How to write a good thank-you note

Years ago, my mom went to the bridal shower of my dad’s former boss’s daughter. There is no reason why she needed to be invited in the first place and I’m sure she did not want to go, but she went anyway, and for some reason felt bold enough to bestow some lacy lingerie upon this woman she barely knew. (Mom, really, a serving platter would have been fine.) The thank-you note she eventually received said this and only this, “Thank you for the teddy. Marcia”*

Typical reactions to this anecdote might be, “Well, at least she sent a thank-you note! It’s a lost art!” or “Maybe she’s just a woman of few words,” the latter of which I think we can safely assume. Admittedly, a bad thank-you note is better than no thank-you note, but we should all strive for better. Here is my basic structure for a thank-you note that not only says “I like your gift a lot” but also “I like you a lot, too.” I have no credentials other than writing many thank-you notes over the past few months, so take it for what you will.

Dear Binky,

It was so wonderful to see you at our wedding, and thank you so much for the beautiful tea kettle. Special Someone drinks a lot of tea, so it will get a lot of use! We hope you enjoyed yourselves at the wedding and wish we could have talked more. We would love to get together soon at the new house. Please send our best to Mumsy and Cousin Eugene. Enjoy the rest of your summer and thank you again!


Skeptic Bride and Special Someone**

Hmm. After reviewing the elements of my traditional thank-you note structure, I have reached the conclusion that deep down I am a 78 year-old Southern Belle and that such language could easily be mistaken for a sycophant’s drivel. But really, friends, I mean what I say – that cake stand you gave us is just darling!

I may have no idea what I’m talking about, but one thing I must stress is the importance of adding at least one personal touch to each thank-you note. Since weddings are often impersonal monstrosities, you at least need to remind your guests that you have some vague idea of who they are, even if that personal touch is “I’m so sorry we did not get a chance to catch up at the wedding, but we are so happy you could come.” (Make sure you did, in fact, not talk to this person at your wedding, and that you weren’t just too drunk to remember.) It’s also nice to mention whatever relevant news they have, such as “Good luck with the new job!” or “Enjoy your trip to Peoria!” or “Congratulations on the vasectomy!” Not “We can’t wait till our honeymoon trip around the world!” or “Married life is so rewarding,” unless self-talk and boastfulness are distinctly apropos to this particular note. You don’t want the card to be about you, but about its recipient and how happy you are to have them and their generous cash gift in your life.

One thing I try to avoid in regular writing that I make no attempts to avoid in thank-you note writing is the overuse of intensifiers such as “so,” “very,” and “really.” In a thank-you note, there is nothing wrong with “I had such a good time catching up and am so happy you could attend! We are very grateful for the fruit pitting set, as well” but imagine if you read this in a newspaper editorial, “The S&P credit downgrade was such a huge disappointment and we are so sad they didn’t keep America’s AAA rating! This is a really sad day for the Obama administration.” It’s okay to be simplistic in thank-you notes, as the important thing to display is your genuine gratitude, not your sophisticated vocabulary. Of course, the tone of every thank-you note should be adjusted for its intended audience. If your PhD advisor comes to your wedding, depending on the type of relationship you have, you may want to avoid sentences like “It was sooo fun watching you attempt the Cupid Shuffle!”  (Remember, dears: fun is a noun, not an adjective.)

Still, as I said earlier, a bad thank-you note is better than no thank-you note at all. If you find yourself overwhelmed with all the gratitude you are required to express by hand, feel free to copy the template below, created by my brilliant and thoughtful husband. All you have to do is circle the relevant bold phrases, so it will really help to speed things up in the end. More importantly, it’s a thank-you note the recipient will never forget.

Dear Friend/Relative/Other,

We would like to thank you so much for your incredible and very thoughtful gift of an item/cash/other.
It was an absolutely perfect choice and it really made our day extra special/special/okay.

We look forward to using your item/spending the money/other and will think of you whenever we do so. It was particularly great seeing you at the wedding/Sorry you could not make it.

We are both very excited about our new life together and really hope to see you/ chat on the phone/occasionally reminisce about you sometime in the future.

Sincerely/With Love,

Skeptic Bride and Special Someone


*Name has been changed to protect the guilty.

**If any of you has ever received a thank-you note from me, I swear it was from the heart and not from a template.


2 Comments on “How to write a good thank-you note”

  1. jasmine says:

    Instead of a thank you note, how about you save the paper and invite us over for dinner prepared by using all of your new schwag?

    And I really really love to use fun intensifiers. They’re super cool.

  2. caroline says:

    I received the tip that if you never start the note with the words “Thank you,” you’ll never be stuck and not sure what to write next. Totally true, as “Thank you for the ________; we’ll use it in our _______” can be a total TY note-stopper.

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