The Complete Guide to Writing Thank You Letters
The Importance of Thank You LettersThe art of gratitude is a subtle one. We’re taught at an early age to always say “thank you” whenever someone does something for you, but in many situations verbal gratitude isn’t enough. In the event that someone gives you a gift, attends an event at your invitation, or otherwise goes out of their way for you in some way, it’s appropriate to send them a note of thanks after the fact. This is true even if you thank them in person. This goes double for anyone who was thoughtful enough to provide you a present for an important event, such as a birthday or a wedding. Sending a thank you letter showcases that someone’s gift or gesture was appreciated enough by you to warrant a formal thanks. However, while it’s sometimes seen as a formality, the act of writing a thank you letter goes beyond simply being polite - it’s a gesture of recognition of the time and effort someone spent to give you a present or attend your special event and how much their contribution or presence meant to you. This makes thank you letters an important component of both building and maintaining relationships with the people in your life who are most important to you.
How to Write a Thank You LetterKnowing the importance of sending thank you letters to the important people in your life is one thing; knowing what to say when you put pen to paper is another thing altogether! However, if you feel lost when you’re looking at a blank thank you card that you’re trying to fill out, don’t lose hope. You might even feel a bit embarrassed at expressing yourself in this way! The truth is that no one is born knowing the right things to say to express their gratitude in an appropriate manner - it takes some study to understand what goes into a thank you letter and what form it takes.
Thank You Letter Writing TipsWe’ll get into the specifics in a moment, but there are some broader tips to consider when thinking about writing a thank you letter. First and foremost, always get your note writing tips straight from the horse’s mouth; we recommend absolute industry experts like Emily Post or even Hallmark itself, considering how they’re quite literally the cornerstone of the greeting card industry. Next, start with a list of the people you need to thank. This is crucial, as simply relying on memory could result in someone being left out - and that can lead to hurt feelings and damaged relationships. Secondly, be honest with yourself and your emotions when writing a thank you note or letter. Don’t try to say something that doesn’t ring true to you or that feels like you’re stretching the truth - your recipient can sense when a thank you note isn’t sincere. Secondly, consider writing your thank you letters by hand whenever appropriate. There’s nothing wrong with typed notes and letters, and in professional settings they are in fact preferable. Yet a handwritten thank you letter sent to a friend or family member shows the recipient that you value them enough to write out a note the old-fashioned way. Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s get into the specifics of thank you letter writing. We’re going to break it down into the components of a thank-you note: the opening address, the thank you statement, the details of your thanks, and finally, your closing.
How to Write an Opening AddressSometimes called your salutation, the opening address of your thank you letter is quite literally the first thing your recipient will read. It’s your initial greeting, and it needs to reflect your relationship status with the recipient. For formal or professional acquaintances, it’s always appropriate to use a recipient’s full name. If your recipient has a title, such as Doctor or Professor, that can be used in lieu of a first name. For closer relationships, it’s appropriate to use just a first name or even a nickname for those closest to you. It goes without saying, of course, that you take pains to spell the recipient’s name correctly in your opening address.
How to Write a Thank You StatementOnce you’ve written your opening address it’s time to formally state your thanks to the recipient. This is best done as simply as possible; your first sentence after your formal address should begin with “Thank you for” and followed by the present given to you or the act done in your favor. For professional settings, such as in the wake of a job interview for example, it’s appropriate to thank an interviewer for taking the time to meet with you to discuss the particulars of a specific job opportunity. For social settings, you can thank someone directly for the gift. Be sure to name the gift specifically in your thank you statement - simply saying “thank you for the gift” is often considered too general and, therefore, inappropriate.
How to Write Thank You DetailsAfter you’ve written your thank you statement, you need to follow it up with at least one sentence that goes into more detail about your specific gratitude. In the event of thanking someone for a gift, you can say a few words about how much you enjoy the item or how much receiving it meant to you. For thanking someone for their time, again express your appreciation for the person going out of their way to meet with you for an interview or to share a special event with you.
How to Write a ClosingFinally, it’s time to write a closing statement. This should match the tone of your opening address; if you’re writing a professional thank-you note, it’s best to close your note in the same manner, using “sincerely” followed by your full name. For social or personal notes, however, you can be more familiar - and you can similarly just use your first name or a nickname. Again, the important part is to match the level of formality in which you greeted the recipient.
What to Write in a Thank You CardNow that we’ve established the general format for thank you letters, we can examine the process with even more specificity. One of the common uses of thank you letters is in sending greeting cards out after an important event. These include thank-you cards sent after the holidays, after a birthday celebration, after other milestone events like weddings, graduations, and anniversaries, and in the wake of receiving a special gift or being shown hospitality. We’ll provide examples for each category as well; you can use these as guides or even templates for your own thank you letters.
