Incorporate tradition into your modern world with these tips for easily drafting thank-you notes for every occasion.

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A special gift. A delicious, home-cooked meal. An extended stay at your friend's house. Let's face it: It's nice when the people go out of their way to make you feel a little special. So what better way to express your gratitude than with a thank-you note? 

Admittedly—in an era when social media, emails, and text messages are the preferred methods of communication—sending a handwritten letter feels a bit old-fashioned. In fact, thank-you notes have been traced back to as far as the 15th century.  But the truth is, appreciating your loved ones (and good manners in general) will never go out of style. 

To help bring the storied tradition to modern times, a few etiquette experts share everything you need to know about writing and sending thank-you notes.

Do You Need to Send Handwritten Thank-You Notes?

We love snail mail as much as the next person, but writing out a formal letter, buying stamps, and popping in the mailbox is a lot more difficult than, say, sending a quick email from your phone. So can you text a thank you? The answer isn't always so cut and dry.

"Depending on the relationship you have with the recipient, a thank-you text or email is acceptable, especially if that'll be the next opportunity you speak with them," explains Bonnie Tsai, founder and director of Beyond Etiquette. "Also, when timing is crucial, you can send a quick text or email before mailing a handwritten thank-you note one to two days after." 

For example, she says an electronic thank you is permissible if your friend treats you to lunch. You can also send your friend an email or text if you already speak with them two to three times a week. After all, it would be a little awkward if you carried on with another conversation if you didn't express your gratitude. 

So when do you need to bust out the pen and paper? Tsai says a handwritten note is required for business interactions, dinner parties, gifts, or events where you are the guest of honor.

"If the occasion was purely social, but hosted by someone you conduct business with, be sure to address the thank-you note to both the host and their significant other," Tsai adds. "The more expensive the entertainment or occasion, the more necessary it is to write a personal thank-you note.

thank-you note on a teal background
Credit: Getty Images

When to Send Thank-You Notes 

Not to stress you out or anything, but thank-you notes should be sent out pronto. "Thank-you notes should be sent immediately," says Nick Leighton, co-host of an etiquette podcast called Were You Raised by Wolves? "If you have to ask, it probably should have already been sent." 

And contrary to popular belief, Leighton argues newlyweds do not have up to a year to send out thank-you cards for their wedding gifts. "Thank-you notes should be mailed out immediately," he says. "Even if that's before the wedding."

That said, Leighton acknowledges there are some exceptions to the rule — especially if time is of the essence. 

"Email is OK for when timeliness is paramount; when you don't have their mailing address and can't obtain it; or when the kindness you're thanking someone for is on the smaller side, such as giving a few restaurant recommendations." 

What to Write in a Thank-You Note

Now, the million dollar question: What are you even supposed to write in a thank-you note? The good news is that your letter doesn't have to be a modern-day masterpiece. 

"The beauty of a thank-you note is in its simplicity, they don't need to be long, unless warranted," says Lisa Lyons, an event planner who received the US delegate seat to the International Etiquette & Protocol Academy Of London for its Train the Trainer program.

To help, Lyons breaks down the perfect thank-you note into five easy steps.

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1 Begin with a greeting

Depending on how well you know the recipient, you can use more casual greetings such as "hello" but I nearly always opt for "dear." If they are a married couple be sure to address them both here.

2 Offer your thanks (and be specific!)

If you are sending thanks for a gifted item, mention it specifically and, if applicable, how you have or plan to use the gift. If you are sending a thank you for money, "your generosity" is a lovely alternative. If you are sending thanks after an event, mention what a great time you had. 

3 Add a personal comment or anecdote

Perhaps a great memory of the evening or hopes to see each other again soon. 

4 Sign politely

"With gratitude" and "cordially" are both classics.

5 Mail promptly

Timely thank-you notes are preferable however, the time frame is dictated by the occasion. Following a wedding, proper etiquette suggests sending thank-you notes within one year. After attending a dinner party, however, it's best to send your note within one week.

A Word on Thank-You Note Wording

To draft a great thank-you note, etiquette experts Catherine Newman and Diane Gottsman compiled a few thank-you note examples you can easily personalize for any occasion:

Thank-You Note Wording for Gifts

As a template, try constructing your thank-you note for a gift with, "Thank you for the [insert gift here]. I am looking forward to using it [describe action or appropriate time you will use it]."

Other thank-you note examples:

  • "Thank you for the cookware. It is just what I need to make your famous Italian sauce. I plan to use your recipe very soon."
  • "Thank you so much for the beautiful silver picture frame. I have perfect picture to put in it and the perfect shelf."
  • "Oh my goodness, a BMW! You are the best grandparents ever!" (It's more challenging, but still totally doable, with something less wonderful, like a scratchy sweater, Newman assures).

Thank-You Note Wording for Money

When crafting a thank-you message for a monetary gift, don't mention a how much money they gave you, warns Gottsman, a national etiquette expert, author of Modern Etiquette for a Better Life, and founder of The Protocol School of Texas. Use the following template for a thank-you note about receiving money: "Thank you so much for the gift. I am [an activity, project or product you are hoping to buy] and your generosity will certainly help me [the result of the activity, project or product purchase]."

Other thank-you note examples:

  • "There's a really great robotics kit I've had my eye on."
  • "As you know, I'm saving up for a car, so I'm going to put this right in the bank."
  • "We are saving to put a deposit down on a new apartment and your generosity has helped us immensely. I can't wait to host you for dinner soon—possibly in our new apartment!"

Thank-You Note Wording for Support

This template will help when writing a note to someone who has helped support you: "Thank you for [act of kindness]. I am so grateful to have you as a [relationship]."

Other thank-you note examples:

  • "Your visit to the hospital lifted my spirits. I am feeling much better and wanted to let you know how much I appreciate your support."
  • "To say you are always there when I need you would be an understatement. I want you to know how much I appreciate your support during this difficult time. It has made the transition easier."
  • "Thank you for checking in on me. I will never forget your kindness and hope to do the same for you one day."

Now that you know the basics, you'll need to stock up on thank-you notes. Shop our favorite sets here.