With the holidays fast approaching, many of us are pulling out our stationery supply and a pen for the many thank you notes we’re about to write. But what to say and how to say it? We asked the experts for their advice – and they answered! We tackle etiquette, card types, and more. After finishing this How To, you’ll have no problem crafting the perfect thank you note.
Q: When should you send a thank you note?
A: Immédiatement! “The most frequent note writers prefer to mail their letters within a day of an event, while details (and the task itself) are still fresh in their minds,” says Kate Frederic at Dempsey & Carroll. However, if 15 days have gone by…should you send it anyway? Avis Wampler of Avie Designs says, “I think better late than never. The fact that you are sending a handwritten note is a beautifully thoughtful gesture that should not be given up on just because you’re a little late. Send it anyway.”
Q: When must you send a thank you note?
A: There’s no hard and fast rule. Send one when you genuinely appreciate what someone has done on your behalf. Dempsey & Carroll also offer a short guide on their website.
Q: Should thank you notes always be handwritten?
A: Abby Larson of Style Me Pretty has a firm guideline for this query: “Handwrite everything. Although in this day and age, typing something out is much easier than handwriting it…it’s cold and completely impersonal. There is absolutely nothing better than a handwritten thank you note.”
Q: What type of writing instrument and ink should be used?
A: There’s no consensus on the color (though most note that dark liquid inks like black, blue and brown are preferred), but all agree that it should never be viscous ink (found in ballpoint pens). “A traditional fountain pen always adds a timeless beauty to your handwritten note,” says Irene Chen and Matthew Grenby of Iomoi.
Q: What should you include in your note?
A: Wampler suggests that “you should be as specific as possible. The more personal the note is, the better. If you are thanking someone for a gift, include how much you like and an instance when you have used it or plan on using it. If you are thanking someone for helping you out, express how they made your life easier in that moment. Don’t be generic, add personality, that is the kind of note that might just get saved.” Molly Woodland of Apiary Design keeps vintage etiquette books on her desk that serve as both reference guides and inspiration.
Q: Thank you emails – a do or don’t?
A: A do, but always followed by a handwritten note, notes Chen & Grenby.
Q: What type of card should you send?
A: Always send a card that is appropriate. What does that mean? Liz Coulson Libre of Linda & Harriett follows 3 rules:
- You actually like the card you’re sending
- The card matches the the reason for the thank you note in formality/design
- The tone you use reflects the level of relationship you have with the person you’re thanking.
Wampler adds that you should make it personal. “Toss the ‘stock’ thank you note template in the trash. Each note should reflect your true appreciation for a specific something.” If you’re not sure what to include in the note, Frederic suggests that you “warm up your hand by writing for a few minutes on scrap paper, perhaps even a draft of your message so that your thought is perfectly shaped when you begin your final note.”
Q: What size should the card be?
A: It depends on the writer, depending if you’re short and sweet, or prefer long missives. “The most common is the correspondence card, approximately 4 x 6 inches,” says Nicholas Nicholson at Mrs. John L. Strong.
Q: Does color matter?
A: If you’re a bit of a traditionalist, Nicholson has this advice: “Tradition dictates that men use white or ivory, while women have the additional choices of shell pink, mauve, powder blue, and palest grey. The world is a much more tolerant place these days, however, and any color you like is just fine.”
Q: Scented thank you notes – a do or don’t?
A: Everyone agrees; it’s a big no-no. Nicholson recommends “that perfumes remain in the territory of the love letter, rather than intruding on the thank you note. While you would never walk into someone’s home to say ‘thank you’ and spray your perfume around, you might, however, walk into their house intending to seduce, smelling deliciously of it. In the best taste? Let them smell you in person, up close, and not through the post.”
Q: What type of envelope should you use? Should it be lined?
A: Nicholson answers this question thoroughly: “The lining of envelopes began in the late 19th century to hide the ‘bruise,’ which appeared when people’s coats of arms or addresses were stamped on the back of the envelope flap. Many stationers tell you that envelopes must be lined so that you cannot see the text through the envelope. This is incorrect. You should not be able to see through good paper stock used for envelopes whether there is a lining or not. Linings are up to the writer. If you want one, good for you. If you don’t, make certain you are using the best paper.”
Q: What if you didn’t like the gift, but want to send a thank you note for the thought? What should you say?
A: “Emphasize your appreciation for the time they took and the thought they put into the gift,” says Grenby and Chen.
Q: Any advice on how to send a personalized thank you note with flowers?
A: Wampler suggests asking your local florist (it helps to have a good working relationship) to keep some of your personalized stationery on hand so that whenever you call, they can just slip your personalized note on the flowers.
Q: If you were given money, what can you say? (We realize that you should never directly mention money, correct?)
A: Courtesy of Mr. Nicholson, here’s a good template to follow:
“Dear Uncle ABC,
Thank you so much for the (thoughtful, kind, generous, extraordinary) gift which will come in much use. You are wonderful, and thank you so very much!
Q: When signing off your regards, what should you use, or rather what is appropriate for various situations? (For instance, “With love” would not be used for your boss….)
A: When in doubt, “Sincerely” or “Regards” do the trick. “With love” should never be used, unless you are comfortable saying “I love you” to the person to whom you are writing, says Nicholson.
Have more questions? Let us know and we’ll get the answers from the experts!
- Molly Woodland, designer of Apiary Design
- Irene Chen and Matthew Grenby, founders of Iomoi
- Nicholas Nicholson, Special Projects Director at Mrs. John L. Strong
- Kate Frederic, Sales & Marketing Associate at Dempsey & Carroll
- Abby Larson, founder of Style Me Pretty
- Liz Coulson Libre, designer of Linda & Harriett
- Avis Wampler, designer of Avie Designs