After the HolidaysWhether it’s to thank someone for inviting you to Christmas dinner or for being generous enough to give you a present, it’s always appropriate to send a thank you card after the holidays. These types of thank you notes are often informal and personal, though this depends on how close a relationship you have with the person or people you’re sending your thank you notes to. Here’s an example of a typical post-holiday thank you:
Dear Clark and Lois,
Thank you so much for the beautiful 3-wick candle set you gave us this Christmas! I love cinnamon-scented candles - they make the house smell like freshly baked apple pie. Remind me to send you my recipe! The little tin of homemade gingerbread men was also a great hit with the kids. I don’t think they lasted the night!
Selina and Bruce
After a Birthday CelebrationBirthdays are always a flurry of activity, and often you’ve got yourself a stack of presents to thank guests for. This is true whether or not you hold a celebration in person, as plenty of friends and relatives who can’t attend will send a gift in their place. Like holiday thank you cards, birthday thank you cards are often informal and personal as well. Here’s a good example of one.
Dear Aunt May,
Thank you for celebrating my birthday with me last week! The gift you gave me will go to good use - that red and blue sweater you knitted for me will be sure to keep me nice and warm on my late night walks. It’s super comfortable and it fits like a glove! I’m sure everyone at work will want to know where I got such a great sweater. You’re the best!
All my love,
After a WeddingSending thank you letters to your wedding guests is an absolute must. Attending a wedding is a major undertaking, especially for guests that have to travel in order to be in attendance. It’s also customary to give a generous gift to newlyweds, and such generosity must be recognized. As far as tone, striking a careful balance between formal and familiar is a must in order to avoid offending guests. Here’s an example.
Dear Mr. Logan,
Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to attend our wedding. Your gift was very generous; we will be using that professional chef knife set for years to come to prepare some wonderful meals. We’ll be sure to invite you to our next dinner party to show you just how well they work!
Scott and Jean
After a GraduationGraduating, either from high school or from college, is a major milestone indeed. It’s only natural to celebrate that event, and it’s often customary to attend graduation celebrations or to give presents to the happy graduates, especially if you’re related to them. If you’re the one moving on up, though, it’s important to thank people after the fact for sharing your happiness. Here’s an example:
Dear Uncle Aaron,
Thank you so much for the digital camera you gave me as a graduation present! It’s so powerful and so easy to use, I’ll be able to get some great shots I’ll get with it when I go on vacation to Europe. I can’t wait to share all these photos with you when I get back!
After an Anniversary PartyAnniversaries are even bigger milestones than graduations and weddings. The higher the number, the more important, of course; a 5-year wedding anniversary celebration is wonderful, but a 25-year wedding anniversary is even more important. Like graduations, anniversary parties are usually attended primarily by family members, which means that these are often slightly less formal than not in most situations. Here’s an example:
Thank you so much for coming to our 10th anniversary celebration! It was wonderful having you over; the kids were so happy to see their Aunt Nat again. Your gift was really thoughtful, too - I can’t believe you remembered our favorite brand of wine! Come back soon and we’ll raise a glass together like old times.
Clint and Laura
For a Special GiftWhether it’s for the holidays, for a birthday or anniversary, or just because, sometimes our friends and family members give us a special gift. These are usually heartfelt, are often handmade, and quite often represent the expenditure of a lot of time, energy, or resources on the part of the gifter. That’s why such a special gift requires a special thank you card. Here’s a good example of one:
I couldn’t believe my eyes when I unwrapped your present. My grandfather’s medals from World War Two, beautifully restored and mounted in a display case! It means so much to me that you would do this - you know I miss him and his stories so much. It feels like you’ve given me back a piece of him. Thank you so much - I’ll never forget it.
All my love and gratitude,
For HospitalityIt’s always appropriate to thank someone after they invite you for a visit into their home for an overnight stay. These types of thank you cards are often fairly intimate, as it’s a major indicator of trust to have someone stay the night or for a weekend. Here’s a great example of a hospitality thank you card.
Dear Karen and Stu,
Thank you for inviting us to spend the weekend with you in Jersey City! It’s always wonderful to spend time with you, and welcoming us into your home with open arms was extra special. Let’s do it again soon - we would love to host you sometime in return. Let us know when you want to come up and we’ll make it happen!
Donna and Bob
For Other Special EventsThe above examples should provide an excellent baseline for any other thank you cards you might need to write. Other special events, such as baby showers for example, will follow the same patterns. Use your creativity and keep in mind your goal: expressing your gratitude for the other person’s thoughtfulness.
