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Tuesday, December 29, 2020

How to Write a Meaningful Personal Thank-You Note (with Examples--AKA The Cheat Sheet)

Writing thank-you notes can be such a difficult task for almost all of us. Yet, these simple acts of gratitude really make others feel appreciated. Beyond making others feel special, your gratitude will benefit you by boosting your mood. It's a win-win opportunity -- you make someone else feel appreciated, and you feel better, happier, and have more general thankfulness in return. 

My step-mom is one of the best thank-you note writers that I've ever known. Not only do her notes reveal true gratitude, but her penmanship is impeccable, and her promptness is amazing.  I have learned a lot from her attention to this gracious act. I save many of her thank-you's, as they provide a springboard for my own notes. 

My thank-you note writing process

I begin before I begin. That is, I set my mood towards gratitude.

I take a moment to just think about the giver and their gift. I think of how thoughtful this person is and has always been in my life. I mentally recall my first reaction when opening the gift or receiving the kindness, finding that moment of excitement and gratitude that I first experienced. This last one is why writing a thank-you note is so much easier when done immediately after opening a gift. Finally, I boost my motivation with the following personal knowledge: as a person of faith, writing a thank-you note is an act of service to another human being and therefore is pleasing to my Creator.

Next, I often write a rough draft, using my laptop. Knowing that I can delete or correct anything I write opens the floodgates to my writing.

Finally, I follow a basic formula.

My writing formula (or the actual writing)

Your basic personal thank-you note should have 6 sections. (For relationships where you're more familiar with the giver, you can also share more personal life information in one or two lines at the end, such as "Did I tell you that . . .") Business thank-you notes have their own formula and should err on the side of formality. 

So, here are the sections for a personal thank-you note:

1) opening 

Dear ___ (the traditional greeting, always appropriate, and should be the only greeting used in business thank-you notes)

Hi ____ (an acceptable informal greeting for very close friends and family members)

2) Briefly express gratitude and name the gift or act of kindness (1-2 sentences)

I wanted to take the time to thank you for the ____.

I'm so grateful for the ___ because . . .

I feel blessed to have such a thoughtful friend/aunt/neighbor in my life. Your gift of ___ touched me. Thank you!

3) main content (1-3 sentences)

Add details about his/her act of kindness or gift that inform of your future use of this item or how it benefited you

You know me well. The ____ is just my style/color/size. I'll be wearing/using this ____ all winter/semester/year.

I'll be able to use your generous holiday check for ____, which is something that I've wanted for a long time/needed for my upcoming ____.

The dinner that you brought to us was perfect in every way. We enjoyed the ____ and ____ so much.

4) personal recollection of time spent with the giver and/or event/opportunity that you anticipate seeing them in the future (1 -2 sentences)

I was thinking about the time when you/I visited and we had such fun. I look forward to seeing you again at/in ____.

5) restate gratitude

Once again, thank you so much for the ____. I am touched by your thoughtfulness.

6) closing

much love, with love, love from, (for close friends and family)

warmly, sincerely, (always acceptable with personal thank-you's)

regards, best, best regards, (appropriate for business thank you's)

7) (optional for personal thank-you notes) add something of you in your thank-you note

If you're known for signing your name with a flourish, add that. If you like to doodle, add a quick, little, and tasteful (like a flower, cat, dog or something that reflects you) doodle just below your signature. Or, include a personal photo in your note. Adding something of you takes any formulaic edge off of your thank-you note.

When is it okay to typewrite your thank-you?

Business thank-you's, such as for an interview, may be typewritten and can even be emailed where time is of the essence (a hiring decision or moving to the next level of interviews is imminent). I have read that both typewritten and handwritten business thank-you's are acceptable. This may vary according to your industry/field. If you do type a business thank-you, experts say that you should still hand-sign the note. 

However, a business-related social event or gift should always be handwritten, such as a gift from your boss/co-worker or a dinner party in your boss's home.

If you have some impediment to handwriting, such as arthritis, typing would be seen as acceptable for personal thank-you notes. Even then, a post script (p.s.) could be added with a message such as, "Sorry this is typed -- my arthritis is flaring.) It's more important that a thank-you be written at all, even typewritten, than neglecting to show one's appreciation.

