Richmond Proper: On Thank-You Notes

“Never think, because you cannot write a letter easily, that it is better not to write at all. The most awkward note that can be imagined is better than none — for to write none is the depth of rudeness.” — Emily Post

“Never think, because you cannot write a letter easily, that it is better not to write at all.  The most awkward note that can be imagined is better than none — for to write none is the depth of rudeness.”
— Emily Post

Yeah yeah, I know. This wins the superlative for Principle Most Likely To Be Abandoned in the etiquette repertoire of most. But the fact that many people do not send thank-you notes is one of the top gripes I hear about when people tell me what they miss about “good ol’ fashioned manners.” This surprises me, since I would expect to hear complaints about more aggressive offenses such as cell phone yammering at checkout counters and such. But the long-awaited and still-missing thank-you note is a topic that comes up again and again, so obviously the simple gesture of sending a note of thanks is still dear to the hearts of many.

When all it takes is a small note card and three sentences, why do people dread writing a thank-you note? “I have no idea of what to say,” a friend once told me. “I just sit there and stare at the blank page. Everything I think of sounds fake.” Thank-you’s are the easiest things in the world to write, and I’ll prove it by using a simple formula:

Dear ________,

Thank you so much for the _________. I plan to use it for __________. Can’t wait to talk to you more about ______ / see you at ______ / hear about your trip to ______.



See, all you have to do is fill in the blanks. Remember, people are just expecting a short statement of your gratitude, not the next great American novel. This formula is obviously for use when thanking people for gifts, but it can be tweaked slightly for any other circumstance. You can avoid sounding so starched by embellishing a bit and putting some of your own style and expressions into the note. For example, use the adjectives you would use to describe the item or experience in regular conversation. If you say “y’all,” write “y’all.” That way the recipient knows it’s really you sending the note, and not the robot that ate you.

Don’t think you need to send a thank-you note for every little kindness that’s extended to you. For little things, saying a quick “thank you!” in person or sending a short email will suffice. The following are situations that call for a paper thank-you note:

  • You received a gift and were not able to thank the giver in person.
  • You received a gift for a special occasion like a wedding or bar mitzvah.
  • You received an extremely generous, above-and-beyond gift.
  • You were recently an overnight guest of a friend or family member.
  • You received a gift, favor, or kindness from someone you don’t know very well.

Thank-you notes should be sent out within two weeks of receiving a gift or a kindness — except for weddings, in which case three months is the allowed time.

When writing thank-you notes, draw from your feelings about the person you are thanking. Thinking about the task in this manner can put you in danger of writing too-long, too-sweet thank-yous rather than being at a loss for anything to say at all. Whether you particularly loved a gift or not, you should be grateful that they picked something out just for you. Let your sincerity shine through in your writing and you can’t go wrong.

Editor’s note: Tess will be taking a short break from Richmond Proper while she’s busy having the most Richmond-y wedding ever. She’ll be back in November (with a brand new last name). Congratulations, Tess!

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Tess Shebaylo

Tess Shebaylo is a freelance writer, crafter, history geek, and compulsive organizer. She works at Tumblr and lives in Church Hill with her daughter, Morella.

Notice: Comments that are not conducive to an interesting and thoughtful conversation may be removed at the editor’s discretion.

  1. MidloMama on said:

    Best wishes to you, Tess!
    I recently got a “thank you” note posted to my wall in facebook for a gift I sent… Better than nothing, I suppose!

  2. Thanks MidloMama! And thanks, Valerie! I hope to have my thank-you notes out very soon after the wedding.

    Thank-yous via Facebook are fine, as long as they don’t replace the actual paper note. :)

  3. Tess, what do you think about thank-you notes for Christmas gifts?

  4. Only if you weren’t able to thank the giver in person. Or if it’s something like a CAR or a VACATION. Big, big gifts. But for regular old Christmas and birthday gifts, if you open them and thank that person right there, there’s no need to send a note.

  5. I feel like, if you CAN send a note, why wouldn’t you? When in doubt, opt for the thing that makes the other person feel good, even if it’s not expected of you.

  6. Certainly going above and beyond is preferable to doing the bare minimum; there is no limit to how thankful you can be if you only put your pen to it. Unexpected notes are the best notes! But in order to go above and beyond, you have to know what the bare minimum IS. Which is why we define it.

  7. Megan on said:

    Thank you notes are such a small, easy way to say, “I appreciate something you did.” I wish more people were better at it.

    I once sent a friend a fairly costly wedding present and heard nothing for months. One day, they sent a facebook message that said A) Oops, we forgot to thank you in the craziness of the wedding and B) Thanks for the present. Definitely didn’t make me feel so great as a gift-giver.

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