What to Include in a Thank-You LetterNow that we’ve covered thank you cards, it’s time to move on to more formal matters: thank you letters. These letters do happen to be more formal due to being used regularly in professional or business environments; the rules of etiquette are much more rigorous in these environments. Here’s a general standard for these types of letters.
Address the Person ProperlyYou need to use the correct nomenclature for addressing the person the thank you letter is intended to reach. This includes being cognizant of their rank, their profession, and and/or their gender.
Say Thank YouThis is, of course, the main reason for writing a thank you letter. Be direct and straightforward with your appreciation.
Give Some SpecificsProvide useful specifics for what you’re grateful for and why. As mentioned in an earlier example, you can express your gratitude for being given the opportunity to meet with a hiring manager and interview for a specific position at a company.
Say Thank You AgainFinally, express your gratitude one last time before signing your letter appropriately. These final words of thanks are usually followed by “sincerely” plus your full name.
Composing the LetterThank you letters aren’t typically long - usually no more than a few sentences. Because these letters are so brief, you need to choose your words with care. However, this doesn’t mean it’s difficult. In fact, you can compose a letter in just a few easy steps. This begins with the salutation. There are good ones and bad ones, of course; opening your letter with a simple “hey” or “hi” is obviously not going to be well received except in the most limited and intimate of instances. Even then, it’s much better to simply use a first name or nickname in an intimate thank you letter. Next, it continues with expressing your gratitude sincerely. People can tell when someone’s just going through the motions when it comes to thank you letters. You need to let the recipient know why their specific gift is cherished, for example. Next, forge a personal connection between yourself and the gift-giver. One of the best ways to do this is to either inquire about the other person or share a little news related to your personal life, your family, or your professional life if appropriate. Finally, let the recipient know that you appreciate them one last time before closing the letter appropriately. See how easy that is?
General Letter Writing TipsNow that we’ve gone through some specifics, let’s talk about some quick and dirty general letter writing tips. These are applicable to just about every type of thank you letter you could possibly write.
- Be thoughtful about format: always make sure to match your format to the relationship you have with your recipient. Formal and professional contacts should receive thank you notes that reflect that relationship, while you can format letters to friends and family members much more casually.
- Be prompt: never let too much time elapse between receiving a gift and sending a thank you note. While being late will always be better than never, it’s a sign of respect to send thank you notes in a timely manner.
- Be specific: Don’t send out vague, cookie-cutter thank you notes that aren’t specific to the gift or situation. Personalized thank you cards and letters show your recipient that you are truly grateful for their efforts.
- Be brief: thank you notes should be just that: notes. Keep it simple whenever possible. A short, heartfelt note that can be read in just a few moments is the perfect length.
- Be an editor: don’t be afraid to draft your letter or note and then review it. Even just a couple of minutes spent looking it over can catch mistakes or give you the opportunity to word things differently and more effectively.
Tips for Writing a Thank-You LetterNow that we’ve reviewed general tips, here are specific tips for writing a thank-you letter. Many of these will mirror the above, but the rationale behind these tips may differ.
- Send it as soon as possible: thank you letters, especially professional ones, demonstrate timeliness when sent as soon as possible. This is true whether or not you received a gift.
- Be positive but sincere: sincerity is always important. Pair this sincerity with a positive approach and this will suit you well when it comes to eliciting a positive response from your recipient.
- Personalize each letter: thank-you letters that haven’t been personalized give off a strong cookie-cutter feeling that leave recipients suspecting they were an afterthought. This can sour a relationship instead of strengthening one.
- Keep it brief: Thank-you letters work best when they’re short. You don’t need to go into excruciating detail. In this case, less is more.
- Proofread and edit: never send a thank-you letter without proofreading it for mistakes. Make sure the recipient’s name and title are spelled properly and that there are no spelling or grammar mistakes.
Thank You Cards EtiquetteThank you cards differ from letters in that they are usually less formal. However, even these types of thank you notes have some specific etiquette that you should be aware of. First, the timing of your thank you card is important. As these cards are often linked with special events like holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries, it’s appropriate to send out thank you cards beginning a week or so later. Typically you don’t want to wait more than a month before sending out your cards, though, so be prompt! Handwriting is another important facet of thank you cards. Handwritten thank you cards showcase a personal touch, but you need to ensure that your handwriting is neat and legible. Take your time to write each thank you card out so that your recipients will be able to read them! Finally, the wording of our thank you card is also important. You need to convey warmth and gratitude to the recipient for their gift, their presence at your special event, or both. The tone of your words need to match the relationship as well, as casual language should be reserved for only the closest of friends and family.
