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How to write a good thank-you letter

 The do’s and don’ts of saying thank you
First published April 19, 2002

Writing effective thank-you letters can be difficult
First published April 24, 1998

First published April 19, 2002

The do’s and don’ts of saying thank you

By Stephen Wilbers

Work-related thank-you letters are written for two main reasons: because it’s the right thing to do, and because we want something else from the person we’re thanking.


Guess which reason seems to get more attention in reference books and on the Internet. I’m afraid the answer doesn’t say much about our sense of manners.


If you browse a collection of books on business and managerial writing, you’ll find that the great majority don’t even address the topic.


And if you search “thank-you letters” on the Internet, you’ll find that the most frequently visited sites offer advice on how to thank prospective employers for interviews. You’ll have to search a while longer to find anything about expressing appreciation as a matter of good business etiquette.


To help address this apparent cultural oversight, I offer the following do’s and don’ts for writing on-the-job thank-you letters:




1. Send thank-you letters for interviews, referrals, job search assistance, patronage, orders, advice, favors, hospitality, lunches, and gifts. When someone does something nice for you, tell them you appreciate it.


2. Acknowledge a gift when the sender has no other way of knowing you received it. This might even involve sending a thank-you note for a thank-you gift.


3. Write as soon as possible. Not only does a timely thank-you seem more sincere than a belated one, but it’s the easier to write.


4. Send a handwritten note as a personal expression of gratitude. Because they are less common these days, handwritten notes convey special warmth.


5. Emphasize qualities such as the generosity or thoughtfulness of the giver if the gift is disappointing. Even a presenter who stinks the place up deserves a thank-you.


6. Refer specifically to the gift or contribution. A well-written letter of appreciation can be sent to only one person.


7. Make a more general reference. Note how the gift or contribution is significant to your career, business, professional goals, or organizational mission.


8. Conclude with a goodwill statement, perhaps reiterating your appreciation. Remember: Building or reaffirming relationship is your primary objective.




1. Send thank-you letters that include requests for additional information or assistance. Don’t let convenience interfere with sincerity.


2. Send thank-you notes by e-mail unless the gift is routine or unless immediacy is a primary concern. As Rosalie Maggio observes in How to Say It, “The point of a thank-you note is that it is personal. E-mail has many virtues, but graciousness and formality are not among them.”


3. Acknowledge a thank-you gift that is presented to you in person unless it’s of unusually high value. Saying thank you at the moment generally is sufficient.


4. Use the phrase “thank you in advance” in your complimentary close. It’s standard practice to encourage readers to take a desired action by thanking them before they’ve actually done it, but “in advance” can sound presumptuous.


Good manners are important both in our personal lives and in business. There are, however, limits as to how far you should go in expressing your appreciation. Maggio makes this point when she quotes the British novelist Evelyn Waugh, who once described an acquaintance in this way:


“His courtesy was somewhat extravagant. He would write and thank people who wrote to thank him for wedding presents, and when he encountered anyone as punctilious as himself the correspondence ended only with death.” 



First published April 24, 1998

Writing effective thank-you letters
can be difficult

By Stephen Wilbers

Has this ever happened to you?


You unexpectedly find yourself with a few moments of free time – say five minutes until your next meeting. You’ve already checked your morning e-mail messages. For the moment the phone isn’t ringing. So, looking for a task you can complete quickly, you reach for your things-to-do pile.


There you find a note about a thank-you letter that needs to be written. Good, you think. I can whip that off in two minutes, then get to my meeting on time.


Ten minutes later you’re still tinkering with the same three sentences, you’re not satisfied with what you have written, and you’re late for your meeting.


Who would have thought that writing a simple thank-you letter would be so difficult?


If you have experienced something like this, you are one of countless people to discover the thank-you-letter-writer’s dilemma: A simple “thank you” can sound insincere if it’s too brief, and a longer letter can sound equally insincere if it’s padded with empty-sounding generalities.


So, how do you write a thank-you letter that sounds like you really mean it in less than five minutes?


Try following this four-part format:


1. Begin with a thank you. A straightforward “Thank you very much for . . .” or “I am writing to express my sincere appreciation for . . . “ works fine. When you want to underscore your role as representative of a group or organization, “On behalf of . . .” works well. For a more creative approach, open with an indirect compliment, such as “Something good always happens whenever you’re in town.”


2. Refer specifically to what the reader has done for you.  The key to making your reader feel genuinely appreciated is to go beyond generalities and offer specific detail. When thanking a guest speaker, for example, rather than simply write “Your presentation was truly first rate,” explain what it was about the presentation you found valuable: “Your comments on quality control were especially useful. In fact, one of our team leaders has distributed a summary of your three-step approach.”


3. Link the reader’s contribution to a broader mission or goal. An effective way to expand your letter without sounding insincere (“Your presentation was the best I’ve ever heard”) is to acknowledge the importance of the reader’s contribution in a broader context (“Your three-step approach will help us prepare for our annual audit”).


4. Conclude with “Thanks again” and a goodwill message. Repeat your appreciation for your reader’s contribution, and stress the importance of your relationship. This is your opportunity to say, in effect, “I appreciate your gifts and talents, and I value our relationship.”


Now, if getting started is the problem, keep these three points in mind:


1. Write your letter soon after the event. As time passes – and as your writing assignment sinks inexorably to the bottom of your things-to-do pile – your feeling of gratitude will fade. Your genuine desire to express appreciation will evolve into resentment at having to perform a bothersome task. The sooner you write, the easier the writing will be.


2. Think about your reader, not yourself. Try to put out of your mind any negative feelings you may associate with the act of writing (anxiety, stress, impatience). Instead, concentrate on the good feelings your letter will engender in your reader (recognition, appreciation, satisfaction).


3. When disappointed with the gift, emphasize the thoughtfulness of the giver. Writing a thank-you letter is especially challenging when the gift isn’t to your liking or the contribution doesn’t meet your expectations. In those situations, find something positive to say about the contribution, and thank the reader for his or her generosity, thoughtfulness, or time.




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