For many, it’s the season of Thanksgiving—but do you ever have difficulty putting your gratitude into words? You can always send a cute thank-you video (like this one with minions) or give a public shout-out on social media, but there’s something extra special about a personally crafted written expression of appreciation.
I recently got married, so I have had lots—and lots—of practice putting my gratitude into words. Whether you’re basking in appreciation for the help or gifts you’ve received, or you simply want to recognize someone you care about by acknowledging the good work they’re doing, learning how to write a thank-you letter is an important skill. Here are some essential steps to follow while writing a thank-you letter.
1. Don’t put it off.
When writing thank-you letters, time is of the essence. For one thing, it’s courteous to send a prompt reply to acknowledge a gift, as this lets the giver know that you have, indeed, received it. You should generally respond within two weeks of receiving the gift.
Another reason to get writing is that it’s easier for you—and less stressful! Write while the memory of unwrapping the orange squeezer from Uncle Chester is fresh in your mind. But before you pick up a pen, here are a couple of things to consider.
2. Mind your Ps and Qs.
Even in the age of technology, there’s a certain degree of etiquette involved when issuing recognition for good deeds. Though the idea of “etiquette” may seem old-fashioned, it simply refers to the accepted ways to treat someone politely, making them feel that they are respected and considered.
For instance, you need to put some effort into your “thank you.” While a thank-you text message may seem convenient, a quick “Tx 4 the stuff. U R awsum” might not do justice to the time, money, and energy spent by the recipient. One reason that people write thank-you notes (often by hand) to their wedding guests is to expend personal energy in response to the generosity of others. That being said, thank-you letters don’t necessarily have to be handwritten—but they do have to be thoughtful and sincere.
3. Choose your medium.
Aside from the thank-you etiquette of weddings, baby showers, and other gift-amassing events that call for handwritten thank-you notes, you should also think about the options you have for sending your thanks in everyday situations.
Will you send a brief Facebook message or email to someone too busy to check their physical mailbox? How about choosing pretty, purple stationery replete with images of cats for a letter to your kind granny? You’ll want to consider the personality and lifestyle of your recipient, matching their communication preference with the format of your thank-you letter.
If you have elegant penmanship (or really clear block lettering), consider choosing material forms of communication, as this adds a personal touch. You can even type your letter and print it out. It’s especially nice for someone living abroad or for those confined to their homes to receive a handwritten thank-you letter. Once you’ve chosen your medium, you’re ready to start writing your thank-you letter!
4. Fill in the blanks (in your own unique way).
Now it’s time to start composing. Your letter should follow this basic structure:
- Salutation (e.g., Dear ______)
- Thank you (e.g., Thank you for the ______)
- Appreciation (e.g., It was so kind of you to ______; we appreciate your ______; we plan to use the ______ for ______)
- Closing (e.g., We hope to see you ______; thanks again for ______)
- Signature (e.g., Love, ______)
Keep in mind that this is an informal style of writing, so you should keep your tone warm and personal. Your thank-you letter should also be fairly concise and straightforward—there’s no need for over-the-top language or a parade through the streets.
5. Salute your recipient (appropriately)!
When writing your thank-you letter, the first thing you have to tackle is your salutation. You don’t have to be super formal, but you should also show respect. Suit your opening salutation to the kind of relationship you have with the recipient. For instance, you wouldn’t refer to your granny as “Mrs. Elouise Margaret Giggery” when you’re thanking her for the cookies she sent (“Dear Granny” would suffice), but you don’t want to offend your college dean with the informal salutation “Hey bud!” Only use first names, nicknames, or informal titles if you have a close relationship with the addressee.
6. Say the magic word.
And no, I don’t mean “please”! This is where you list your thank-yous, whether it’s for the recipient’s qualities, gifts given, or services rendered. Many people struggle with how to say thank you, but it’s really more important that you say it. Simplicity is often the best way to go.
For items received, one tip is to be specific with your description (e.g., the polka dot-covered orange squeezer or the chocolate chip cookies), unless you’re thanking someone for money. Some people consider it gauche to say, “Thank you for your cheque of $500 USD.” Instead of referring to money as “cash” or “moolah,” use a more polite term such as “generous gift.”
Also, keep in mind that gift-givers typically like to know how you plan to use their donation. If you’re writing to thank someone for their actions, remember that people love to be appreciated.
7. Offer your appreciation (even if you didn’t love the paperweights from Aunt Myrtle).
Ever heard the phrase “It’s the thought that counts”? Our materialistic society is sometimes more concerned with the contents of the gift received than the thoughtfulness (or attempted thoughtfulness) of the giver. It might be true that the sparkly purple paperweights from Aunt Myrtle weren’t at the top of your wish list, but she still took some trouble and expense for your benefit.
The bottom line is that you should explain why the gift is important to you—even if it’s not something you would have purchased for yourself. Showing appreciation is essential to maintaining healthy relationships—and to writing a sincere thank-you letter.
8. Add a line to stay in touch.
Aside from expressing your appreciation, take a moment to share some news or catch up with the recipient before wrapping up your note of thanks. For example, you might ask how your granny is enjoying her new oven (which produced such fantastic cookies!), or you might mention how you plan to see your Aunt Myrtle in the New Year. Your thank-you is a nice way to remind someone that you haven’t forgotten them and they’re still a part of your life.
9. Reiterate your gratitude.
This step isn’t totally necessary, but it doesn’t hurt to say “Thanks again.” It wraps up the note with a reminder of your gratitude.
10. Sign your John Hancock.
Whether you’re sending an email, a postcard, or a message by carrier pigeon, don’t forget to sign your name. If possible, use your handwritten signature. You should also add a closing line such as “Sincerely,” “Warmest regards,” or “With all my/our love”—which, again, depends on how well you know the addressee.
11. One final tip . . .
Whatever reason you’re writing a thank you, remember to be sincere. Even if you didn’t get the gift that you expected or the recipient didn’t do all you’d hoped they would, show gratitude for what they did do. It’s more important to write from the heart than to write eloquently.
Writing a thank-you letter is a meaningful social practice and an opportunity to show that you care. It’s nice to know that someone’s thinking of you, and that’s what thank-you letters are all about. After all, kindness never goes out of style.
Still looking for inspiration on how to write a thank-you letter? You can find thank-you writing samples online to get started with the writing process, and you can take advantage of Scribendi’s letter-editing service to polish your final draft. Some other great resources on letter writing include Inklyo’s online course, How to Write a Formal Letter, and ebook, How to Write a Letter.
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