Obviously, it's okay to type a rough draft. Typing may be considerably easier than writing out a rough draft by hand. I often type rough drafts for short correspondences. It's a trick to jump-start me into writing the actual thank-you or brief greeting.

When is it okay to substitute a phone call or email for a thank-you note?

According to Emily Post, it's okay to substitute a phone call or email if you received kindness (such as meals provided) or gifts when infirmed. 

I would also add that if handwriting a thank-you would make the other person feel awkward because the relationship is more casual or the act of kindness (such as sending an ecard) has a more casual nature to it, then a phone call, email thanks, or reciprocating the kindness (such as sending your own ecard to the original sender) is more appropriate. After all, saying thanks is meant to make the other person feel appreciated, not awkward.

I know writing thank-you's isn't high on our list of fun activities. When all else fails and I'm having trouble finding motivation, I remember that this act of gratitude is a good exercise for my heart and it brings joy to someone else. The bonus, if you're one who loves beautiful papers and cards or has lovely penmanship, here's an opportunity to use those lovelies. 


  1. Lili, you may be one of the most gracious persons I know. This is an excellent template for writing a thank you note. I smiled when you mentioned including something personal--my daughter (who is very artsy) always prefers to decorate her own cards, typically with drawings she has made but sometimes using card-making materials. I suspect that thank-you notes are a dying trend but I still strongly encourage my children to write them. As you say, it makes the person giving the gift feel happy to have the gift acknowledged. I'm wondering if there are updated social standards these days--sending emails or texts--although I'm old-school all the way when it comes to thank you notes. Any thoughts on this?

    1. Hi Kris,
      I agree that many just don't even think to send a thank-you note in any form any more. Whether it's by email, phone call, or written, showing appreciation is fundamental to healthy relationships. I think you've instilled this value in your own children, Kris. What a sweet thing that your daughter enjoys making/decorating her own cards. I like to do the same.

      I may be biased due to my own upbringing, but I tend to think more of a piece of paper than an electronic thank-you. The paper note says "time & effort" in a way that email or text doesn't. But I also realize that emails are the way to go in many instances, such as international correspondence, or when you just want your appreciation received instantly, or when saving a stamp/card is important. In any case, email thank-you's can also follow a composition formula, which may make composing the thank-you email less daunting.

      Wishing you a great day, Kris.

  2. I think that thank you notes may be a dying trend especially handwritten ones. Many of the younger generation didn't even learn to write cursive and most of their communication is done electronically. Even emails are not used much by many any more. Texting is the only way that many communicate and even direct phone calls are considered intrusive.

    I learned that you always hand write a thank you note, but I don't always practice that these days. I try to match my notes to whom I'm sending them. The older the person, the more likely I am to write it by hand. If I want to write a longer letter to go with the note, I will often print it out on nice computer stationery. For most of the family, an email will do. I think the composition is more important than the format, but usually my composition is much like the one you outlined.

    An interesting story about thank you notes. After my father died my mother developed dementia and she wouldn't always remember that my father had died. It was difficult as we all relived the event with her. We would show her the funeral book, cards, and etc. to help her orient. Every time we went through this and she grasped what had happened, she'd say, "Did you girls write all of the thank you notes?" Then she would want to know who wrote to whom to make sure that everyone had been thanked.

    I guess you might say that thank you notes were stressed to me as important by my mother. And I tried to do the same with my kids. I am happy to say that they are quite good at writing them now. Better than I am sometimes.

    1. Hi Live and Learn,
      You bring up a good point about notes vs electronic being audience-specific. My step-mom has an email address, but she doesn't use/check it very often. I know that she prefers paper notes. They just mean more to her. So, I always take the time to write to her. My son and DIL who live nearby don't "need" a written thank-you note, but I send them one anyway, because I want to further instill the importance of showing appreciation. And I happen to know that the first year that they were married and I sent a thank-you to them, they thanked me for the note. In contrast, my in-laws seemed to appreciate a phone call over a written note to express thanks. It was what they valued most.

      I agree, sincerely saying thanks is much more important than how it is done. You've done well if your sons also will write notes. And writing personal notes gets one in the habit of writing professional thank-you's, which many experts agree is the way to get a foot in the door for a job or to retain customers.

      I like the story of your mom. That sounds just like my own mother would have been.

      Have a great day, Live and Learn.


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