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How to get started with Thank You notes, cards, messages and letters

"The secret of getting ahead is getting started."
Mark Twain (1835-1910), American writer and humorist

There's something about expressing gratitude that tends to make people feel awkward and vulnerable, so it's no wonder that many of us find the process of writing thank you notes and messages uncomfortable and even downright scary.
But the good news is that thank you notes are actually pretty easy to write. Let me help you to get started!

For many people, a hesitation to write thank you notes comes down to two fears: the fear of appearing insincere (especially when attempting to express gratitude for a gift that they don't much like), and the fear of not writing the note 'properly' whatever that means!

So it's really important to remember that a successful thank you card or thank you note doesn't have to be 'perfect' to be appreciated. Nor does it have to be funny, or clever, or 'cool'. All it has to be is a few lines saying, well... saying thank you! That really is all it takes to express your gratitude and appreciation, and make someone feel valued.

So let's get started...

The six characteristics of a great thank you note

An effective thank you note that is sure to be well received is sent promptly, is short and to the point, cheerful, sincere, addresses the recipient by name, and lastly is signed by hand. Let's look at each of these in turn:

1. Sent promptly

Thank you notes are one of the simplest things in the world to put off doing, but they're a whole lot easier to write when the gift/hospitality/favor etc. is still fresh in your mind. Plus writing a thank you note straight away will save you from days, weeks, months or even years of low level but pervasive guilt and embarrassment. Do it now write those thank you notes! Read more on sending thank you notes promptly.

2. Short and to the point

There's no need to be wordy in a thank you note, infact short and sweet is definitely preferable. Sure, no thank you note should be less than three lines long, but thank you messages rarely call for more than seven or eight sentences. That doesn't sound too scary after all, does it!

3. Cheerful

Thank you notes should focus on the gift (or favor etc.) and the recipient in an upbeat manner. It may be the case that you are in a bad place at the moment, but news of your break-up or nasty cough is best saved for another time. Don't risk making your thanks appear to be grudging keep your focus on the recipient's kindness and thoughtfulness, and your tone light and happy.

4. Sincere

This is without doubt the most important characteristic of any thank you note or message. Gratitude is best expressed simply allowing your sincerity to shine through. So say thank you for whatever it is you have received, back up your thanks with a sentence or two describing how the gift / hospitality etc. made you feel / affected you / helped you and then stop. Don't try to be clever or jokey. And never use sarcasm. A thank you note is for expressing gratitude. If you want to tease someone, or get at them, then you're using the wrong medium.

5. Address the recipient by name

There's nothing difficult about this, just write 'Dear... (name of the person you are thanking)'. Avoid more casual greetings such as 'Hi there' or 'Yo!', and don't use 'Dear All' unless you are addressing a large number of people when 'Dear Friends' may anyway be more appropriate. If you are addressing a family then 'Dear Peter, Liz and kids' is fine. If you are addressing a couple of people who are not related, opt for 'Dear Jane, dear Lindsay'.

6. Sign your thank you notes by hand

Again, this is simple, but oh so important! Always, always sign by hand any note that you write, or type and print out. Of course, this doesn't apply to thank you notes sent by e-mail, but the lack of a signature is a major reason why handwritten notes are still preferable in some situations.

Adding 'that special something' to your thank you note

If you're not very confident about the wording of your thank you message, or think it looks a bit 'thin', then write your note in a greetings card. It doesn't have to be a 'thank you card' as such just a card with a cheerful and/or colorful picture. Consider adding a photo of yourself, your family, a pet etc., or even a small gift (see my ideas for gifts that will fit inside a card or envelope).

Practice makes perfect...

When composing a thank you note, for goodness sake take the time to rough it out before you start writing on that expensive stationery! As well as helping you to avoid mistakes and spelling errors, a first draft also gives you a chance to read over what you have written, and improve it. Try reading your draft note out loud you may well be surprised with the words or turns of phrases that suddenly occur to you when you do this.

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