Handwritten thank you notes were once considered the only “correct” way to express sincere gratitude. That’s no longer the case. Now, it’s sometimes more polite to say thank you through text, email, a phone call, or in person than with a handwritten note. Here’s how to know which method will best communicate your thanks along with best practices for each, and FAQ’s.
By: Maralee McKee, Etiquette School of America
Less than a decade ago, expressing gratitude with anything other than a handwritten thank you note was considered less than gracious. Because etiquette evolves to keep pace with the way we communicate, today, a text, email, phone call, or simply saying thanks in person might communicate your sincere gratitude to the receiver better than a traditional thank you note.
It’s now about the etiquette of matching the best method for the situation. Here’s a look at each one (handwritten thank-you notes, email, social media, a phone call, or saying thank you in-person) and how-to know which will best communicate your appreciation.
Are Handwritten Thank-You Notes Still Appreciated or Are They Considered Too Formal?
Handwritten thank-you notes because of their longevity, (The receiver can tuck the notecard in a drawer forever.) their personal nature, (They’re handwritten.) and the fact that receiving snail mail is rare these days, make handwritten notes the most appreciated form of receiving thanks among most people.
I have a pretty basic question. I heard once that if a gift is opened in the presence of the gift giver, a handwritten thank-you note is unnecessary because a verbal thank-you was offered. Is this true? If so, is it true in all circumstances? Thank you for your valuable blog!
The short answer is: it depends.
With that said, please don’t ever fear that writing a thank-you note and popping it in the mail is incorrect.
Sometimes, I receive emails from people wondering if they should write a thank-you note becasue they fear by doing so they might be viewed as overly formal. The thing is, there isn’t anything formal about a handwritten thank-you note. It’s just that it acts as a permanent reminder of your gratitude.
I doubt anyone who receives one thinks this about the author: “Wow, what a time waster. Didn’t he know this wasn’t necessary?” Instead, it’s more likely the recipient reads it and glows: “Wow, he really noticed and appreciated my efforts.”
And besides, if someont thinks it’s lavish of us, that’s a good thing! Let’s always be lavish in extending gratitude. It encourages the giver and reminds us of our blessings.
While a handwritten note is never incorrect, the answer to your question could fill a chapter in a book. That’s because there are so many different reasons we might want to write, text, or email or thanks.
For now, here’s a tip sheet for helping you decide.
You might want to print it out to keep for reference. One interesting fact: five years ago an email or text thank-you note was considered poor form. Our sensibilities evolve, and with them, etiquette.
Times When a Handwritten Thank-You Note Is Best:
-Children’s birthday party gifts
-Adult birthday party gifts
-Bridal or baby shower gifts
-Anniversary party gifts
-Graduation party gifts
-Any gifts received in the mail
-Gifts not opened in front of the giver
-Any kindness or gift extended during or after an illness, a hospitalization, or a funeral (food, flowers, assistance)
-A meal you’ve been treated to in a home or restaurant, socially or for business
-Anything that has been specially designed or handmade for you (craft, woodwork, needlework, quilt, baby items, monogram, etc.)
Times When a Verbal Thank-You Is Sufficient:
-Gifts given as a thank-you gesture (hostess gifts, bridal-attendant gifts)
-Holiday gifts opened in front of the giver
-Thinking-of-You items (small plants, home-baked goodies, candles, etc.)
-Gifts given by family members and closest friends and opened in front of them
-One parent thanking another for a child’s play-date, party, occasional car ride home for the child, etc.
Times When an Email or Text Thank-You Is Sufficient:
-When an email or text is the next contact you’ll have with the other person. This most often happens in work situations. An example: when you email promised documents just hours after having lunch with vendor(s), coworkers, or clients, you’ll want to thank them for lunch.
-In situations where you don’t have a physical address, only an email address. (This happened to me the other day.) Always mention the fact that you don’t have their physical address and that you wanted to thank them with a handwritten note.
-Any small kindness (act or gift) that you want to acknowledge (neighbor picking up your newspapers for two days while you’re away, someone copying a recipe for you, a coworker doing something for you that’s not part of their job description, a church member helping you organize a small event, etc.)
Remember, when in doubt, do more than you think you should! It’s hard to be criticized for being overly gracious!
I’ve written more about thank-you notes in the following posts; they provide information you might be looking for or you’d just enjoy knowing:
The Three Persons You Really Should Write an After-Christmas Thank-You Note To. (Even though this post mentions Christmas, you can substitute any event in its place. The etiquette is the same no matter the occasion. I just happened to write this during the holidays.)
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Until next time, keep doing what you were born to do! Be you…at your authentic best!
Hugs and blessings,