I always learn new and interesting things whenever I check out AoM.
Thank You
With regards, Daniel

35 Mark Anthony February 15, 2013 at 8:34 am

I recently launched a new magazine for the global demolition business and, inspired by your post, ordered some custom-designed thank you cards to show my appreciation to all the people that helped me get the publication off the ground.
The result was incredible. I have had thank you notes about my thank you notes; I have been described as “a gentleman of the highest order” on Facebook and Twitter, all because I just took a bit of time to say a personal, handwritten thank you.
So, in short, I just wanted to say thank you for inspiring me to say thank you…properly.

36 David February 28, 2013 at 9:59 pm

My handwriting is only legible when all of it is written in capital letters or cursive (although I haven’t used cursive since fourth grade) it still recommended for me to write one?

37 Cathy March 21, 2013 at 3:57 am

This will sound like the beginning of a joke, but it is true. Last week we went into a stationary story to buy thank you cards, or at least nice paper that we could use, and the two people behind the counter said they couldn’t help us. And then the more senior one said “Thank you cards, yes I know what you mean, I have heard of them.” It was like we were looking for a rare commodity!

38 ChakrasBalanced March 25, 2013 at 4:23 pm

I love the column concept.
The thank you letters are VERY thoughtful. I wonder how does thank letter idea relate to “one night stands”? or even first time sex? So much gratitude for acts of giving and kindness that somehow does not get transferred acts in the bed??

39 Cindy March 26, 2013 at 7:56 am

Appreciated the article~a reminder for women too! I’ve used an on-line service that delivers a real card to the recipient’s address. It is so convenient, cards can be personalized, and the process is easy & very efficient. So, you can add other occasions and reasons for personal greetings without the hassle of buying stamps and mailing etc. Just a suggestion for the serious connector! (Examples are: Send Out Cards, and Pixingo)

40 Aurie June 24, 2013 at 11:24 am

Great article! Since a kid, my mom always made sure that I sent out thank you cards after my birthday and Christmas. It’s second nature now.

41 Aaron August 30, 2013 at 8:23 am

What if the thank you note is to a woman who gave a ride home after a pretty bad car accident? And what if that woman is someone you work with and happen to have a slight crush on?

42 Kaloyan August 31, 2013 at 5:55 am

Hi, thank you for the great article. I have never thought that writing a thank-you note after an interview is something you have to do, but thinking about it now it makes so much sense. It will be great if you could give an example of a sample thank-you note for after an interview.

43 Doug Austin October 21, 2013 at 11:28 am

Yes Sir, I can attest to the validity of this article. I started hand writing simple thank you notes a few years ago, I even designed my own custom stationary, and I can tell you how people really appreciate it and how it sets you apart from your more caveman like brethren. People remember you and it sets you apart as a person of refinement, manners, and quality in their eyes.

44 Alex Neves October 21, 2013 at 1:22 pm

I do it , and encourage my kids to do the same.
But I am disappointed that good manners are so rare among the human kind.
This site is one of my favorites.

45 Joel Ungar October 21, 2013 at 5:08 pm

After reading”365 Thank Yous”, I try to write one every day. This is a great article.

46 Maxx Nyckel October 22, 2013 at 3:41 pm

I like to write thank you notes and make them entirely by hand- even the paper is hand made. It’s a nice little pass-time and it really helps tune those fine motor skills. Plus every lady likes a guy who will go to that kind of length for her.

47 Aaron November 10, 2013 at 3:28 pm

Dearest Bret And Kate**,

Thanks so much for your insightful blog post. I found your tips, and suggested format helpful, and inspirational, and I’m sure these will be helpful in the future.

I’m sure you’ll be happy to know that myself, and the family, are doing fine. Aunt Trudy, who I’m sure you don’t know at all, says hi.

I’ve really enjoyed reading your blog posts in the past, and I’m sure there are many more great posts to come.

Thanks again for all the pointers.

Sincerely, and With Warmest Regards,

—Aaron

**PS– Sorry for not mailing this, instead. I seem to have never had your mailing address. But that’s the one point I didn’t entirely agree with, anyway. It’s nice, sure. And I do agree, that it adds a more personal touch. But IMO a well-written thank you is better than none, regardless of medium. And pack rats such as myself already have enough sentimental stuff we’re loathe to part with. One more card or letter is not necessary, or necessarily desirable, unless it’s regarding something that was a BIG deal and worth remembrance. Just saying…

48 Michael November 28, 2013 at 6:54 am

The article’s suggestions are spot on, but here is an added suggestion. After stating the gift and the (current or future) grateful use of the gift, add a sentence about the generosity or kindness of the giver. “The thoughfulness of your gift shows how kind / gracious / generous / thoughtful you are.” Complimenting the giver helps to create that endearing connection.

49 Cameron Christensen December 2, 2013 at 10:48 am

This is a great short little article! I’m wondering, given the time of year, if another similar article on writing Christmas/Holiday cards would be possible? This is the year I really want to show appreciation for those close to me, and being able to write a heartfelt, sincere card would be a definite bonus.

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