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How to Write a Thank You Note (and Why)

Susan Dunn, MA
Professional Life Coach
Emotional intelligence & Etiquette
Dallas, Texas . 817-741-7223 . Contact

Thank you notes are proper for all gifts, and also for certain work-related matters such as introductions, referrals, and following job interviews.  You can never go wrong writing a thank you note and mailing it.  A handwritten thank you note is always a better choice over email or phone call.   

Why not just email them?

Readers ask me "Do I have to send a written thank you note?  Can it just be an email?  Can't I just pick up the phone?  If I have to mail something, can it just be a 'thank you' card and I sign it?"  I think the keyword here is "just".  You know you're looking for the easy way out. 

The answer is, if you care, and want to be on the safe side, send a written thank you note.  You are never wrong to send a written thank you note.  Therefore, if you take care of relationships and the people in your life, write a thank you note and post it.  That's a sure thing.  Why would you take a chance? 

Do people expect it?  I think we are all horrified about the state of etiquette these days.  We don't know what horrible breach of etiquette will be next.  I'm frankly pleasantly surprised when I get a written thank you, and the person who sends one definitely rises in my estimation.  I have given gifts and received no acknowledgement whatsoever, even when I next saw the person.  Does this stop me from gifting the person in the future?  I don't give a gift in order to get a thank you note.  However, I think less of the person.  I wonder what they'll do next, answer their cell phone during a formal dinner party or ask me how much money I make?  
Age related

The expectation is age-related, as you might suspect.  I checked with my readers on this one to confirm.  The older the person, the more they expect "nice people" to send a written thank you note.  In other words, the older the person who gave you the gift, the more you will risk actually offending them by not sending a written thank you note.   One of my 60 year old readers said that if she does not receive a written thank you note (and not a card, just signed, but a note), she does not give the person a gift again.  However, I received essentially the same comment from a 40 year old.  What age is the break-point.  It appears to be around 35.   Folks in their 60s learned to write thank you notes "almost before toilet training," as one gentleman wrote me.  "Basic civility," he said.  For anyone in that age bracket, it is a serious breach of etiquette, make no mistake.   

Some recognition is expected

People of all ages appear to expect some recognition, though to a few younger readers a phone call or email would do.  On the other end, some said they worried that if they sent an emailed thank you, it might get lost in the junk mail.   She has greater trust in the US mail than I do.  Should you then send your written thank you note certified mail, return response required?  Of course not, but I ask the person next time I saw them, when I thank them again, if they received my note.  If you care, you take care.   Writing out a thank you note takes time and effort; therefore it is appreciated.   

Reflects on your upbringing

Readers should note that etiquette reflects on one's upbringing.  Is not the first thing to come to mind, "(S)he wasn't well-raised"?  We learn our manners first at home.  If you are dealing with your parents' friends, therefore,  your breach of etiquette becomes theirs.  Send the written thank-you note.

Many a marriage gets off to a bad start when the bride-to-be fails to properly acknowledge the wedding gifts.  (This is still largely the woman's responsibility though either the bride or groom can write them.  See below.)  The mother-in-law to-be receives phone calls from her friends inquiring as to whether the gift was received, which is the polite way of saying they have received no acknowledgement.  When my son married, my daughter-in-law wrote beautiful thank you notes to everyone with amazing speed, and I received many phone calls commenting on how nice that was, and how appreciated.  Some said they had "given up on expecting such courtesy" and just wanted me to know how pleased they were.   

Cultural difference

There were discrepancies in readers' expectations in terms of what part of the country they live in, what their income bracket is, and the nature of the relationship with the person who gave them the gift.  These discrepancies are not justification for not sending a written note, they are, in fact, the strongest mandate FOR sending one.  Why? Because with all the confusion, the one thing you can be sure of is putting pen to paper and sending a formal thank you note. 

Cultures vary, but again, the one thing that can't fail is to send the written thank you note.  Hispanics have told me that I "don't understand," that in their culture, any breech of etiquette reflects directly on their parents and their upbringing.  They have a special term for it, and they have told me they think it is particularly severe.  I don't.  I think they don't understand how serious it was in my upbringing, which was German and Irish, and mine was no less severe than the Italians who lived next door.  This is universal, folks.  How you behave reflects upon your family -- your spouse, your parents, even your children.  "No man is an island."

Training Children

We were set about the task of thank-you notes at an early age, as soon as we could write, say age 6.  As we opened our gifts at Christmas, we had to keep a list of who gave us what, and then were given our pen and paper that long week after Christmas, to write out notes.  They were corrected as to content and grammar, and so we learned.  I remember starting mine (I have a twin sister), "Thank you for the book. We liked..." and was told, "No, this is specifically from you.  Use "I"." 

