Is the art of letter writing dead?
Is the Thank-You Note a Dying Art?
E-mail may be easier, but etiquette experts say nothing can replace a handwritten thank-you note to show your gratitude.
By Kristen Stewart
Medically Reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH
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Let’s be honest. Most of us dread writing thank-you notes or even sending a thank-you card. Whether it’s not being sure of what to say or simply not taking the time to sit down and get it done, we find it easier to delay and avoid what seems like a chore. However, mom was right. Thank-you notes are important and need to be done.
So what's the best way to express your gratitude? No one can argue with the ease of e-mail, and certainly typing and clicking “send” is far easier than addressing an envelope, finding a stamp, and going to the mailbox. Yet when it comes to saying thanks, e-mail cannot replace the personal touch or lasting impression left by a handwritten letter. “As I am fond of saying in my seminars, an e-mailed thank-you note says you cared enough to do the very least,” says Jodi R.R. Smith, president and founder of Etiquette Consulting in Boston and author ofFrom Clueless to Class Act: Manners for the Modern World. In fact, nothing shows gratitude or respect like a handwritten note of thanks.
Handwritten notes of thanks have a variety of benefits over e-mail. Practically speaking, they get opened first and can be saved to be read and reread by the recipient. Also, the personal touch of a handwritten note can’t be duplicated.
Not only that, it is a “win-win” all around. “When you receive one, you feel special, important, validated, acknowledged,” says Mary Mitchell, president of The Mitchell Organization in Seattle and author ofThe Complete Idiot's Guide to Etiquette(third edition). “As you think about the person who sent the note, you realize he or she is special for taking the time to write and send it.”
Finally, given that many people do not write thank-you notes, doing so is your chance to shine. “It delineates you [from] all the others who chose not to write a note,” says Demetria Pappas, co-owner of Mother, May I in Pittsburgh.
Thank-You Note Dos and Don’ts
Although each thank-you note should be unique, there are some rules to follow when you put pen to paper. Mitchell has developed what she calls the “SSA formula”:
- The first S stands forSpecificity. Thank the person for the specific gift (for example, "Dear Aunt Mary, thank you so much for the blue sweater.")
- The next S stands forSignificance. Tell the person that you recognize the effort and time that went into giving you the gift. Hint: That sentence should begin with the word "you." ("You must have searched all over to find my favorite shade of blue.")
- Finally, Mitchell says, the A stands forAction— how you will use the gift. ("I can’t wait to wear my new sweater to Dad’s birthday party on Friday.")
Never write anything negative in a thank-you note. Even if the gift was the wrong size, color, or not to your taste, do not say so. Lastly, if the gift was money, a check, or gift card, do not refer to the amount.
Traditionally, thank-you notes should be written in ink on note paper or a note card, but Amy Stevens, owner of Etiquette Southwest Missouri in Joplin, stresses that the most important thing is to express sincere gratitude. “What grandmother wouldn’t love to receive a drawing of her grandchild playing with the birthday gift? I doubt she would mind that the thank-you was on construction paper and written in crayon.”
A thank-you note should ideally be sent anywhere from a day to a week after receipt of the gift. However, even if more time passes it’s still better to send it late than never. Do not apologize if the note is late.
Ultimately, Stevens suggests we change our mindsets. “Remember, this isn’t about a chore or protocol, it’s about relationships.
Video: The dying art of letter-writing
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