Modern Manners: 3 Must-Know Rules of Thank-You Note Etiquette

Modern Manners: 3 Must-Know Rules of Thank-You Note Etiquette

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Taryn Williford
Mar 7, 2016
(Image credit: hedwiga/Shutterstock)

With the advent of email, it seems the only paper mail we get any more are junk and bills–neither of which are particularly thrilling contents for a mailbox. Being the recipient of personal paper correspondence is more of a delight than ever, so why have handwritten thank-you notes fallen more out of vogue?

It's time to take back the thank you! You can do it in two parts: First, get acquainted with the modern rules of thank-you note etiquette below, then buy a stack of note cards and vow to become more of a thanker in 2016.


Rule #1: Know When to Send a Thank-You Note

There are endless situations that could call for a thank you note with the right conditions (see the last bullet below), but here are some clear-cut times when a handwritten "thanks!" is undoubtedly appropriate:

  • When somebody's given you a gift. Wedding gifts. Shower gifts. Birthday gifts. Even if that gift was time, talent or money. (Especially money.)
  • When people have offered support in tough times. If you're ill, or have a close friend or family member pass, the very best sorts of people will come out of the woodwork to offer their time, resources and well-wishes. It's a really nice gesture to acknowledge them with a formal thank you.
  • When somebody's hosted you. It's a little overkill, in this writer's opinion, to send a hand-written thank you note for being invited to a party at home. But if you spend a weekend on a friend's sofa or were invited to a big bash where a gift wasn't expected, a thank-you note can be a nice touch.
  • When you've been given an interview. If you're job hunting, it's a nice touch to send a thank-you note to the person who interviewed you to thank them for their time and consideration.
  • Anytime it feels right. As Emily Post will tell you, "It’s never wrong to send a written thank you, and people always appreciate getting “thanks” in writing."

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Rule #2: Get the Timing Right

A late thank you is better than no thank you at all, but your thanks can be that much more impactful when it's timely. It's like the difference between getting a "happy birthday" message at 12:01 AM on your birthday, or one a few days later. Which of those people do you think cares more about you?

As a general rule, you should try to send a thank you for a gift a week after the gift was given, at most. Same for a generous host or an interviewer you'd like to impress. But in the case of weddings, illness or bereavement, you certainly have more time.


Rule #3: Write a Great Message

Lost of people get hung up on what to write in a thank-you note. There are helpful templates around the web that can do the job for you, but the best solution is even easier than that. It can be boiled down to a few action words:

For a gift: "Did" or "Will Do"

Say "thank you," then explain what you did or will do with their gift. That goes for everything–money, clothes or even a crock pot.

"Thanks for the panini press. Now I can throw a grilled cheese party this summer! I've always wanted to do that since I spotted the idea on Pinterest."

"We really appreciate your generous gift. We're adding it to the nest egg we've earmarked for our first home. Hopefully we'll start house-hunting next summer and you'll be one of the first we invite over!"

For a gesture: "Felt"

When somebody gives you their time, or donates to a cause you support, you should let them know how their gesture made you feel.

"That was really thoughtful of you to donate to the American Cancer Society in my dad's name. I feel touched that you'd do such a generous thing during a tough time for my family."

"I can't tell you how much I appreciate the freezer meals you left in my fridge while I was in the hospital. I wake up every day so relieved that I don't have to worry about fixing myself lunch. And they're so delicious!"

Do you have any tips and tricks for thank-you notes?

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