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Thank-you etiquette 101: You can never go wrong sending a note

  • McClatchy-Tribune
  • Published Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013, at 12 a.m.

Have a stack of unwritten thank-you notes you need to get to? If you’re worried about your sloppy penmanship or clumsiness with words, take some advice from author of “The Art of Thank You” Connie Leas: “The only thing you can really do wrong is not to send one.”

Leas knows this firsthand, as she got the idea for the book after sending a wedding gift and not receiving a thank you note. “Rather than get mad, I gave the recipients the benefit of the doubt and concluded that they were too intimidated by the writing process to send a note,” she said.

But as Kelly Browne, author of “101 Ways to Say Thank You,” notes, it’s much bigger than following prescribed rules of etiquette. “Gratitude is a thread that connects us all,” she said. “It’s about honoring and respecting one another.”

Feeling intimidated? Check out these tips to get you into the writing mode:

When to send

According to Leas, you’ll never go wrong by sending a thank-you note, so if you’re not sure whether one is necessary – write it anyway.

Browne suggests sending a note for any gift you receive, no matter how small. A thank-you note is also appropriate if someone has done something special for you. “If someone has taken the time, you should take the time to thank them,” she said.

If you find yourself skimping out on notes here and there, Leas provides a word of caution: “People remember the people that don’t write thank-you notes.”

How to send

Leas and Browne recognize that the rules are changing with the advent of new technologies; however, the golden rule of “paper is best” still applies. It also can be more appropriate for those who are less than tech-savvy.

But that’s not to say technology doesn’t have its place in expressing gratitude.

“Handwritten notes are always the best, but there are some really great apps that you can use to share pictures with your note, and it’s convenient because you can do it on your tablet,” said Browne, citing apps from Redstamp (redstamp.com) and Postagram (postagramapp.com).

Think twice about sending a thank-you exclusively through social media, though.

“Thank you notes are meant to be intimate and private, with the aim to make the person feel special. Social media is a public space and not really appropriate for something like that,” Browne said.

What to say

If you’re sending a thank you for a gift, Leas recommended personalizing the message by also noting how you’re going to use the gift. That doesn’t mean it has to be a novel (although it can be if you want it to). Two or three sentences is sufficient.

Browne said it’s always crucial to stay genuine and conversational. “Pretend the person is standing there in the room with you, and you’re thanking him as enthusiastically as you can.”

She said every note should have the date, a salutation (Dear Ms., etc.), an acknowledgment for what you’re thanking the person for, some note of goodwill (I look forward to seeing you soon, etc.) and a signature. A compliment to the reader, such as “You always know just what to get me” can be a nice touch as well.

Getting kids started

Motivating adults to write thank-you notes is hard enough. Getting kids to write them? Even more challenging.

Leas recommends trying to make it fun for kids. You can start them when they’re young and just get them to sign the card. As they get older, make it a craft project and let them decorate notecards to add their own personal touch. Apps like those mentioned above can be great for older kids, especially if they want to attach pictures with the message.

After birthdays or a holiday, “you can just have them do a couple cards a day – just make a list of the gifts everyone sent and have them check each off one by one,” Browne said. “This makes everyone’s life so much easier and teaches kids to be grateful.”

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