Proper Etiquette When Writing A Thank-You Note

by Shawn Thomas [Source: A Gift Given]

1. Show some effort.

Always handwrite your note of appreciation, don’t print it out from your computer. Even if you’re handwriting is “horrendous”, slow down and make an effort to write legibly for this occasion. Don’t use a pre-printed or pre-worded greeting card, unless you’re significantly adding to the message in your own handwriting. The extra time you take will be appreciated by the person you are thanking. After all, they went out of their way to do something for you, how you choose to express your appreciation can communicate to them that you care about them or give the impression that you don’t care. Be sure to write at least three sentences in the body of your note. It doesn’t have to be a novel.

2. Make it personal but don’t talk about yourself.

In coming up with what to say, reference the gift or what they did for you. Even if you didn’t particularly like the gift, say something descriptive about it instead of avoiding the subject. You don’t have to lie, just be sure to recognize the importance of the gift — like it or not. And don’t use the thank you note as a gossip column or go into a long tirade about your bad hair day and the flat tire you got on the way to work. Don’t say anything negative — EVER — even if you try to follow it by adding a “just kidding” and a smiley face. Your recipient may not get the joke, and in any case, a thank you note is not the proper occasion to showcase your special brand of sarcastic humor.

3. Better now than never.

Thank you’s should be written “as quickly as possible”. So what exactly does that mean? For most occasions such as dinner parties and birthday gifts, that means roughly 7 to 14 days. Weddings and baby showers generally command a little more slack, perhaps 2 months or so, but if you can, make life easier and tackle it one thank-you at a time as gifts come in. That means if you receive a wedding gift delivered to your house two weeks before a wedding, put a thank you note in the mail within the next two days. Then cross it off your to-do list! Regardless of the situation, sooner really is better. However even if it’s been a year and you think it’s too late, go ahead and write that note of appreciation. Maybe the person had forgotten about it – chances are they didn’t forget. If you send a thank-you now, he or she will at least know that not only did you think of them when you received the gift, but you thought of them now, even after all this time, and you took the time to thank them.

4. Every deed deserves its own recognition.

Would you even think of thanking your best friend for a birthday present by writing something like: “Thank you for cute the sweater. You are so thoughtful! And thank you for all the gifts I know you will give every year for my birthday since we are BFF”? Of course not! Don’t do the same thing retroactively by sending one combined thank you note for the last three gifts you received from somebody. In this case, it is totally NOT okay to “kill two birds with one stone.” Can you imagine, “Hey Grandma, thank you for little Johnny’s christening present and oh yeah I almost forgot to thank you for the wedding gift. I use the blender every day. And you know what, come to think of it, thanks for the money you sent me for my birthday. You really are a great grandma!” Sound ridiculous? You will too if you recognize separate acts of generosity with one stingy act of faux gratitude.

5. Address with respect.

Not sure whom to thank? A good rule of thumb for birthdays, showers, weddings and other “gift” occasions is to address your thank you note to the person who signed your gift card. Address the card to both husband and wife if both of their names were on your gift. Children living in the home of the couple should be recognized in the inside salutation or body of your thank you note. Tip: if you received a wedding gift from your young adult cousin who does not live with Aunt Sally and Uncle Harry — send them their own thank you note. It is NOT okay to tell Aunt Sally and Uncle Harry to thank them for you. If you don’t know the address, call somebody or try Googling it. For business associates, job interviews, and pretty much anyone older than you that you don’t know very well — err on the side of formality. Envelopes should definitely use Mr. or Mrs. and the person’s last name. To address a business woman, if you’re not sure whether she is married or what title she prefers, it is best to use Ms. as the title. If you don’t feel comfortable with that, you may use just her first and last name together. Try not to use anyone’s first name in the salutation of your letter unless they have given you permission to do so.

So you see, proper thank you etiquette is not rocket science. For most of us, the standard manners our parents and teachers gave us should do the trick. The key is remembering those manners — and more importantly, acting on them. Whenever someone gives you a present or does something nice for you, such as preparing dinner or babysitting in a pinch, recognize that kindness. Don’t delay. A little appreciation goes a long way!

About the Author
Shawn Thomas is a freelance writer who writes about writing rules and grammar, letter writing and etiquette, often focusing on specific products used in writing such as stationery.

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