How to Write a Perfect Thank You Note: A Crash Course for Beginners

They don't teach you this in school (anymore).

Photo by Álvaro Serrano on Unsplash

In this day and age, shooting off a quick "thank you" text can seem like enough after receiving a gift, but not everyone who gifts us is from our generation, and sometimes the short period of time it takes to write a real "thank you" can make someone's day.

So here's your quick-and-dirty guide to the age-old Thank You Card— appropriate for both gifts and favors.

Also: This is very thorough. This is a very rudimentary guide. This is for beginners, not seasoned letter-writers.

First thing's first...handwrite or email?

There are a few things to consider when deciding whether to handwrite or email.

**If you don't email with the person and a handwritten note doesn't seem appropriate, consider a more lengthy text OR a thank you upon receiving and another thank you the next time you see them in person.

Familiarity With the Receiver: An email sent as a thank you to your aunt is too impersonal, while a handwritten thank you to a coworker who drew your name in Secret Santa is too familiar. Consider your relationship with whoever you're thanking; would you think it weird to receive a handwritten note from them? If the answer is no, you probably want to handwrite a note to them, as well.

The Receiver's Age/Lifestyle: Don't email your grandma a thank you— especially if she isn't tech-savvy. Similarly, your cousin who spends most of his time on YouTube is more likely to actually read an email over a handwritten note. 

How Recently You Received the Gift: If you just received the gift and you're on top of it, a handwritten note is always preferred (assuming it's not too personal). However, if you put off writing a thank you, send an email so it arrives quicker.

How big was the gift/favor?: There's no need to handwrite a note for a souvenir from a trip or a small thing someone picked up because they thought of you. No need to pull out your stationary to pen a note to thank someone for a ride home from work. However, an email is perfectly appropriate for these situations, as well.

Do you know the receiver's opinion?: I have an aunt who puts a lot of stock in a prompt, handwritten thank you. Because I know this, I always sit down and write a thank you as soon as I receive any gift from her. If you know the gift giver/favor doer appreciates thank you cards or likes getting mail, consider sending a handwritten card simply because it will make their day.

NOW do I get to write the 'Thank You?'

...almost. I know for us youngins (I'm 20, for perspective) this all seems a little formal and archaic, but stick with me here, okay?

If you're handwriting the 'Thank You...'

  • Choose the right stationery: If you're sending a thank you to your best friend, that hot pink stationary is awesome. Maybe use something a little more demure for your great aunt Ethel, though.
  • Choose the right pen: Yes, this is a nerdy thing for me to say. Yes, I have a favorite pen. What I mean is, choose one that won't smudge when your hand hits it, and choose an appropriate color for the recipient.
  • Write neatly and clearly: They say it's the thought that counts, but who cares how thoughtful you are if your handwriting's unintelligible? Think about what you're going to write before you write it to avoid having to cross words out.
  • Address the envelope NEATLY and CORRECTLY: You want your letter to get where it's going, right? I was recently asked by a friend the correct way to address an envelope because an adult she knew wasn't sure. If you're even a little unsure how to address an envelope, google it before you try.

If you're emailing the 'Thank You...'

  • Make sure you give it a subject: The first thing you should do is give it a subject so you don't forget to later.
  • Don't be fooled by the medium: Just because you're writing an email, doesn't mean you can necessarily be as casual as you usually are. If you're sending a quick thank you, no need to be formal, but keep the recipient in mind!
  • Delete your automatic sign-off (if necessary): A well-written thank you note with "Sent from my iPhone" at the bottom just doesn't read as well.

Okay, fine. NOW can I write the 'Thank You?'

YES! And this is where it doesn't matter how formal or informal your letter is, and regardless of if it's handwritten or emailed.

Open the letter.

Start by addressing the recipient (Dear Mr..., My Darling..., Mr., etc.) the way you would in a regular letter. If handwritten, make sure as well to date the letter, even if just with the year.

Thank you for...I really liked it because...

Yes, you really can jump right into that (in my opinion). Either the front of the card or the subject line of the email says that this is a thank you, so why put off the actual thank you? 

  • For Gifts: Be specific as to why you liked it and what it meant to you. If you were given a gift card, include here what you purchased/intend to purchase with the card.
  • For Favors: Explain why their favor meant so much to you or why it was helpful—especially if there's a reason that they might not know about.

A Kind Thing To Say

Examples:

  • It was so nice to get to see you at my party.
  • It was so thoughtful of you to buy this for my daughter so out of the blue—it really shows how good a friend you are to have thought of us.
  • I can't wait to see you next month at book club!
  • We need to catch up soon—I'll call you to set up lunch.

An Update (Optional)

If you haven't seen this person in a while, consider adding a little update before you sign off to let them know what you've been up to recently. This will make the note more personal and show extra thought.

A Brief Thank You and Goodbye

Thank the person again, briefly, and bid them adieu. No need to repeat your appreciation again, but remind them how thankful you are.

DONE!

Examples

Email (Co-Worker)

Garrett Smith,

Thank you so much for the desk planner you bought for me in the office Christmas exchange. It fits perfectly on my desk and really brightens up my day. I was touched you remembered our conversation from a few weeks ago about how disorganized I was feeling. Thank you for bringing some organization to my life.

All the Best,

Hannah Harper

Email (Small Gift from a Friend):

Mary—

Thank you so much for the brownies you brought over yesterday! The kids loved them and half have already been eaten. It was so thoughtful of you to bake for us—one less thing to think about with Ken in the hospital this week. We should get together once things calm down for lunch, it's been so long since I got to hear about your life and see that lovely face of yours in person!

Thanks again!

Barbie

Handwritten/More Heartfelt:

Dear Aunt Martha,

Thank you so much for the absolutely gorgeous Scorpio necklace. It's such a delicate piece of jewelry and I couldn't think of a more perfect necklace. How you manage to find perfect presents for your loved ones year after year astounds me—I just hope the bakeware set I sent your way pleases you as much as this gift pleases me. It was so nice to get to see you this holiday and get to hear more about your new business. I hope you'll keep me updated! Thank you again for the necklace, and happy new year.

All my love,

Karen

And there you go!

Now you are ready to write a thank you note fit for the Queen!

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