How to Write a Great Thank-You Note

Writing a thank-you note has long been perceived as a chore, especially painful for children, who don’t understand that civilization just might fall apart without such social niceties. It can seem like a race to get to the part where you sign your name (with great flair and panache, of course). Phew, you think, one down! You may feel like a saint when you get that note written, but ask yourself, “Did that really convey my gratitude?”

Last week, my eight-year-old son was tasked with thanking his buddies for birthday presents. He whined and moaned, naturally, so we broke it down into one a day. That did the trick; he was on fire, churning out Hallmark-worthy missives (with illustrations) so precious I hated to mail them. To the kid who gave him a volcano set: “You made me erupt with happiness.” To one of the many who gave him Legos, “Your [sic] like a Lego peice [sic], you make my set complete.” And so it went. At first I thought he just got lucky, but after three such gems, I decided he had a gift for making others feel truly appreciated.

What’s his secret? Personalized notes with dramatic flair. Two sentences is plenty, so long as you put some thought into them. Handwritten is critical; artwork strictly optional. Corny works through adolescence, and always among romantic interests. But in the business world and among friends and family, just make sure it’s obvious you put effort into making it specific to that person. (I still cringe remembering the lame note we once received from a to-remain-anonymous relative: “Thank you for the shirt. White is my favorite color.”)

Timing is also critical. After two weeks, don’t bother, as it’s almost more insulting to receive a note that far out. To make your life easier, invest in stationery and keep stamps on hand (preferably stamps that reflect something about you) and write the first note within forty-eight hours of having someone to thank.

Emailed thank-yous are acceptable, but you will get numerous bonus points if you go the extra step and send something by mail. Your note will stand out in the stack of junk mail and bills, generating good karma and goodwill (plus helping out our long-suffering postal service).

This holiday, let’s all make a promise to mail half a dozen bona fide thank-you notes. If that sounds like six too many, just picture good old mom beaming with pride.

By Lisa Zuniga