Another time I wrote, "Thank you for the pen.  I have lots of pens.  I got one from Mom, and also one from Uncle Ben."  I was corrected on that one, and it began, "How do you think Nana would feel if she knew she gave you something you already had..." 

And so it went. 

It's a lesson in manners, and it is a lesson in written expression, and a lesson in emotional intelligence.  We write thank you notes, because we would like to receive them, yes?

If they take the time and money to go out and get you something, the least you can do is acknowledge it.  In this way, children also learn that a gift is not a given, it is not an obligation, it is not to be expected, and they are not somehow entitled to receive you.  This is an important lesson in "giving" and "receiving". 

"No one has to send you a gift," my mother would tell me, when I was balking.  One might also add, as she did, as that's the way it was back then, "If you want another gift from her, then you have to write a thank you note."  We did not use "need to" back then.  Etiquette is rules.    The Rules of Etiquette are designed to grease the wheels of social interaction, and using them will keep you safe. 

What to say

When you write the note, mention the gift or gifts specifically.  Mention some way that you will use it, or what it meant to you, how much you love the color red, or how you've been wanting to read that book.  I have some examples of good thank you notes on my website:  www.susandunn.cc/thankyounotes.htm .  There are many other examples on the Internet I'm sure.  Thank you notes are in vogue following job interviews too these days.  It's one way a candidate can stand out.   [See examples below]  

In closing, the most compelling note I received was from an older gentleman, a doctor in the NorthEast, who has lovely manners.  He wrote:  My opinion?....it is never the wrong time or place to extend gratitude and/or courtesy to another person.  I call it basic civility, golden rule, do unto others as you would have them do unto you, ...you know, the stuff you learned almost before toilet training.  When I was a medical officer in the military, I learned that an officer or enlisted person of lower rank always saluted first an officer of higher rank.  It's simple respect for the uniform, if not the person wearing it.  Problem:  when two officers of equal rank cross paths, who salutes first?  Answer:  the gentleman!
Who sends a written thank you note?  Ladies and gentlemen.

About cards

Some of us love cards, both to give and to receive.  The ones they have today are beautiful and it's hard to resist.  However, simply buying a "thank you" card and signing it is not sufficient.  If you buy one, add your note on the left-hand side and on the back.  I have started children with just signing their name to a card when they were very young, say 5, but after that, no.

The ingredients

The thank you note should include:

In passing


Example One (from a child, age 7)

Dear Nana,

Thank you for the book about Harry Potter.  I like it a lot.  You are nice.

Love, Paul

Children can generally write from their heart.  They tend to say things like "you are nice," and it is touching.

Example Two (adult) (multiple gifts)

Dear Julie,

What a lovely surprise to receive the beautiful Christmas gifts.  It was so thoughtful of you. 

As you know, I love the color red, and the sweater is just what I needed.  I will wear it to the next opera, that's for sure, and I know that's what you had in mind!

We also loved the cocktail mix.  It's definitely the best recipe we've ever tasted, and I'll tell you, they didn't last long.  We enjoyed them with our eggnog before Christmas dinner.

Lastly, the travel book about Italy was so perfect.  As we continue to plan for our trip, we will consult it often.  I especially liked the chapter on basic Italian for travelers.  I know those phrases will come in handy.

We appreciate your thinking of us so much.

Best wishes for a Happy New Year!


Example Three (Adult)(Joint)
Your letter is from one person, but you mention both.  Sign it with your name only.

Dear Robert,

Tom and I were so pleased to receive the lovely bottle of Chateau Neuf-de-Pape.  I have always wanted to sample this delightful wine, having heard so much about it, and I was not disappointed.  It was the perfect addition to our holiday festivities.

We appreciate you so much for thinking of us at the holiday.  I hope you'll have time to stop by for a visit next week when you're in town.

Best wishes for a Happy New Year!



Dear Robert,

Tom and I were so pleased to receive the beautiful bottle of Chateau Neuf-de-Pape.  We are looking forward to enjoying it on New Year's Eve/with dinner some lovely evening in the future/when next you come to visit.

Example Four (Adult)(from two people)
You can write to the woman, mentioning both names, or you can write to both.  The more formal way is for the woman to write to the woman, mentioning the men.  If you are writing to someone over 50, it should look like this.

Dear Ethel,

Martin and I were simply delighted with the beautiful set of Christmas dishes that you sent us.  I used them right away, of course, and they made the Christmas dinner especially festive.   Martin wanted me to tell you he loved the fact that the soup bowls were "finally big enough."  You know how he is!

We appreciate you so much for thinking of us at Christmas time.  I hope you'll have time to stop by for a visit next week when you're in town.

