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:
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
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
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
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.”