Thursday, November 1, 2012

How to write a thank-you note

I'm not exactly a techno-Luddite. This whole project never would've gotten off the ground if it weren't for the Internet and blogging. Taken as a whole, email, texting and social media are useful inventions that have done far more good than harm for our society. But tech has done one serious kind of damage: it's made us butt-lazy. If you're like most people under 30, you think a texted "thx" or a like on Facebook qualifies as a proper thank-you. Nope. Doesn't cut it. Real kindness requires real thanks in return, and if someone's been thoughtful enough to send you a gift, do you a favor or otherwise go above and beyond the call of duty for you, the proper response -- the grown-up response -- is to write and send a thank-you note.

Yes, an actual thank-you note on an actual paper notecard, with an actual envelope and stamp, sent via actual snailmail. You might not think such things exist any more, but you'd be wrong. And as fewer and fewer people bother to do the right thing, your effort to make life gracious is going to shine out like a ray of light in a dark world. (Plus a little something else to consider if you're a true mercenary: people who send thank-you notes to gift-givers are far more likely to get gifts again in future. You know, just FYI.)

You will need:
  1. A basic set of notecards with matching envelopes.
  2. A first-class mail rate stamp.
  3. An up-to-date address where you can send the thank-you note.
  4. A pen with black or blue-black ink.
  5. A piece of scratch paper to compose your note.
  6. A little time to think it over.
Thank-you notes are some of the easiest to compose, because they're short and have a specific formula. Ready? Here it is:

A. Greeting: refer to the gift-giver by name.
B. Gratitude: express thankfulness for the gift, action, money (referred to as "kindness" or "generosity," not by a dollar amount) or the person's willingness to let you stay at his/her house (always referred to as "hospitality.")
C. Use: how you intend to make use of the gift.
D. Past/Future: refer briefly to a recent event where you connected, and allude to a future event where you'll see him/her again (or, if that is unlikely, "You are in my thoughts.")
E. Gratitude 2: Electric Boogaloo: a restatement of thanks.
F. Close: a finish of "Love," "Much love," "Yours truly," or "Sincerely," followed by your name.

Want to see how it works? Here's a simple example, color-coded for your convenience:
Dear Uncle Cecil,

Thank you so much for the left-handed screwdriver. At last I can finish remodeling our back deck!
It was wonderful to see you and Aunt Gladys at Christmas. I look forward to seeing you again soon. Thanks again for your kindness.

That's it. You don't need to go on at length about what you're doing in school or at work, family gossip, or anything unrelated to the nature of the gift. It's pure and simple thanks. You also don't need to pile on the B.S. in a thank-you note; most people can tell when you're laying it on thick. If you wouldn't wear the nose-warmer Grandma knitted for you even if someone were to put a gun to your head, it is perfectly all right to say "It was so kind of you to think of me" and leave it at that.

If you're not sure just how you want to express your thanks, make some test runs on the scratch paper first until you've hammered out the bumps. Remember, the only kindnesses you don't refer to by their proper names are gifts of money or a visit to someone's house. Phrases like "Thank you for your generosity" or "I'm so grateful for your hospitality" work well here.

Once you know exactly what you want to say, it's time to turn to the notecard. Use pen (never pencil, and not any kind of novelty ink; keep it simple) and your best handwriting. If your longhand is impossible to read, you can use block letters -- but don't print it out on a computer! And if you make a major mistake, don't just scratch it out; get another notecard and try again. I know, I know, but if you're going to do this, you might as well get it right.

All done? Put the up-to-date address on the envelope front. If you make a mistake, get another envelope and try again.
If you've never addressed a snailmail letter before, here's how it works.
When it all looks right, ONLY THEN do you add the stamp, slip the notecard inside and seal the flap. (Learn from my fail.) Then get it into an outgoing mailbox or to your friendly neighborhood post office right away; you don't get points for writing a thank-you note if it sits unmailed next to your computer for weeks on end.

And there you have it! Now you can impress everyone you know with your gratitude, elegance and refinement. (Just remember to toss out the empty pizza boxes before they come over.)

1 comment:

  1. I couldn't agree more Sooz. Your post was perfect and so well-written :-) I took an English class as a college freshmen that left such an impact on me regarding written notes. The professor instructed us to write a card to someone thanking him or her for the positive impact he or she had made. Brevity was the key objective. This assignment lasted weeks. I definitely learned there is power in words and a simple note. Now I need to get writing some thank-you cards :-)