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The Do's and Don'ts of How to Write Thank You Letters

The Etiquette Basics You Need to Know

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The Do's and Don'ts of How to Write Thank You Letters

Thank You Card

Donna Pilato

They're such a simple concept. A thank you letter, or note, is an expression of appreciation for a thoughtful act, expression, or gift. But the potential formality of this thought can be intimidating. Many people think that the wording of a thank you letter has to be perfect, and this causes so much anxiety that the notes are never sent. Before all the other rules, just remember that an imperfect letter that comes with heartfelt sentiment is better than a perfect note that was never written.

In order to relieve some of the anxiety on this subject, here is a simple guide to the do's and don'ts of thank you letters. You may discover that in some cases where you thought a written letter was required, it's not. I'll also give you a few sample letters just to get you started. But remember, although I'm providing a formula, you'll need to personalize your thank you note to make it meaningful to the recipient.

The Do's of Thank You Letters

Send your thank you letters as quickly as possible.

Letters may be sent on informal stationery, except for wedding thank you notes which are generally sent on formal stationery.

Always make specific reference to the gift that is the subject of the letter, such as "Thank you so much for the blue sweater. How did you know that was my favorite color?"

Always send letters in the following situations:

  • Wedding gifts.
  • For sympathy letters, flowers, or mass cards.
  • To the hostess after a party that was hosted in your honor.
  • For bridal or baby shower gifts.
  • For gifts that were received by mail.
  • After being entertained by your boss.
  • Gifts received during a hospital stay.
  • After being hosted as a houseguest for one or more nights (unless it's a close relative or friend who is doing the hosting).
  • For notes or gifts of congratulations.

Thank you notes are not required in the following situations, but would still be a nice gesture:

  • After being a guest at a dinner party.
  • After a job interview (not required, but definitely a smart idea).
  • For birthday gifts that were received and opened in person, and you already thanked the giver personally.
  • When a friend has helped you out with a special favor such as babysitting, a meal when you were sick, running errands for you when you are incapable.
  • To the sales representative who has entertained you personally as part of a business relationship.

The Don'ts of Thank You Letters

Don't delay in sending most letters. Generally letters should be sent within a week of receipt of the gift or gesture. The only exception to this timing is as follows:

  • Thank you letters for hospital gifts should be sent as soon as the patient is well enough to send them, whenever that is.
  • The current guidelines for wedding gift thank you letters are that the letters should be sent within three months of receipt of gifts. However, given the potential monumental task that would pose to the bride and groom after their honeymoon, it makes sense to send notes out as soon as gifts are received (often wedding gifts are sent prior to the wedding date).

I cannot stress enough the importance of personalizing thank you letters. I have attended large children's parties where parents hand out pre-written thank you letters as guests leave the party, even though gifts haven't even been opened. In my opinion, there's no point in even giving a thank you in this case. Thought was given to selecting just the right present for the birthday boy or girl, and without a specific thank you for the gift, the giver will never know how much the gift was really enjoyed. This kind of thank you is merely a check note on the party list, and conveys no sense of personal appreciation.

Even though most thank you letters can be sent on informal stationery, that doesn't mean it's okay to use a piece of paper torn from your shopping list pad. Find note cards that reflect your personality, and keep a ready supply on hand. They don't need to cost a lot of money. In fact, if you shop diligently, you can find inexpensive, attractive cards in the dollar stores.

There's no need to lie if you dislike a gift. If something is not to your taste, you should still show appreciation for the thought that went into selecting it for you. You can always say "Thank you for the thoughtful (fill in the blank). I will always think of you whenever I use it."

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