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
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:
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.
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.
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.
a handwritten note as a personal expression of gratitude. Because they are
less common these days, handwritten notes convey special warmth.
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.
specifically to the gift or contribution. A well-written letter of
appreciation can be sent to only one person.
a more general reference. Note how the gift or contribution is significant to
your career, business, professional goals, or organizational mission.
with a goodwill statement, perhaps reiterating your appreciation. Remember:
Building or reaffirming relationship is your primary objective.
thank-you letters that include requests for additional information or
assistance. Don’t let convenience interfere with sincerity.
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.”
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.
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.”