Nancy Wurtzel

Article Summary:

How to write the perfect thank you note including what to say, the time-line, when it's appropriate or not necessary.

How to Write the Perfect Thank You Note

What To Write In A Thank You Note
Is the Thank You Note dead? No, it is very much alive. In fact, etiquette experts say it is still expected and a sign of good manners. And, as your mother probably told you, good manners never go out of fashion. So the next time you receive a gift, make sure you are prepared to thank the person in writing.

Must it be a hand-written note? Yes and no. If a dinner guest brings you a small plant or a bottle of wine when they arrive at your home for the dinner party, then a written thank you probably isn't necessary. Just be sure to thank the person when you accept the gift and perhaps once more - perhaps the next time you see the person: "We opened that bottle of merlot last night and it was great. Thanks again."

Another exception to the hand-written thank you note is when it is an immediate family member or when the person lives under the same roof. However, just because it is not strictly required, doesn't mean that it wouldn't be a nice touch once in awhile. Husbands and wives don't usually send thank you notes to each other. However, you might try it and see what happens. Your spouse will probably be delighted and impressed. Your kids may also love getting a note in the mail from Mom thanking them for a great Mother's Day. It's the gesture and thought that make the big impression.

So, if a gift is more significant than a small token and if the person does not live in the same house, then generally a written thank you is required.

What should I use to write the thank you note?
The best choice is a card meant to be used as a thank you note. You want it to be big enough to include a few sentences or a short paragraph. A white sheet of computer paper will simply not cut it! An oversized card that will require you to write more than a few sentences isn't the right choice either. Note cards that fold with matching envelopes are the best choice.

Tthere are so many lovely cards available today. Find a style that reflects your personality. It can be a pretty, classy or artsy design on the front with nothing written inside. Another good choice are cards with an embossed letter - usually the first letter of your last name. The note cards do not need to include the words "Thank You." Your own written words inside will convey that sentiment to the recipient.

Whatever type of note you prefer, we suggest purchasing a few packages and at least 20 stamps. This way, you won't have to run out to the local store every time you receive a gift, and you can respond in a more timely manner. The rule of thumb is to send a thank you within days or at the most two weeks. If you wait too long, it is just plain rude.

Why does the thank you need to be sent so quickly?
Well, mainly because it is just accepted that this is an appropriate time-frame. You may see people in the meantime and you can verbally thank them, but consider that the gift isn't truly yours until you have thanked the giver in writing.

It has been longer than two weeks, should I just forget about the note?
Nope, still send it. It is probably best to make a mention that the note is belated if it is really, really late. Don't make excuses, simply say you are sorry it has taken so long, but you are writing now to thank them.

What if your handwriting stinks?
Hand written thank you notes are always preferable. The bottom line is that they are more personal and more meaningful than any message that is typed.

However, while most etiquette sources will tell you it is a no-no, if your handwriting is truly terrible, we suggest you purchase some classy note cards that you can run through your printer. Select a softer-looking font and be sure to sign your name. Just make sure that your note is personalized and that you are not simply using the printer because you are lazy or want to power through dozens of cards. Only use a printed note if your handwriting is so illegible that it would be an affront to the reader.

What should I say in the thank you note?
Your note doesn't have to be long. Just a few sentences or short paragraph are adequate. The important part is to be sincere and specific. You want to clearly thank the person and also include a mention of the gift and how it might be used or how much you like it. Here is an example: Dear Cynthia, I was so happy that you could attend my baby shower last Sunday. Your gift was truly inspired and we will use the darling newborn gift set when we bring baby Anna home from the hospital. I also love the personalized picture frame and it will look wonderful in the nursery. Thank you so much. Love, Karen.

Should I write other information in the thank you note?
The thank you note should really stick to its single purpose of thanking a person for a gift. Writing about an award you received at work or your upcoming trip to Italy isn't really the point. It's really best to keep your message short and sweet.

When is an email thank you appropriate?
Here is another point where we differ from the etiquette police. If you frequently converse with someone via email and you consider that person "close" to you, then using email may be perfectly acceptable. What's best is to have an understanding with the person. It could be embarrassing to send a thank you email message and then have the person respond with a written thank you note when you gave them a gift.

What do I say in the email?
Your thank you email should be upfront and acknowledge that you are not sending a formal note through the mail. Also, be sure to include something appropriate in the subject line of the email or it may get tossed into the trash. In fact, these days so many email messages get blocked or tossed into the junk file that I always make it a point to mention the thank you when I next see the person. "I sent you an email, but just wanted to mention how much we loved your gift."

What would be an appropriate example of an email thank you?
Here is one idea: "Paul, Since we no longer send formal notes via snail mail, I'm emailing you a heartfelt thank you. You are so kind to remember Kristen on her first birthday, and she is so lucky that you are her uncle. Kristen already has taken to the stuffed bear and Brainy Baby toy that you gave her...they are terrific gifts for our inquisitive little girl. Thank you again. Warmly, Karen."

What about an eCard?
This is where we draw the line. Sending someone an ecard as a thank you just doesn't work. Many people will not even bother to log on to retrieve the card.

I'm overwhelmed! How do I keep track of the thank you cards?
If it is a baby shower, bridal shower, birthday party or another event where you are receiving lots of gifts, then have someone keep a list for you of the attendees and the gifts that each person gave. You think that you will remember, but it will be a real headache if there are more than a small handful of gifts. Ask the person making notes to be specific or you could end up thanking someone for the wrong gift. For instance, you will receive lots of little outfits at a baby shower so brand names, colors and a style description will help.

I've got a list, now what?
Contemplating more than a few dozen thank you cards is pretty overwhelming. So, tackle six or seven cards a day. Make sure that you are careful about crossing off names so you don't send the same person two thank you cards. Perhaps dividing the list with your spouse would help, or getting a friend to help you put on stamps and seal envelopes. However, having someone else help you with the actual writing is crossing the line.

Do you have to send a gift even when you hate it?
Of course! Remember, the written thank you note is really to thank the person for remembering you and for the effort and expense of purchasing a gift. Even when the gift is a loser, you have to acknowledge it. You don't have to lie, but try to find something to say that is nice. This is the time to be more generic, but very kind. The person bought you a gift, and good manners require a thank you.

Should I have my kids write thank you notes?
Absolutely. Get your kids started writing thank you notes early - when they are toddlers. If you set a good example, your kids will think that it is natural to write thank you notes. If your child is too young to write the note, then you can compose it together and you can read it as you are writing it. Have your child sign his or her name or simply make some doodles or color on the card a bit. Throw perfection out the window and let your child personalize it in some way. The recipient will love it!

Nancy Wurtzel is the founder and owner of All About Baby, an online store located at All About Baby offers more than 300 personalized and memorable baby gifts for young children. The site also features interesting and helpful child-related content. Ms. Wurtzel has over 25 years of marketing and communications experience. She consults with small businesses seeking to enter the marketplace or grow their existing e-commerce business.

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