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What to Write in a Thank You Note

My 4-step formula to write an effective thank you note for any occasion

sparkle-heart-featured-image

Illustrations by Grace Lilly

Research says warmth beats perfection

If you’re anything like me, you tend to overthink what to write in a thank you note. The good news is that even though many of us worry about our writing being scrutinized, according to a study published in the journal Psychological Science, most people who receive thank you notes aren’t concerned with how eloquently they’re worded.

"Most recipients didn’t care how the notes were phrased, they cared about warmth."
— Heather Murphy, New York Times, citing Amit Kumar and Nicholas Epley, University of Chicago

Study participants who sent notes of gratitude significantly underestimated how surprised and positive recipients would feel. Plus, they were judged to be more competent at writing than they expected. So rest assured that your efforts are worthwhile and the warmth of your message will be valued above all.

Below you'll find my formula for structuring a thank you note, and an example note. There's also a few bullet lists of ideas for what to say when thanking friends and family in various situations. Finally, I touch on some of the nuances of sending professional versus personal thank you notes.

 

My 4-Step Formula  

My 4-step formula is primarily designed for writing to friends & family. So if you’re writing to a professional contact, feel free to jump ahead to the “Professional Thanks” section.

 

Step 1. Begin with a compliment

I like to start a thank you note by focusing on the recipient. Thinking of something nice to say about them is an easy way to initiate a genuine, heartfelt message. It also helps set the tone as more loving and casual (even silly) instead of formulaic and generic. 

ex) You rock my socks off and are truly an angel.

 

Step 2. Say thank you 

In the second sentence, use the words “thank you” and bring up what you’re thanking them for. For an added sweet touch, throw in a little sentiment about how you feel. 

ex) Thank you so much for the mixing bowls, they’re exactly what I wanted.

 

Step 3. Give details 

Write a couple sentences about how your life is different thanks to them. If they gave you a gift, paint a little picture of how you’ll be using it. If they did you a favor, give some specifics about how it helped you. Anything you can mention that helps them understand how they’ve made a difference is ideal.

ex) They’re going to make baking so much easier. Thanks to you, I can finally try out so many new recipes that I’ve wanted to make for so long. I’ll think of you every time I bake something now!

 

Step 4. End with humor and/or when you'll see them again

Wrap up your note by saying something about when you’ll see them next. Feel free to add humor here if it feels right. 

ex) Thanks again for rocking so hard. Let me know the next time you’re in town, I’d love to see you again and serve you one of my desserts!

 

Extra credit: visuals, doodles, colors, stickers

trophy

My favorite part of writing a thank you note is adding visuals. Sometimes I’ll doodle a little trophy or ribbon like I’m giving someone an imaginary award. Even something as simple as a smiley face or heart can feel surprisingly special. If the person you’re thanking can tell you added a little extra effort, I guarantee they’ll feel even more loved. 

 

Example friends & family note

Dear Courtney, 

You rock my socks off and are truly an angel. Thank you so much for the mixing bowls, they’re exactly what I wanted. They’re going to make baking so much easier. Thanks to you, I can finally try out so many new recipes that I’ve wanted to make for so long. I’ll think of you every time I bake something now! Thanks again for rocking so hard. Let me know the next time you’re in town, I’d love to see you again and serve you one of my desserts! 

Sending my love,
Grace

 

Ideas of what to write 

compliments

When I write a thank you note to friends and family, I love to inject it with as much personality as possible. This means I write the way I speak, add humor when appropriate, and include little doodles & decorations whenever possible. 

Think about how differently you would feel receiving a thank you note with a stiff, generic message written on it versus one with inside jokes and even a simple illustration or sticker on it. There’s something undeniably magical about adding as much of your personality to the card as possible. Just in case you’re having a hard time getting started, I’ve listed a bunch of ideas of what to say below.

 

Tone: write how you speak, no need to feel stiff or formal

Stationery: whatever floats your boat and feels like your personality

Consider: how your life is easier/better/more enjoyable thanks to someone else

 

General thanks 

  • I can’t thank you enough for _____
  • You really made my day
  • I’m so grateful for you in my life
  • Sending a very happy, love-filled thanks your way
  • I’m still smiling/my heart is still smiling
  • I’m forever grateful
  • You spoiled me
  • Everything was even better than I could’ve dreamed
  • You’re incredible/amazing/wonderful/the best
  • I feel so lucky to have you as a friend/sister/brother/mom/dad/etc.
  • I really value our friendship/connection/bond
  • Thank you for helping us celebrate ______
  • Thank you from the bottom of my heart

Thanking someone for a gift 

gift

  • The ______ is so useful, it’s really helped me ______
  • You knew exactly what I wanted
  • It’s much appreciated
  • I was so thrilled when I opened the _______ you gave me
  • The ______ is perfect! I love it
  • Every time I use the ______ it makes me think of you
  • I can tell you spent a lot of time picking it out/making it
  • You always give the best gifts/find the coolest things
  • You know me so well
  • I so appreciate you thinking of me/your thoughtfulness
  • I can’t wait to send you a photo of ______ wearing it/using it
  • Thank you for the _____, I’ll think of you every time I see it
  • Thank you for the _____, I really needed one and this one goes so well with _____
  • I’m so touched by your generosity

    Thanking someone for a favor

    cat-sitting

    • I couldn’t have done it without you 
    • Thanks to you, I now have ________ /I’ve been able to ________
    • You’re a hero/champion/angel 
    • You really went above and beyond 
    • Thank you for everything you’ve done
    • This has been a really challenging time and your help has made a big difference in my life
    • I don’t know where I’d be without your support
    • I don’t know what I would’ve done without you 
    • You always make me feel so welcome/like family
    • I didn’t want to leave
    • I felt so pampered/honored
    • Thank you so much for hosting my ______
    • If I can ever return the favor, please don’t hesitate to ask 

      A note on timing

      It’s always ideal to get your thank you note in the mail as soon as possible (I try to send within 1-2 weeks). But with weddings and baby showers, people will understand if it takes you a little longer. 

