The Etiquette of Thank-you Notes

In the frequent talks that I’ve given recently on business etiquette, I always mention thank-you notes; how important they are, when to write them, and what to say. But questions still seem to arise about thank-you notes, and whether they’re a vanishing tradition. To that I say thank-you notes are not disappearing any time soon, and even if the hard copy version is endangered, it is all for the best as the notes that are written will stand out even more.

Thank-you notes follow the timeliness over content model. The sooner a thank-you note is written, the better, as people’s Thank-You Notesmemories are short, and the mail is slow, meaning that sending a hard copy note after more than 24 hours is probably waiting too long. Content, meanwhile, does not need to be terribly original. There are six basic points a thank-you note should make: Greeting, express gratitude, discuss use, allude to the future, final grace note, and sign-off.

A typical note could sound something like this: Dear Aunt Sally, Thank you for the lovely tie. Yellow is my favorite color, and it will match many of my suits and shirts. I look forward to wearing it next month at my graduation. I appreciate your thinking of me. Sincerely your nephew, Alex. Of course, you could add more details and information, if so inclined.

The main question on peoples’ minds surrounding thank-you notes is whether an electronic version is acceptable, or if you must always choose a handwritten note. The answer is, it depends. I recommend a hand-written, US postage mailed note for the following situations: a thoughtful gift, an interview, an informational in-person meeting, a party hosted in your honor, and a condolence-related visit or charitable donation. Handwritten is preferable, but not required for an involved favor, a dinner or holiday invitation, a group gift, or any situation where the giver has put themselves out without expecting anything in return. More everyday occurrences such as being treated to lunch, assistance at the office, or supporting a favorite charity can be shown gratitude with an email thank-you message. The format of an email note will be more informal but with the same points intact.

Having attractive stationary makes it more likely that you will send notes in the mail. It’s a good idea to keep stationary or note cards with stamped envelopes along with a pen on hand in the office or the car so that a thank-you note can be dashed out quickly. Ideally a thank you note will be mailed or emailed within 24 hours.

The benefits of sending a hand-written thank-you note over an electronic version include standing out in the recipient’s mind and letting them know that you care enough to take the time to write longhand. The benefit to the recipient is having something concrete to hold and reread, rather than an email which would quickly get deleted. It adds a note of grace to a hectic, pressure-filled day. Plus you can say you were listening to your mother all along.

Image Design Consulting owner Sharon Kornstein, offers etiquette training on an individual and group basis. Sharon’s expertise gives her clientele a leading edge on how to conduct themselves and dress in the office.