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Sending Thank You notes: Prompt is polite (but don't panic if they're late)

"Hand write your thank-you notes in a timely and personal fashion."
From How to Raise a Lady by Kay West
We all know that good etiquette demands that thank you notes be sent promptly, however most of us also know how easy it is to put off writing them!
For both politeness and for your own peace of mind, try to get your thank you notes written in a timely manner. But if you do find you've left them late, don't panic – it's truly never too late to send a thank you note!

Books on good manners generally state that thank you notes should be sent within 24 hours of receiving a gift or attending an event!* I have to say that this seems pretty unrealistic to me, even if you are super organized and have your gratitude folder ready to go! But certainly your thank you note should arrive before the recipient has started to wonder whether or not you liked their present (or even received it at all...), or worry about what you thought of their dinner party. This means that your note really should arrive in their mailbox within a week of the event/receipt of the gift.

* Note that this isn't a blanket rule. The 'acceptable period' for sending wedding gift thank yous is usually considered to be 3 months, and some people say a year!

But... can a thank you note arrive TOO soon?

People often say that thank you notes should be sent 'as soon as possible', but I do think there can be a bit of an issue with them arriving too soon...

Fighter jet breaking the sound barrier. Photo: NASASending a thank you note (too) fast
By way of example, I recently received a thank you note from a friend which arrived in the mail the very next day after her visit. I was surprised to find that I felt a little put out about this note. Why? Well, when I thought about it I decided that it seemed a little too 'automatic' and just a bit too efficient (my friend must have written and posted the card within a couple of hours of leaving my home). I felt that the speed of this thank you note's arrival somehow impacted on its sincerity.

Am I being unfair? Would a note that arrived only weeks later have been preferable to the one that arrived 'too soon'? I'm not sure... But it certainly gave me something to think about regarding the timing of thank you notes, and I now hesitate to say that thank you notes should be sent as soon as possible after an event!

What if your thank you notes are long overdue?

OK, enough about promptness. Far from worrying about how soon to send a thank you note, the main issue for many people is how long they can leave it (due to procrastination, forgetfulness or whatever...) before it's no longer worth bothering?

Well, if you're hoping that by putting it off, the need to write a thank you letter will somehow magically disappear, then I have bad news for you: promptness is one of the keys to successful thank you notes, but that doesn't mean you're off the hook if your note is way overdue. Gifts, favors and kindnesses should always be acknowledged, however long ago they were.

But don't worry – overdue thank you notes are not hard to write, and getting them written and sent will be a real weight off your mind. See my tips, wordings and samples for writing belated thank you notes.

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