The Value of Writing a Professional Thank You LetterIn a professional environment, thank you letters serve a number of different ends. With professional letters usually relegated to career advancement, a well-drafted professional thank you letter is one of the best ways to increase your chances of landing that important job or receiving that crucial promotion. Professional thank you letters increase your chances by demonstrating your professionalism and showcasing that you know the proper way to address individuals and communicate in a professional capacity. It’s also an act of courtesy that shows recipients that you are committed to comporting yourself in a professional manner. Professional thank you letters also make you memorable, which helps you stand out from the crowd in a situation where there are only a limited number of roles available and competition for them is fierce. The thank you letter provides you one more opportunity to promote yourself after an interview and also helps to maintain communication with the individual or organization you’re interacting with. This will keep you visible and in the forefront of the minds of those who make the decisions, such as interviewers and hiring managers.
Sample Professional Thank You LettersLooking for a few examples of professional thank you letters? Here are some great ones that you can adapt for your own use.
Job Interview Thank You Letter Example
Dear Ms. Khan,
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to interview for the Cat Wrangler position at Pets Incorporated this past Thursday. Our conversation confirmed my interest in joining your team, and I was particularly pleased with the prospect of growing my feline behavior knowledge through on-the-job training. I look forward to hearing from you, and thank you again for the courtesy you extended to me.
Job Offer Acceptance Thank You Letter Example
Dear Mr. Jameson, Thank you for hiring me for the photographer position. I’m thrilled to be joining the team of the premier news magazine in the city. I’m looking forward to meeting the rest of the staff and to beginning training for the position this coming Monday. Please let me know if there’s anything special I need to bring to my first day of work. I look forward to starting. Thank you so much for the opportunity. Sincerely, Ben Reilly
Job Offer Rejection Thank You Letter Example
Dear Professor Octavius:
Thank you so much for offering me the position as a laboratory assistant at your research facility. It was a pleasure meeting you and your staff at my last interview. I am sorry to let you know that I will not be accepting the position at Osborne Industries at this time.
While the opportunity to work at Osborne is very exciting, I must make a different choice at this time. I look forward to keeping in touch with you and hope that we will associate in the future.
Once again, thank you so much for this opportunity.
Promotion Thank You Letter Example
Dear Doctor Wu,
I wanted to thank you for my recent promotion to office manager and let you know how much I appreciate your support. It's such a great opportunity that I've looked forward to for some time and I'm grateful for your confidence in my abilities.
I'm grateful for your constant patience and support in learning the ins and outs of your dentistry office. I look forward to keeping the office running efficiently and well with this new position.
Thanks again. I'm truly grateful.
Sample Personal Thank You LettersJust as our professional thank you letters will serve you well as examples for your own letters, here are some sample personal thank you letters that you can use to express gratitude to those around you.
Thank You for Your Hospitality Example Letter
Dear Jim and Arlene,
Thank you for allowing us to stay in your cozy cottage over the holiday weekend! It was such a lovely change of pace and was just the calm, relaxing retreat we have been wanting for so long. It was a dream come true, and it was all due to you. Thanks so much for your hospitality!
Jon and Nancy
Thank You for the Gift Example Letter
Dear Michael and Gabriela,
Thank you for the “Lord of the Rings” collector’s edition box set on Blu-Ray you sent for my retirement gift! It was wonderfully thoughtful and I look forward to enjoying them soon. You’re the best brother and sister-in-law I could ever want. Come visit soon and we can watch them together!
Thanks so much,
Special Occasion Thank You Letter Example
Dear Dr. Cusmano,
Thank you so much for celebrating the birth of our first child! The sailor suit onesie is absolutely adorable and I’m sure little Chris will look downright adorable wearing it. We look forward to the day you can meet him in person.
With love and appreciation,
The Donners (Louis, Edith, and now Chris!)
A Final NoteAt this point it should be clear that writing thank you notes, letters, and cards doesn’t have to be difficult or scary. Use our guide as your jumping off point and you will be writing thank you letters with the best of them, showcasing your gratitude to friends, family, and colleagues thoughtfully and in ways that will make a positive difference.
- Complete Guide to Writing Thank You Notes. (2021, May 21). Emily Post. https://emilypost.com/advice/complete-guide-to-writing-thank-you-notes
- Field, J. (n.d.). How to Write a Thank You Note. Hallmark Ideas & Inspiration. Retrieved July 14, 2021, from https://ideas.hallmark.com/articles/thank-you-ideas/how-to-write-a-thank-you-note/