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A Proper Thanks
(In which we discuss the Thank You Note)

Before all the other rules, keep in mind that an imperfect note that comes with heartfelt sentiment is better than a perfect note that was never written.
-Donna Pilato, The Basic Etiquette of Thank You Notes
In this day and age of technology and get-it-done-quickly-ness, many proprieties and kindnesses are sadly disregarded because of the extra time it takes to observe them. There is, however, no excuse for rudeness, no matter how busy a person thinks he or she may be. And neglecting to extend a proper thank you is indeed rude.
© Jessica Ceason Photography

What better way to express your gratitude for someone’s thoughtfulness toward you than through a hand-written note of thanks? There has been some recent debate over whether or not sending a thank you card is necessary in the case that a “thank you” has already been expressed in person. While there is really no hard and fast rule that applies to every single gift-exchanging circumstance, we at Polite Society are of the mind that sending a card is always an appreciated, gracious gesture. When in doubt, do.

What should a proper thank you card consist of? A warm, heartfelt thanks, of course! Sincerity is paramount when it comes to graciously thanking someone for kindness, a gift, or service they rendered you. Keep in mind that a thank you note need not be lengthy or formally written. Just an acknowledgement of the offering accompanied by earnest gratitude will do the trick.

Quick Tips on Writing a Thank You Note

Don’t become overwhelmed by the thought of being an avid thank you note writer. Here are a few suggestions of some quick ideas that will hopefully make sending thank you notes an enjoyable pastime rather than an expected chore.

  • Two of the most important things- Sincerity and promptness. One need not be a poet or a professional writer to send a lengthy note. Your thanks can be condensed to that of only a few sentences of heartfelt gratitude. If it is genuine and cordial, no one will notice any imperfections in grammar or dialect.
  • Efficiency brings enjoyment- Keep some blank thank you notes next to your computer, your phone, or in your car. During those times when you’ve been put on hold, are waiting for the doctor, or experiencing downtime between appointments, you’ll readily have a blank card to quickly write a note of gratitude. If you find that you only have a few seconds to write, which is not enough time to write a sincere thank you, simply pen the first and last name of the recipient on the outside of the envelope and leave it in a place where you’ll be able to write it during another moment of extra time. (A quick side note: we make it a practice not to write the person’s address on the envelope until it is actually ready to be sent. This is a quick signal that the card inside is still blank. The mistake of sending a blank card to someone has only happened once here at Polite Society, but once brought plenty of embarrassment to deter us from ever repeating the act again.)
  • © Jessica Ceason Photography
  • Homemade vs. Store Bought- There are some who find enjoyment in making homemade cards, however, this is not required as a matter of etiquette. You can find many stores, which carry preprinted thank you cards in their paper section, as well as blank cards and envelopes for you to write a sincere note of appreciation. One thing we suggest is to buy boxes or packages with a large number of cards inside, which not only saves a few pennies, but also allows for the ease of having a thank you note on hand. You can also find stationery companies online to print your initials on the front of each card, including your return address on the envelope, which brings a personal touch to your stationery.
  • Some don’ts when purchasing thank you card stationery- It is not appropriate to send a preprinted, store-bought, greeting card without adding a personal note before its delivery. It is also not appropriate to make photocopies of a single thank you note to be sent to multiple people at once. And lastly, it is not appropriate to pass around blank envelopes at a baby or wedding shower for individuals to print their names and addresses on. While all of these practices would save a person time or money, they are very impersonal ways to send thank you cards. Remember, thank you notes need to be sincere. When you don’t add a personal touch to the note, you’re indirectly telling the recipient that you cannot take a few minutes of your own time to write a simple note for their graciousness. It is worth your time to return their kindness and write a sincere note of thanks.
  • Timing- There has recently been some discrepancy over when (or in other words, how long can I wait?) to send a thank you. As a general rule of thumb, we like to stand by the saying, “the sooner the better.” Within a few days is preferable, but before a week is suitable as well. With the exception of wedding thank you notes that are given the timeframe of “up and until a year” to be sent (although “the sooner the better” would apply here as well), most thank you cards should be sent no later than one month’s time. When applying for a job or to a college, a thank you card must be sent within a day or two, and be kept short, professional, and to-the-point. Anytime after two days would be unprofessional and better not sent at all.
  • Out of Town or Unopened Gifts- In cases where a gift is sent by mail or with he help of another guest (in such cases of a wedding, birthday, or other event), a prompt thank you (even in the form of a phone call or email) to the sender, within a few days, is obligatory. The sender should know that you indeed received the present, so they can be assured it was lost en route. You can then, if you feel the need, still send the giver a more professional thank you note in the mail.
DO send a thank you card:
  • For Wedding and Baby Shower gifts (even if you thanked them in person)
  • For Religious, Birthday, and Christmas gifts
  • For guests at a special religious event, such as a christening, baptism, or bar mitzvah
  • A school teacher who has extended beyond their normal duties to help your child’s education and well-being (although you may want to save your thank you to accompany a nice Christmas gift and/or end-of-year gift)
  • For a friend has made dinner for your family after the birth of a child or an illness or death
  • For a colleague at work
  • After a Job interview (see “Timing”)
  • After an Invitation from a friend to dinner or lunch
  • If you are a guest in someone’s home for an extended period of time (more than three days). We suggest making it a habit to write a sincere thank you note before you leave and place it on your pillow with a small gift (i.e., a box of nice chocolates or a few aromatic candles).
  • For paid help, such as secretaries, employees, nannies, gardeners, or doctors. Even if some have expressed, “the monetary compensation is thank you enough,” they still deserve a nice, thank you note, or even a small Christmas gift/Christmas card, depending on how involved they are with you and/or your family.
DON’T need to send a thank you note:
  • Thanking someone in return for sending a thank you card to you
  • You have already thanked the giver well enough in person (this applies mostly to close family and friends)
  • For individuals who performed a momentary service (flight or gas station attendants)
  • For a sales representative who entertained you or your company as part of acquiring a business relationship. In this instance, it should be the sales representative who would send you a thank you note.
Other Informal Means of Saying Thank You

