Thank you notes are a simple concept: They show appreciation for a thoughtful act, expression, or gift. Often the potential formality of a handwritten thank you can be intimidating for the writer. Many people think the wording has to be perfect before it's signed, sealed, and delivered, which can cause the writer to procrastinate. But an imperfect letter that comes with heartfelt sentiment is better than one that was never written at all.
Follow this etiquette for thank you notes to help you through the process. Remember, this is just a simple formula. You'll then need to personalize your note to make it meaningful to the recipient.
Thank You Note Guidelines
Send thank you notes as quickly as possible. Always make specific reference to the gift or gesture for which you're thanking the person. For example, "Thank you so much for the blue sweater. How did you know that was my favorite color?" Letters may be sent on informal writing paper, except for wedding thank you notes, which are generally on formal stationery.
Always send thank you notes in the following situations:
- For wedding gifts
- For sympathy cards or flowers
- To the host after a party that was in your honor
- For bridal or baby shower gifts
- For gifts received by mail
- After your boss hosts a social event
- For gifts received during a hospital stay
- After being hosted as a houseguest for one or more nights (not required but still recommended if it's a close relative or friend doing the hosting)
- For notes or gifts of congratulations
Thank you notes are not required in the following situations, though they still would be a nice gesture:
- After being a guest at a dinner party
- After a job interview (not required but definitely recommended)
- For birthday gifts you opened in person and already thanked the giver
- When a friend has helped you out with a special favor, such as babysitting, bringing you a meal when you were sick, running errands, etc.
- To a company representative who entertained you as part of a business relationship
Thank You Notes: Situations to Avoid
Don't wait to send your thank you notes. Generally, they should be sent within a week of receipt of the gift or gesture. The only exceptions to this timing are as follows:
- Thank you letters for hospital gifts should be sent as soon as the patient is well enough to send them.
- Wedding gift thank you letters should be sent within three months of receipt of the gifts. Instead of composing letters all at once, it's often easier to send them as soon as gifts are received. (Often wedding gifts are sent prior to the wedding date.)
Furthermore, even though most thank you letters can be sent on informal stationery, that doesn't mean it's OK to use a piece of paper torn from your shopping list pad. Find cards that reflect your personality, and keep a supply on hand. They don't need to be expensive. In fact, if you shop diligently, you can find many attractive and reasonably priced cards.
Finally, there's no need to lie if you dislike a gift. Instead, show appreciation for the thought that went into selecting it for you. You can always say, "Thank you for the thoughtful teapot. I will always think of you whenever I use it."
Thank you letters should be addressed to the individual(s) who signed your gift card. In the case of a gift from a family, the envelope can be addressed to the spouses (e.g., Mr. and Mrs. Smith), and the salutation can use their first names (e.g., Dear Donna and Joe). You can make reference to the remaining family members in the body of the note: "Please extend my thanks to Gina and Marie, and let them know how much I am enjoying the book."
The formality of your salutation should be based on your relationship with the person whom you're thanking. For example, the salutation of a thank you note for a job interview should read "Dear Ms. O'Brien" unless Ms. O'Brien requested that you address her by her first name. Similarly, a thank you for a wedding gift from friends of your parents should be addressed "Dear Mr. and Mrs. Cohen" unless you grew up calling them by their first names.
When composing a thank you note for hospitality, you may simply address it to your host, assuming they're the person who did the work. But in the body of the note, include a thank you to any other resident—a spouse, roommate, etc.—who also might have been impacted by your stay.
Sample Thank You Note for a Wedding Gift
This thank you letter for a wedding gift is short, sweet, and not overly formal.
Dear Aunt Gloria,
Thank you so much for the beautiful stemware. I know it will look wonderful on our table, and we can't wait to invite you to dinner after the wedding so that you can see it for yourself. You have always had such wonderful taste in gifts!
Looking forward to seeing you on our big day!
Megan and Mark
Sample Thank You Note for a Job Interview
The purpose of a job interview thank you letter is to express appreciation to the interviewer for taking time to speak with you. These letters serve the added benefit of keeping your name in front of the company as a candidate for the job.
Dear Ms. Brown,
I really enjoyed meeting with you earlier today and learning more about the office manager position at Widget Company.
As we discussed, I believe my five years of experience at Acme Company meets the requirements you have for this position. Although I've enjoyed working at Acme Company, I'm looking forward to new challenges and greater responsibilities in my professional career.
I hope to hear from you soon, and thank you again for meeting with me.
Sample Thank You Note for a Baby Shower
The hardest part of baby shower gift thank you letters often is getting them out in a timely fashion. Expecting parents are already so busy when preparing for a new baby. Although formal etiquette doesn't require a note if the gift was opened at the shower and the giver was thanked in person, it is still polite to send one anyway.
Dear Mary Jean,
I just love the baby sleeper, receiving blanket, and bunny rattle you gave me at the shower. As always, you were too generous. I can't wait to use them with the baby.
I hope we can spend a little time together before the baby arrives and I'm up to my ears in diapers!