The stationary doesn’t need to be formal or fancy, but a thank-you note should be handwritten and from the heart. Photo: Kate Hiscock
With graduation and wedding season upon us, you may be faced with the arduous task of finding the proper way to thank others for their generosity. In some ways, it can be difficult to be on the receiving end: Not only do you have to accept your gift graciously, you also have to make sure your loved ones know how much you appreciated their kind gesture.
Because many people feel anxious or unsure of themselves when it comes to writing a proper thank-you note, it’s a task that’s often put off until the last minute. However, procrastinating usually just makes a bad problem worse – the longer you wait, the more stressed out you’ll become.
To help you get through that anxiety, here’s a guide to thank-you notes, including when they’re appropriate to send, how to create an effective one, and a few samples to get you started.
Are Thank-you Notes Really That Important?
Like it or not, the value of thank-you notes lies in more than just tradition. In all actuality, they help you accomplish several important goals:
It’s a simple way of showing gratitude toward someone who has done something kind for you.
Whenever someone gives you a gift, they’re usually giving up their own valuable resources — whether money or time — that they could have devoted to their own selves, family, or future.
With that consideration, I’m usually quite grateful for any gift I receive, and a thank-you note is a very tangible way to show your thanks for that gift. It’s something that takes just a moment or two of your own time, yet clearly and permanently shows gratitude.
It keeps the communication loop open between you and that person.
A thank-you note extends the window of opportunity of communication with someone else, keeping your name in their mind. It’s for this reason that many people advise sending a thank-you note after a job interview.
Simply put, when you write a thank-you note, you often leave a positive, lasting impression of yourself — which can’t hurt when someone is about to make a hiring decision.
A thank-you note can also help keep open a cordial line of communication with someone with whom you have a strained relationship or whom you’ve drifted apart from over time.
When Are Thank-You Notes Appropriate?
The truth is, a thank-you note is almost never inappropriate. If you feel compelled to thank someone for a gift, a compliment, or a deed, do so. A handwritten note written from the bottom of your heart can never be a bad thing.
With that being said, here are some common situations where a thank-you note is not only common, but recommended:
Whenever you receive a gift, send a thank-you note.
If someone sends you a gift, a thank-you note in return will almost always be expected. This is particularly true with wedding gifts, graduation gifts, and other personal gift-giving occasions.
Whenever you interview for a job, send a thank you note.
A post-interview thank-you note is always appreciated – even if you don’t think you’ll land the job. At the very least, sending a note shows that you appreciated the interviewer’s time — and for many people, that means a lot.
Whenever someone does something to help you in your personal or professional life, send a thank-you note.
I find these are the most powerful ones in terms of building a network of people that you can regularly connect with. I’m not typically the most social person, so when I am able to make a significant contact with a person, I make sure to follow up — because those individuals may eventually become coworkers, clients, or even friends.
Whenever you establish a new professional contact, send a thank you note.
This doesn’t mean you should send a note to every person that gives you a business card. Instead, wait for encounters that are actually meaningful.
In short, send a thank you note when someone does something for you that has a positive impact on your life. Just avoid sending a thank-you note to the same person more than once every few months; one note is appreciated, but five gets creepy.
How to Write a Thank-You Note That Means Something
Step 1: Always hand-write a thank-you note.
A handwritten thank-you note has a certain level of elegance that you just can’t capture by typing and printing a note. Take out your pen and write down your thoughts. If you prefer, you can draft the note elsewhere first in order to minimize the risk of mistakes.
Thank-you notes can be written on very informal stationery. I’m partial to very simple cards that are easy to personalize with a kind message. Don’t sweat it too much – just pick something that you like while also keeping in mind that certain images or themes might be offensive to others.
While hand-writing the note is important, it’s okay to use printed labels to save time addressing the envelopes. Whenever we have many cards to send, I always print a sheet of address labels using my electronic address book. Not only does this save time, it also ensures accuracy.
Step 2: Address the thank-you note with care
Start off with the word “Dear,” then imagine you walked into a room and saw this person (or these people) without having seen them for a year. How would you address them? That’s what you should use next.
For example, if it’s an old friend, use their first name. If it’s one of your parents’ friends that you don’t know particularly well, use Mr. and Mrs. Lastname.
The First Sentence
Say “Thank you for…” and state the gift or opportunity you’ve been given. Here are three examples:
- Thank you for the gift of $20 on the occasion of my graduation.
- Thank you for the opportunity to interview for the systems analyst position.
- Thank you for the wonderful dinner party you hosted on the 25th.
- Thank you for the set of kitchen knives you gave to us for our wedding.
The Second Piece
Explain how much you appreciate the gift or opportunity. Tell them why you like it – or how you plan to use it.
- I plan on using that money to help buy textbooks in the fall.
- It was exciting and interesting to learn more about your organization and how the analyst role fits into it.
- The roasted lamb was exquisite and I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know Barack and Michelle.
- The knives have already found a home in our kitchen, and I used them to prepare dinner just last night.
The Third Piece
Use the thank-you note as a way to continue the connection you have with that person. Some examples:
- I’ll be home from school over Thanksgiving break and hope to see you then.
- I am sincerely interested in the position and I hope to hear from you soon — but either way, I truly enjoyed our meeting.
- Marge and I are planning a dinner party of our own in October, and I would love it if you would come.
- We plan on being back there in August. Let’s make plans.
No matter what you do, make sure to end your note in a pleasant and friendly manner. I almost always sign my notes “Thanks again!” and scribble my signature underneath.
Sample Thank-You Notes
Here are the four full notes from the examples above:
Dear Mr. Hobbs,
Thank you for the $20 graduation gift. I plan on using that money to help buy textbooks in the fall. I’ll be home from school over Thanksgiving break and hope to see you then.
* * *
Dear Dr. McCaskill,
Thank you for taking the time to interview me for the systems analyst position. It was exciting and interesting to learn more about your organization and the analyst role. I am sincerely interested in the position and I hope to hear from you soon — but either way, I truly enjoyed our meeting.
* * *
Dear Mr. Hobbs,
Thank you for the set of kitchen knives you gave to us for our wedding. They already have a home in our kitchen, and I used them to make dinner just last night – they worked great! We plan on being back there in August and I would love to catch up then.
Bill and Marjorie Larson
* * *
Dear Steve and Colleen,
Thank you for the wonderful dinner party you hosted on the 25th. The roasted lamb was exquisite and I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know Barack and Michelle. Marge and I are planning a dinner party of our own in October, and we would love it if you would come.
Writing Thank-You Notes from the Heart
These thank-you note samples illustrate some of the most common ways to write a proper thank-you letter, but there are many more ways to write a thank-you note from the heart.
And that’s the key: When you’re writing thank-you notes that are born out of sincere gratitude, you can’t really go wrong.
So buy a basic set of cards that are blank on the inside and break out your favorite pen. Then use our sample thank-you notes as a basic outline of what your note should look and sound like. But no matter what, write from the heart. When you do, your family members and friends will notice — and they’ll appreciate it.