How to Write a Proper Thank You Note

A real deal thank you letter has become a lost art. Here's how to revive it.

Social and professional status isn’t gained by taking shortcuts, but there are some really fast, easy things you can do to stand out in both arenas -- like breaking out some stationary and sending a thank you note.

What’s the Point?

In a world of fast and efficient digital communication, what’s the point of writing a message on a piece of paper, paying for postage, and physically dropping it into a box so it can arrive days later? Well, the inherent inefficiency is kind of the point. It signifies you took the time, pen in hand, to personally express your appreciation.

And, by the way, that hassle also means a lot of other people aren’t doing it. It’s an easy way to stand out. For example, if we’re talking about a job interview, every other candidate has a BA just like you. Handwritten thank you notes set you apart.

When to Write

If someone goes out of his or her way to do something nice, write a thank you note. Wedding gifts, shower gifts, job interviews, dinner parties, house-sitting, dog-sitting, babysitting - you name it. At worst, it will be appreciated and discarded. At best, someone will be really impressed with your style and charm.

How to Write

Thank you notes are the tweets of the composition family. Understand that these aren't long letters; they're short and to-the-point notes. That being said, your brief message should include a few basic elements.

  • Write by hand. Typed notes are as impersonal as emails. And if you’re considering a thank you email, just get out.

  • Be specific. Even if you’re staring at 120 wedding gift thank-yous, make a one-line mention of what the gift was and how you are looking forward to using it. Note: If the gift is cash, don’t mention the exact amount. It yanks off the veil of subtlety from your message.

  • Write on stationery with a nice pen. Basic office supply stores offer heavy weight stationery in a variety of colors. As for pens, make an effort to go beyond the disposable ballpoint. We like Kaweco fountain pens from the Frontier box, but anything will work so long as it's better than a ten cent ballpoint.

  • Draft it out before you put pen to paper. Sometimes it’s easier to write a succinct, coherent message by typing it, so pound out a draft on your computer and then transcribe the draft by hand.

A Can't-Miss Template

Note that this example is a bit formal. For a business contact, job interview, or anything similar, that's what you want. If you're thanking a close friend for hosting you at their Super Bowl party, though, you can afford to be markedly more casual.

Dear Mr. Wayner,

Thank you so much for the wonderful book on Art Deco architecture and furniture. I've already read several chapters, and especially enjoyed the one on how Art Deco informed the Bauhaus style. [Specificity] It’s very readable and will give me some great examples to mention in my thesis next October [Demonstrating usefulness].

It was wonderful seeing you and Mrs. Wayner -- I hope we can meet again next time I’m visiting my parents. [Courteous, but not gushy].

Pete Haywood

These two small paragraphs will take about ten minutes to write, but can make a huge difference. Mr. Wayner is so impressed with your class and thoughtfulness that he mentions you to his close personal friend, renowned architect Renzo Piano. Soon you’ll be a London junior architect, wealthy and popular with all who know you. Behold the power of the thank you note.

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