Email 202(b): A Critical Last Step

“Sometimes the smallest things take up the most room in your heart” –Winnie the Pooh

Winnie the Pooh nails it every time. Of course, not all of us were blessed with Winnie the Pooh’s effortless zen-like wisdom. I certainly wasn’t.

As a child, my mother made me write a thank-you note for nearly every gift I received. And, not surprisingly, the more thank-you notes I wrote, the better I got at writing thank-you notes. “Practice makes perfect,” as the old saying goes.

I soon grew tired of writing the same old lines, and sought the wisdom of Miss Manners and other stiff-lipped ladies, which they articulated in tomes as thick as the New York City phone book. As an added perk, I also learned a great deal about hostess gifts, place settings, and other markers of good etiquette.

In this post, I share an incredibly simple formula formula for writing thank-you notes. This formula can be used for both handwritten and typed thank-you notes (e.g., email), and it is general enough that it can be applied to a wide variety of “everyday” situations, such as birthdays, graduations, baby showers, teacher appreciation, etc.

Start With a Greeting

The most widely accepted greeting is “Dear…” followed by the recipient’s name. Be sure to spell the recipient’s name correctly and, if applicable, address the recipient using the correct title (e.g., Dr., Ms.).

Say Thank You

Using specific language, thank the person for what they have given you or done for you.

For example, if your aunt Bertha gave you $100 cash for graduation, you could write, “Thank you so much for your generous gift of $100.” If your professor extended your online midterm by two hours, you might write, “Thank you very much for extending the midterm by two hours.”

The key to nailing this part of the thank-you note is specificity; state exactly what you are thanking the person(s) for.

State the Benefit or Use

State how you will use or have used the gift you received, or how you will benefit or have benefited from the person’s kindness. Whenever possible, add a little something extra to demonstrate your excitement or enthusiasm for the gift.

Using the examples above, you would need to let your aunt Bertha know how you used or will use the $100 she gave you for graduation. If you plan to go on a celebratory trip right after graduation, you might write something like, “I plan to use the money to buy a new swim suit and a beach towel for my trip to Cancun. I can’t wait to enjoy the warm sunshine, sand, and surf along the Mexican coastline. I’ll be sure to take lots of pictures!”

However, if you were going to start a new job immediately after graduation, you might write something like “I plan to use your gift to purchase some plants and picture frames for my cubicle. I know these items will make me feel much more comfortable at work,” or “I plan to use your generous gift to replace my college sandals with some more work-appropriate shoes. I can’t wait to go shopping!”

To thank your professor, Dr. Freud, you would need to explain how you benefited or will benefit from the two-hour extension she gave you. You could do this with a statement like, “Thanks to the two-hour extension, I will be able to take the midterm. I plan to do so as soon as my car situation has been resolved,” or “Thanks to your kindness, I was able to complete the midterm to the best of my ability. Now, I feel much more confident that I can complete your course successfully.”

No matter how you approach this portion of the thank-you note, it’s important to be honest. Aunt Bertha may inquire about your new work-appropriate shoes or the furnishings you bought for cubicle. Thus, it’s imperative that you mention items you actually intend to purchase. And once you have purchased those items, don’t forget to snap a picture that you can share with aunt Bertha at the next family gathering.

But don’t be too honest.

You wouldn’t want to make the person regret being generous.  For example, your dear aunt Bertha does not want to know that you plan to wear only the bottom half of your new bathing suit in Cancun. And your professor doesn’t need to know that the two-hour extension she gave you will also buy you a little extra study time.

Thank Them Again

Even though it might seem redundant, reiterate your gratitude or appreciation. Here are a few examples you can use for inspiration:

  • Thanks again for your kindness and generosity.
  • Thanks again for helping me decorate my new my office.
  • Thanks again for helping me build a professional wardrobe.
  • Again, your generosity is greatly appreciated.
  • I feel fortunate to have generous family members like you.


End your thank-you note with a closing that is appropriate for the situation and the type of relationship you have with the recipient. When thanking faculty, staff, and others with whom you have a professional relationship, opt for a standard closing like “sincerely,” or “with appreciation.”  When thanking someone with whom you have a more personal or intimate relationship, select a closing such as “warm regards,” “love,” or “with love.”

And one last thing–don’t forget to sign your name or include a electronic signature.

In summary…

Writing a thank-you note is easy! Begin with an appropriate greeting and end with an appropriate closing. Between the greeting and the closing, do the following three things: (1) thank the recipient for what they have given you or done for you, (2) explain how you will use or have used their gift, or how you will benefit or have benefited from their act of kindness, and (3) reiterate your gratitude or appreciation.

Still not sure what a good thank-you note looks like? Check out part 3 of this post, Email 202(c): A Critical Last Step, where I provide examples of thank-you notes which are appropriate for different sorts of occasions.






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