Best wishes for a Happy New Year!


Example Five - the gift of food
I always find this more challenging, I don't know about you.  It's more impersonal, and usually given by someone you don't know very well.  Here's a sample.

Dear Sergio,

It was so thoughtful of you to send the box of Lindt, Lindor Truffles.  Milk chocolate is my favorite, and so you have really put a smile on my face.  They are simply delicious.

Thank you so much for remembering me at Christmas, and best wishes for a Happy New Year.     




Officially, you are allowed up to one year to thank someone for a wedding gift.  You are far better off acknowledging the as you open them, and staying caught up.  People worry these days about their gifts not getting there, plus if you put it off, it just gets harder.  When you go to register for all these gifts you are going to receive, buy yourself some special stationary, a nice pen, and have your address book handy.  Immediate acknowledgement is greatly appreciated!

Either one of you can write the thank you note, speaking for both of you.

Example One

Dear Mary,

The set of bath towels that you sent us are just beautiful.  I've always enjoyed the ones at the spa and these look just yummy.  John is particularly grateful, he says, that they are ample in size. 

Thanks so much for the lovely wedding gift, and we'll look forward to seeing you and Tom on the Big Day.


Example Two

Dear Alexis,

How did you know that we love Deruta pottery?  We are absolutely thrilled with the beautiful vase, and it will look lovely in our home, which we plan to decorate around a Tuscany theme. 

You could not have pleased us more, and we appreciate your gift so much.


Example Three - the gift certificate, or money

Dear Samantha,

Thank you so much for the gift certificate to Nordstrum's.  It's my favorite store, and it will be fun to pick out just what we need.  We'll look forward to a fun shopping trip.

I do hope you and Tony will be able to make it to the wedding.  I'll look forward to seeing you then.


OF - if money.  It is not polite to mention the amount.

Dear Samantha,

Thank you so much for the check that you sent for our wedding.  How thoughtful of you to allow us to pick out something ourselves.  We appreciate your generosity, and look forward to seeing you on the 25th.   

Work related

I was in a corporate office the other day, and there on the counter was a hand-written thank you note that someone had written following an interview.  It is becoming expected, and will also allow you a chance, perhaps, to stand out.  It is strongly recommended, and that it be hand-written, not emailed.  Be sure and get names and addresses before you leave! 

It also gives you a chance to reiterate why you would be good for the job and want it, or to mention something you left out.

Pay attention to titles.  You should have some idea as to the formality from former correspondence, i.e., whether you should use "Mr." or "Ms." or simply the first name.

Be sure and use your full name.  Don't count on them remembering you, the position or anything else.  There are many applicants these days for any job.  It's a courtesy not to put the other person on the spot. 

Example One - more formal

Dear Dr. Smith,

It was such a pleasure to meet with you and your staff yesterday and to learn more about the opportunity as Business Administrator for your practice.

I was impressed with your organization and am very interested in this position.  I think we would be a good fit.

I failed to mention at the time that I had also held a position similar to this with Radko Medical Products, Inc., where I interacted daily with physicians and their staff in a medical setting.  Their software was quite similar to yours, and the transition would be facilitated.

Thank you again for taking time to meet with me, and I look forward to hearing from you at your convenience. 

George Timkins

Example Two - less formal

Dear Sandy,

It was great meeting with you last week.  Definitely the most fun interview I've ever had.  It was nice to find someone who agrees with me about imanage software!

Southern Airlines is just the kind of organization I've dreamed of working for and I am eager to become the new Public Relations Coordinator.  It seems like a real growth opportunity for me, and if you liked my idea about the No-Name Contest, just wait!  I have all sorts of ideas for promoting the new program. 

If there's any further information you need from me, please let me know.  You can reach me on my cell phone at 817.741-7221. 

I hope I'll hear from you soon.

Andrea Martinez

Example Three - for the referral
Many people make a serious mistake in not acknowledging referrals.  It's a simple thing to do that can really grow your practice or business. 

Dear Nancy,

I want to thank you for referring your client, Mary Smith, to me for coaching.  I appreciate the confidence you have shown in me and my work, and you can be assured I will take good care of her. 

As per our discussion, I think you are absolutely right that the first step is to work on her emotional intelligence skills/address multi-cultural concerns/go over the rules of protocol and we will begin there.

I will keep you advised.

Have a great time on your trip to Italy.


Example Four - the business gift
These are impersonal, often food, and often ignored.  Stand out! 

Dear Ben,

Thank you for sending the vegetable tray to my staff last week.  Christmas is a busy time at this office, and your thoughtful gift was much appreciated.  I must say it didn't last long, either!

Best wishes for a healthy and prosperous new year.

Marshall Adamon