How to Write a Proper Thank You Note

Everybody's back to the grindstone after a seemingly endless holiday, so guess what that means? Get out your monogrammed note cards and stationery, because it's time to write thank you notes for all those gifts. That brand new sweater and those brand new boots and that brand new gaudy thing sitting under your bed that you will probably never, ever wear aren't going to write them for you.

As of April, The New York Times declared handwritten thank you notes back in vogue — and me and both my grandmas happen to agree. Their piece featured fashion and publicity elite who insist on the business and personal connections forged through thank you notes, as well as regular people, such as Carroll Irene Gelderman, who sent out more than 600 thank you notes for the gifts she received after being named 2014 Queen of Carnival for Mardi Gras in New Orleans.

"Like a lot of people in my generation, I might think, ‘Oh, just send them a text,’ ” said Ms. Gelderman, who is 20. “But I actually enjoyed writing the notes because in the process of opening a note, feeling the paper, seeing the imperfection of the writing, reading the message in another person’s voice, you actually feel like you have a piece of that person in your hand.”

OK, it's not hard to get why thank you notes are awesome, but putting them together can seem overwhelming, right? Well, never fear because Jeanne Field wrote a quick and dirty dummy-proof guide for Hallmark, and she says it's as easy as "Who, What, and When." (Alas, my only contribution to that list was the Oxford comma.)

So according to Field's rubric, the Who would be your list of people to thank. This time of year it would include anyone who gave you gifts, or threw rockin' holiday parties (especially ones you definitely want to be invited back to next year, wink), or picked your cheap ass up at the airport. The Who without a doubt includes EVERYONE over the age of 65 you came within three feet of this holiday season — legit it's not optional for these folks, they will flatten forests in the name of proper etiquette. #thegreatestgeneration!

The What is the actual meat and potatoes of your thank you note. Here's Field's flawless primer for thank you note writing. (It's like these Hallmark guys are pros or something...)

1. Greeting. Don’t forget to make sure you’re using the correct form and spelling of the person’s name, as well as anyone else’s mentioned in the note.

2. Express your thanks. Begin with the two most important words: Thank you.

3. Add specific details. Tell them how you plan to use or display their gift. It shows them that you really appreciate the thought that went into it. Even if it’s cold hard cash, describe how you’ll spend the stuff.

4. Look ahead. Mention the next time you might see them, or just let them know you’re thinking of them.

5. Restate your thanks. Add details to thank them in a different way.

6. End with your regards. “Sincerely” is a safe standby, but for closer relationships, you might choose a warmer option.

Check out her template for more specific examples. (Seriously, she just spoon-feeds it to you, it's ridiculous. If you are lazy, but still want to ingratiate yourself to people, USE THIS. I promise, you won't even have to think.)

On her popular grow-the-eff-up blog, Adulting, Kelly Williams Brown offers up a different, more kiss-ass ("unfairly gorgeous," I mean...), but equally uncomplicated template that she ripped off from sorority sisters — the apparent queens of this anachronistic art form — which we will, in turn, rip off. (Thanks, guys!) This is based on a note for attending a friend's wedding, so the language would need to be tweaked for say, a Christmas gift, but the principles remain the same.

Dear Anne,

You were such an unfairly gorgeous bride. Seriously, you single-handedly stole the show from that delicious salmon, charming decorations, wonderful company and excellent/ridiculous dance party there at the end. I had such a great time; it’s the best wedding I’ve been to in years. Thank you so, so much for inviting me.



Williams Brown highlights a handful of tips for making your recipient feel like a gazillion bucks.

A breakdown:

  • Start with the word ‘you’ if possible, because everyone loves reading about themselves more than anyone else, and this signals your intent to gush early.
  • A couple examples of what you were appreciative of. Be specific!
  • How you felt or benefitted (so they get the warm fuzzy of knowing they made you feel happy).
  • Don’t thank them until the very last line, and do it simply. “Thank you so much for this wonderful gift.” Etc.

And now that we've gone over the basics, I have a few tips of my own I'd like to throw in the mix:

DO be as specific as possible. DON'T write something vague and generic. Everyone wants to feel that the note was written just for them.

DO keep things short and sweet. DON'T overdo it by writing a novel. A paragraph will do it, no one should have to set aside time to read your thank you.

DO use your best handwriting. DON'T whip out the hard-to-read cursive you haven't used since second grade. Legibility is king of the thank you note game.

And most of all...

DO keep your appreciation genuine. DON'T be insincere. The whole point of thank you notes is to share your love and gratitude with someone who's touched you. Easy does it — you don't have to be over-the-top about it.

That, in a nutshell, is a completely painless, completely kind and thoughtful breakdown of how to tackle Jeanne Field's What element to thank you notes.

Now for her final guidepost: When. Basically ASAP. If we're talking Hanukkah or Christmas, you need to start thinking about those suckers now. Within a month is appropriate. Field advises, "If it's later than that, start your note with a brief apology. 'I’ve been meaning to tell you...' "

And that, my friends, is how you do thank you notes. People love to get them, so give 'em what they want! In my experience, they are always remembered and always received favorably.

Or you could do thank you notes like this...

...which is also totally valid.

Images: plpapers/Etsy; Giphy; The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon/YouTube