We definitely live in modern times during which sometimes it would seem more expedient, and convenient, to send an e-mail or text message, especially to many people at once. While in most cases such an informal way of saying thank you is not appropriate, there are a few situations where it would be suitable to use this as a means of communication. First and foremost, it largely depends on how close your relationship is with the person you are thanking, as well as what you are actually thanking them for. Because thank you notes are somewhat formal, using text or email would best be used in instances of informality. A few examples below might help illustrate this concept better:

  • You were swamped at work and your coworker offered to pick up lunch for you. You didn’t realize until everyone had left for the day that you never thanked this friend. Quickly send an e-mail to this coworker to find the next day.
  • Your sister texts you to say she was passing by your daughter’s school and offers to pick her up so you don’t have to wake your sleeping baby and venture out in the cold.
  • Your husband surprises you by frequently putting gas in your car without asking. Send him a quick text message thanking him right away.
How to Write a Thank You Note

As stated before, the two most important things when sending a thank you note are its sincerity and promptness. When writing the note, keep it genuine and heartfelt — a quickly written, impersonal note is more of an offense than one not sent at all.

© Jessica Ceason Photography

When writing the note, make sure you do the following things: 1) Address the receiver personally; 2) Thank them specifically for the gift or service; 3) Possibly mention what use you will have for the gift, and then; 4) Maybe add a personal salutation as your ending.

A thank you note should only be little more than a paragraph, unless you are sending it to an out-of-town, close family member who would be interested in details of your life, in which case it would be appropriate to give a short update within the card.

Make sure not to add details that would be offensive, such as why you didn’t like the gift, why you won’t use the gift, or that you are considering returning it to the store they purchased it from.

Dearest Aunt Caroline,

Thank you for your thoughtfulness in sending a gift for my recent birthday. How did you know I am in love with personalized stationery, scented bath soaps, and poetry books? I will most definitely be taking some much needed time to myself to enjoy your wonderful gifts.

I do miss our rich conversations of late and hope very soon we’ll be able to enjoy each other’s company. Thank you again.


Your Darling Niece, Elizabeth

If in doubt, send one. Not only do people love to feel appreciated, EVERYONE loves to receive mail. Receiving personal mail in our mailbox is one of life’s dying, simple pleasures, and is even more appreciated in these modern times of fast-paced, busy-ness and technology. And if anything, keep in mind that gratitude always comes full circle. You will enjoy beautiful days, find friends who enlighten your life, and feel happiness throughout your life, all because of your practice of being grateful.