We have a 1947 copy of Emily Post’s book Etiquette and, under the section on formal correspondence, it has this to say about thank you notes:
“Never think, because you cannot write a letter easily, that it is better not to write at all. The most awkward note that can be imagined is better than none – for to write none is the depth of rudeness, whereas the awkward note merely fails to delight.”
We would say that this is as true today as it was seventy years ago. That said, it may just be possible we’re have a bit of an advantage when compared to letter writers of the past. Since electronic communication dominates our daily life, the handwritten word has become that much more thrilling. So, simply by putting pen to paper, you are doing something out of the ordinary these days, something a bit more special by virtue of its ever-increasing rarity.
Over the years, we have both written and received a lot of thank you notes. And, while there are certainly no Shakespeares, Jane Austens or George Eliots here, we’ve pulled together a few thoughts on composing thank you notes based on our accumulated experiences as both writers and receivers. Our hope is that these bits of accumulated wisdom might help make the process a bit easier for you and, in some instances, help get the words flowing:
Be prompt. Weddings are an exception to the rule – given the volume of thank you notes that generally need to written and the fact that couples should be allowed to enjoy their honeymoon (not immediately settle in to writing thank you notes!), it is not expected that a bride or groom will acknowledge your gift immediately after their marriage. Other than that, however, promptness is the best policy. Write that thank you note immediately you return home from a lovely weekend away at a friend’s house, the morning after a delicious dinner party, or as soon as possible after receiving a gift. The longer you take, the more it will seem your thank you was not a priority. Plus, once you get that thank you note out the door, it’s one less thing hanging over your head!
Another reason to be prompt in writing your thank you note is that the event or gift will be fresh in your mind, as will be your reaction. It’s really nice if this spontaneity makes its way onto the page and that’s more likely to happen the closer you are to events.
Use specific examples. If you are thanking someone for a gift, detail how it has already been used or will be used. Will it make your life easier? More enjoyable? If it’s either or both, explain how. If you are thanking someone for their hospitality – specific examples also go a long way. Did you especially love the pancakes your host/hostess made? The walks you went on? The excursion you took? Let them know!
If you have trouble with words or feel awkward, we have two suggestions for you. First up: check out our Quotations page where we’ve gathered some great quotes to help folks express a variety of sentiments - including appreciation. One or more of those quotations may well set you off in the right direction when putting pen to paper. Second suggestion: there has been a bit of renaissance lately in small presses, and there are many creative card writers out there, designing for those presses. As a result, it is often possible to bolster your message with a little help (and often a little humor) courtesy of some of these makers. Whenever we see a particularly pithy card or one that gives us a chuckle, we tend to pick it up so that when we need a good card, we have a selection to choose from (check out the cards we’ve been featuring in our ‘Mail it Monday’ Instagram giveaways for some prime examples!). The first rule of shopping is that invariably when you need to find something you can’t, but when you don’t need it, it’s readily available. In our experience, the same is true for good cards, so we recommend stocking up on thank you cards when you spot them. That way, you’ll have a little army of them at your beck and call when the need arises.
Don’t by shy about following up your thank you note with a little electronic fillip of appreciation somewhere down the line. One amazing woman we know is an excellent writer of thank you notes, but she goes above and beyond, often sending a photo of a gift in use out of the blue maybe weeks or months after it was received. Not only does this brief message/photo show that the gift is truly being enjoyed, it shows the giver that they are being remembered with fondness and appreciation by the recipient on an ongoing basis. This works too for weekends away or when you have been treated to an outing or experience. For example, say a friend invites you to the theater. You write a thank you note at the time, but several months later see an article treating on a subject addressed in the play. A quick e-mail with a link to the article and a line saying something along the lines of, “it reminded me of our wonderful outing,” is a great way to show how the experience has stayed with you.
The most difficult thank you notes one generally has to write are for gifts you don’t actually like (or already have) – or for occasions that you found more of a duty than a pleasure to attend. In these situations, it can be hard to find words of appreciation. Still, unless the situation is truly dire, there should be something positive to focus on – and, remember, thank you notes don’t have to be long, they just need to be kind and polite. Perhaps you are a keen home cook and the gift you received is a cookbook you already own? Focus on the thoughtfulness of the giver in considering your interest, or the fact that they selected a book by one of your favorite chefs. If the gift is something you truly don’t like, focus more on the generosity of the giver, their kindness, how much they mean to you. Did you attend dinner party at which the main course was a disaster? Focus on the conviviality of the guests, the solicitousness of your hosts, the delicious dessert, the new friendship you struck up with the person sitting next to you. We know it’s not always easy, but try to find that proverbial “silver lining.”
Lastly, when in doubt about whether or not to write a thank you note, definitely write one. We would hazard a guess that rarely has a thank you NOT been appreciated even if it is not necessary or expected. The opposite situation - the absence of a thank you note – can, on the other hand, be construed as a lack of caring and/or of thoughtlessness. Unfortunately, it is the absence of small gestures like the simple sending of a thank you note, that can have long lasting and unpleasant ramifications. Often too, it should be noted, someone may have put more effort into a gift (especially if it is handmade) or into hosting an event or weekend, than you might realize. It is generally better to err on the side of caution and acknowledge someone’s kindness to you and/or the effort they have made, rather than assume it was a token gesture for which no thanks is required.
On that note (ha!), we conclude this post. Hopefully it has offered some helpful food for thought. That said, we always welcome thoughts and ideas from our gift giving (and receiving) readers! Are there any special ways you like to thank others? Any particularly memorable thank yous that you have received? We’d love to hear about them!
Why sign up for a free Little Birdie Me account?
- No more unwanted gifts! Create a gift profile to let folks know what you like (and don't like!) to receive.
- Link to existing wish lists, registries, Pinterest boards - and more!
- Keep track of the gifts you give, and budget for gifting events.
- Follow family and friends' gift profiles to make your own gift giving easy peasy.