A few months back a friend volunteered to dog-sit for me while I was out of town. When I arrived home, I thanked her for her service and handed her an envelope with a few bills inside. What was missing from said envelope is probably what separates us from the savage animal she was watching: A thank-you note.
Writing a thank-you note isn’t as daunting as it sounds, says Etiquette School of New York founder Patricia Fitzpatrick, who spoke to Lifehacker about the subject. There’s no need to trip yourself up with florid language or fanciful cursive writing; it’s a display of gratitude, not a written exam.
According to Fitzpatrick, thank-you notes should be sent in a variety of scenarios.
A thank you note is showing appreciation and acknowledgement of either something done for you or given to you. Any time anyone does anything special for you, you should acknowledge it. Whether it’s someone taking you out to dinner, having you as a guest in their home, staying in their home for the weekend, or giving you a present. You should always send one after getting a present.
Whether you’re interviewing for a new job or you’re a sitting President leaving remarks after attending an event, there are a few ways you can make your attempt at gratitude more effective and, according to Fitzpatrick, more heartwarming.
Do your prep work
Thank-you notes are meant to be thoughtful pieces of correspondence, and since you never know when you might have to send one, it pays to put some prep work in beforehand and save yourself some trouble. That means stocking up on stationery, whether personalised or otherwise. No printer paper garbage.
Fitzpatrick suggests starting with correspondence cards: Small note cards made with a heavier weight paper and paired with an envelope for easy mailing. As for colours, you can’t go wrong with a bright white or cream-coloured card. You can grab custom correspondence and thank-you cards from stationery stores like NoteMaker, or browse Etsy to find some unique designs. Avoid fill-in-the-blank cards. “Those are definitely for young children.”
Most of us go days without writing anything by hand, and when we finally need to jot something down, it looks like the writing of a third grader. Writing by hand in the digital age feels almost antiquated, but there are plenty of reasons to maintain the quality of your penmanship, or (gasp) even improve it.
If your writing stinks, type your note
Cursive script is my writing style of choice, and I’ve always preferred to pen thank-you notes myself, but there’s no need to turn to fanciful script when expressing your gratitude. In fact, Fitzpatrick says it’s just as acceptable to type them if your handwriting is poor.
First and foremost, a thank-you note must be legible, so if your scrawl leaves something to be desired, don’t be afraid to open Google Docs and knock one out. If you’re printing out your thank you note, choosing some paper-sized stationery might be your best bet. It’ll save you the trouble of fiddling with printer settings and the trial and error of getting it on a smaller, custom card. It may seem somewhat tacky to type a thank-you note, but one thing worse than no note is an unreadable one.
Send it ASAP
If you find yourself in a position to send a thank-you note, you should do so immediately. Dispatching one within 48 hours is generally standard operating procedure, but some events might warrant an even more expedient response. When it comes to events like a job interview, Fitzpatrick suggests starting off with a thank-you email and following up with a physical card.
Sometimes companies make decisions very quickly, and because not everyone sends handwritten notes, it makes the person who does send one stand out above the rest. It helps them outclass the competition.
If you’re unable to hand someone a thank-you card in person, feel free to mail it. Don’t be afraid to ask for their mailing address!
Who the hell wants a generic thank you card that you signed? Nobody, that’s who. Personalising a thank you card will lend a sense of warmth to your note, and remind the recipient of both what they did and how thoughtful you were in thanking them. It doesn’t have to be long-winded, either. An opening sentence or two thanking someone for their gift or service, followed by a bit of levity and a closing remark concerning the aforementioned gift, and you’re golden. Everybody wins!
In the end, here’s the note I should’ve written to my helpful friend (sorry, Kate):
Thank you for watching Dopey. I really appreciate it, and although he cannot speak English considering his existential crisis (being a dog), I’m sure he’d thank you too. If you hadn’t walked him, I’d no longer have a clean area rug. Normally I’d make him write this card, but I figured I’d handle this myself. I do, of course, appreciate you and am glad to have you in my life. Thanks again, and I hope I can return the favour someday and walk Steven for you.