How to Write the Perfect Thank-You Note

In The Emily Post Institute's latest book, Emily Post’s Wedding Etiquette: 6th Edition, Emily's great-great-granddaughters Anna and Lizzie Post tackle modern-day wedding questions that the original etiquette expert never could've dreamed about, from how to use (wisely) use technology, the rules for same-sex weddings, and much more. Here, the fourth generation of Posts tackle the biggest thank-you note questions.

Photo Credit: Turn Loose the Art

There are two fundamentals of expressing gratitude. First, every gift — whether a tangible item, money, a social event in your honor, or a gift of time or talent — should be acknowledged in writing. And second, your acknowledgment should be prompt. 

Personal, handwritten thank-yous remain the gold standard of courtesy in this age of texting, email, and instant messaging. Written notes demonstrate that the writer cares enough about the giver to compose an individual message and put the words on paper.

Here are the top 10 dos and don'ts:

Do personalize your notes, making reference to the person as well as the gift.
 Do be enthusiastic.
► Do refer to the use you will make of gifts of money. Mentioning the amount is optional.
► Do promptly acknowledge receipt of shipped gifts; either send your thank-you within a few days or call or email the sender, then follow up with a written note soon.
► Do remember that a gift should be acknowledged with the same courtesy and generous spirit in which it was given.
► Don’t send form letters or cards with printed messages and just your signature or use email or post a generic thank-you on your website in lieu of personal notes.
► Don’t mention that you plan to return or exchange a gift or indicate dissatisfaction in any way.
 Don’t ask shower attendees to write their address on thank-you note envelopes that you will then mail back to them.
► Don’t include wedding photos or use photo cards if this will delay sending notes.
► Don’t use being late as an excuse not to write. If you’re still sending thank-you notes after your first anniversary, keep writing.

The A+ Thank You Note

While there’s no formula for the perfect thank-you note, the notes people remember are the ones that express real feeling. Think about the people you’re thanking before you write anything. How would you say it if you were thanking them in person? Another hint: Look at the gift when you prepare to write; it may provide inspiration.

The first two examples below illustrate the difference between a note that gets the job done adequately and one that expresses thanks for a gift and real interest in the givers. While there is nothing wrong with the first note, the extra effort in the second is well worth it.

A simple note:

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Gresham,

Thank you so much for the lovely silver candy dish. It was so nice of you to think of Phil and me on our wedding day. I’m sorry you couldn’t be with us, but we hope to be back in St. Paul during the holidays and maybe we can all get together then.

Thanks again for thinking of us in such a nice way.


A more personal note:

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Gresham,

I’m looking right now at the lovely silver candy dish you sent and imagining how pretty it will be on our Thanksgiving table next month. (We’re hosting Phil’s family for the first time!) It really is one of our favorite things, and Phil and I are so grateful to you. We were both sorry that you couldn’t come to the wedding, but I know your trip to New Zealand must have been amazing. If all goes according to plan, we will be in St. Paul for Christmas, and we’ d love to see you and the girls and hear about your travels.

Again, thank you so much for the candy dish and for the beautiful thoughts in your note.

Love from both of us,

There’s no reason for a note to be stuffy and formal. Write from your heart and the words will come — as they did in this warm and humorous example:

Dear Uncle Jim,

Well, you really saved the day — the Big Day — when my car conked out. If it weren’t for you, I’d probably still be standing in front of Bartlett’s, hanging on to my tux bag and trying to hail a cab in that downpour. Meg considers you our personal guardian angel. First you get me to the church on time, and then we arrive in Antigua and discover that you’ve treated us to three days of our trip! I’m enclosing a photo so you can see the incredible view of the ocean from our hotel.

We can’t thank you enough for everything you’ve done. And I promise never to leave home without my jumper cables again.

Much love from your grateful,
if forgetful, nephew,

Thanks for the Money

Thanking someone for a monetary gift can seem awkward, especially as most of us have been taught that it’s not polite to talk about money. While you can dance around the subject, the fact is that you were given money in some form, and the giver should be thanked just as directly for his or her gift as someone who gave you a teapot. Mentioning the amount is optional.

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Abel,

Chris and I were delighted and touched by your generous gift of $500 / your generous check (for $500) / the two shares of Apple stock / the ($500) Treasury bond. We have started a house fund, and this will make a big dent in the down payment.

We were so glad you were able to make it to our wedding. You’ve been my parents' friends for as long as I can remember, and it meant so much to me to have you there. Chris and I are planning to be back in Dayton for Thanksgiving, and I’m sure we’ll see you then.


Congratulatory Telegrams on your Wedding Day

Though an old custom, telegrams are still sent, and these best wishes deserve as short note in acknowledgement. It’s more likely that you’ll receive tweets and emails. It’s fine to reply in kind to these congratulations after the wedding.

—Anna Post and Lizzie Post, as seen in Emily Post’s Wedding Etiquette: 6th Edition. Published with permission from It Books/HarperColilns Publishers. © 2014 The Emily Post Institute.

emily post wedding etiquette
The Emily Post Institute has been answering etiquette questions for more than ninety years, and Emily Post’s Wedding Etiquette, 6th Edition, written by Emily’s great-great-granddaughters, Anna Post and Lizzie Post, will provide you with everything you need to know from past traditions to modern updates so you can approach your wedding with grace and ease.