Rules of Civility: The Perfect Thank You Note

“Dear Nana, I love the exercise watch you gave me.  I already have 10,000 steps a day on it.” Reading this thank you note from my grandson made my heart skip a beat with happiness.  Enthusiastic personal notes like these that are written, sent and present themselves in your mail, instead of bills and circulars, are a pure pleasure to receive.  They are to everyone. 

We all like to be thanked.  When it is done in person, it is beautiful; when it is sent as an email, it is fine, but it lacks the luster that a written card with a personal note carries. The mailed thank you note has never fallen out of favor, but now it is gaining strength again as the best way to convey that your thank you is felt in the heart and that you mean every word!

Let’s start at the beginning. Promptness is essential to a meaningful thank you note. Here is why.  For the person who thought about a gift, consulted a registry or spent time shopping for it, made the purchase, wrapped it, mailed it and assumed it arrived, not receiving a thank you leads to questions:  Did it arrive? Didn’t they like it? And more. Don’t let your gift giver stew in matters like these. And, concerning gifts received at showers, don’t ever fall into the trap of guests filling out the envelopes for your thank you notes themselves at the shower they attended. This is a lapse in good manners that takes away from your goal of acknowledging that their gift was so, so appreciated. And, preprinted thanks are never a good idea, although they are sold by stationers.  Personal notes are the only thank you appropriate messages.  One person writes a thank you note so a bride and groom should not both sign it. Instead, say, “Bob and I both appreciate the gorgeous serving dish you gave us.  We are excited to have you come to dinner when we serve a casserole in it. You are so thoughtful” and signed by the bride. Of course, the groom can write notes, too, but each signs the ones he/she writes.

A meaningful thank you note is not one with a thank you message already printed on it. The thank you note is most often written now on what is referred to as a correspondence card…a 4-inch x 5-inch or 5 x 6-inch plain card of heavy card stock.  Sometimes it is lightly tinted, perhaps with a thin border, frequently but not necessarily monogrammed or with your name atop,  and especially lovely if mailed in a lined envelope. Liners can be plain or striped for men and women or with unique other papers for women and children. Keep a supply of these cards as a part of your stationery wardrobe not only for thank you notes but so that on a whim you can send out messages of cheer. As the name implies, they are perfect for all sorts of correspondences whether when you regret an invitation, or send condolences at times of grief or to simply remind a friend how much he/she means to you.

Thank you notes don’t need to be extended. They just need to be enthusiastic and personal, conveying how much the gift means.  Four sentences can cover it but take longer if you like.  A correspondence card is small enough that you don’t have to say a lot.  Couch your message by mentioning what it is you are so glad to receive and why it is so special. All it takes is, “You were so thoughtful to remember me with the orchid, which is my very favorite flower.  I promise to take care of it well, thinking of you each time I give it its tiny bit of water.  Our home is really graced by it.”  Make the message heartfelt and personal.  “I have always liked books by (name the author) and can’t wait for the time when I can read this one!” Or, “The macarons are so delicate and pretty.  How special it will be to serve them.”

That’s the whole thing…short and sincere, handwritten and sent soon after you have received the gift.  Experts agree that thank you notes should be written within days (if not hours) of a gift’s arrival.  Allowances are certainly made for thank you notes for weddings (a year is way too long, however) or baby showers (never consider making believe the infant has written the note which is an attempt at being cute but is too silly). 

Tackle thank you notes with a smile.  It is much easier to do this right away.  Time takes away some of the sizzle of your enthusiasm.  And never forget how welcome these notes of cheer are to receive!


Catherine S. Arcure is a professional etiquette instructor, certified by the American School of Protocol®. During her many years as a food editor and writer, Catherine not only attracted a large and loyal following but also took every opportunity to educate readers in the social graces. As a director of development for the University of Michigan and other educational and performance-related organizations, she planned and coordinated major social events for groups ranging from 20 to 2000. In addition to cultural and volunteer activities in Manhattan, Catherine enjoys spending time with her twin grandsons, who are among her most avid students. If you have enrollment questions, please contact Catherine at her email at