      Typical window for wedding gifts: send note within 3 months after receiving gift

      Typical window for baby shower gifts: send note within 3-5 months after receiving gift

       

      Writing professional thank you notes

      handshake

      Do's and Don'ts 

      Making a small effort to send a tangible card in a professional context can pay big dividends. I’d recommend keeping your message short and sweet, and getting it in the mail as quickly as possible. 

      Be thoughtful and sincere but keep it brief and direct. Mention specific details of your interaction instead of being general and vague. Focus your message on showing the person that you value their time, perspective, etc. If it feels right, you can mention how they’ve positively impacted you or offer a compliment – just use a professional tone instead of gushing. Finally, you can end by looking to the future. Just remember to be confident but not cocky.

       

      Worth noting

      Take a second to consider what stationery to use – I like to stick to classic, timeless styles to establish a polished impression. Remember that whether you’re writing to a client, a customer, or someone who interviewed you, your stationery is a professional representation of you. Whatever stationery you send is essentially telling them how you want them to see you.  This doesn’t mean you have to avoid color or personality, it just means you should be more mindful of what impression your stationery is giving your recipient in a professional context.

       

      A note on timing

      Sending your note quickly is important. It creates a good impression, keeps you fresh in their mind, and shows your enthusiasm and follow-through.

       

      Tone: Respectful, straightforward and to the point. Confident, not cocky. 

      Stationery: Simple, classic, understated – let your words do the talking.

      Consider: How has someone specifically helped you? What value can you bring to the workplace?

       

      Ideas for professional thanks

      • Thank you for taking the time to meet with me about _______
      • Thank you for your business 
      • Thank you for the opportunity to _______
      • Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule 
      • I really appreciate you
        • showing me around the _______ 
        • introducing me to _______
        • telling me more about the position / opportunity 
        • taking the time to speak with me 
      • After…
        • seeing the office first-hand
        • meeting the team
        • hearing about your goals
        • ...I’m confident that I would be a valuable addition to ______
      • I look forward to
        • hearing from you
        • working with you
        • meeting with you again
      • Keywords:
        • grateful
        • appreciate
        • generous
        • value
        • opportunity
        • team
        • leadership
        • learn
        • effort

        Example professional note

        Ms. Peters, 

        I wanted to sincerely thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to meet with me the other day about the Operations job opportunity. I really enjoyed learning about your upcoming projects and hearing your perspective about streamlining the planning. After meeting the team and hearing about their challenges and goals, I’m confident that my experience in logistics would make me a valuable addition, specifically in regards to implementing a new scheduling system in the warehouses. Please know how much I appreciate your time and consideration  it’s always a pleasure to speak with you. 

        Thanks again, 

        Grace

         

        Final takeaways 

        heart-shaped-hands

        Sincerity & Specificity 

        Whether you’re writing to friends & family or a professional acquaintance, just remember to be sincere and specific. People love hearing details about how they’ve impacted your life. My hope is that reading this article has eased some of your anxiety about writing thank you notes. But if you still get stressed, remind yourself that you're probably underestimating how happy your note will make someone — and making someone’s day is definitely something to smile about. 

         

        Reminders

        Friends & Family 

        • Warmth matters most 
        • Be specific: “paint a picture” of how they’ve impacted your life
        • Add personality: doodles, decoration, color, stickers

         

        Professional

        • Choose your stationery wisely: stick to classic, timeless designs
        • Keep it brief but personal to the interaction, not too vague
        • Be respectful, thoughtful, sincere
        • Send it quickly

          If you need stationery 

          I make ultra-convenient, eco-friendly stationery kits at Nice Paper Goods. I design every product myself with you in mind – whether you’re looking for something polished for professional use or something playful for personal use, I’ve got you covered. My favorite part is that they all come with USA Forever stamps so you don’t have to fuss or worry when it comes to sending.

          Funny story: when I was sixteen, I had a birthday party. Promptly afterwards, I wrote thank you notes, sealed them in envelopes, and addressed them. I was so proud of myself for remembering to write them so soon after the party. Flash forward 8 years later: I found the sealed and addressed envelopes in my old desk. Turns out, I never sent them. I  didn’t have stamps handy when I was writing them, so I set them aside and totally forgot about them. As silly as it sounds, if my all-in-one stationery kits can prevent this from happening to you even once, I'll feel like I’m doing something right :)

           

          Thank you

          Thank YOU, dear reader for checking out my blog. It’s very rad to know you’re reading this right now. I hope the ideas above are helpful to you and that your relationships grow even warmer and more fulfilling. Thanks again, you rule.

          Love, 

          Grace

           

          P.S. If you need help remembering how to address an envelope, read my other post How to Address an Envelope in 3 Easy Steps

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