Writing Thank You Notes: A Lost Etiquette

These are what are known as Thank You notes.
These are what are known as Thank You notes. | Source

Personal written expressions of thanks are a rarity

Emily Post has probably turned over in her grave a thousand times if she has been able to witness from eternity the shallow, negligent, impersonal, ungrateful world we live in today. It was a given in bygone days that when a person received a wedding or baby shower gift they sent the gift-giver a hand written thank you note within one to three months. When being a guest in someone's home for a meal or celebration, a card or note of thanks was an ingrained, automatic response. Children sent letters of thanks to their grandparents and aunts and uncles for Christmas and birthday gifts. It was called manners, gratitude, respect and thoughtfulness.

Today there is very little gratitude and it can be seen by the absence of personally written or delivered notes or calls of thanks. Grandparents will often tell you they never know if their grandchildren ever received the gift they sent because there was no communication from them. I know someone who says she calls a few weeks after sending gifts to the grandkids - "Josh, did you get the legos I sent you for Christmas?" Josh's response is always the same - a very distracted and unenthusiastic "Yeah." End of conversation. In all fairness, if the child has not been taught to say a sincere thank you, he cannot be blamed.

Peggy Post, Emily's great-grandson's wife has taken up the baton her great-grandmother-in-law passed along, and now writes about etiquette. Unfortunately, the people who need to listen to her the most, are clueless of her existence.

"Thx" is not enough

The advent of electronic media - email, text messaging, social media - has impersonalized communication. Using media to communicate is wonderfully fast and convenient, but it has caused a great chasm in relating to one another in a personal, meaningful way. Sending a text, email, facebook post or tweet offers the convenience of not having to to take time to think about what to say in the most heartfelt way (email might be an exception at times). Communication mediums such as these can be likened to written sound bites - short, flippant little snippets. We type letters on a screen and hit send with lightening speed, with no forethought. Get it done quick and easy and get back to me, myself, and I.

Today we send hurried texts that say "Thx," when someone has taken the time and care to give something significant to us. "Thx" lacks sincerity, sensitivity, and thoughtfulness if it's about things that really matter. "Thx" says "That's all I have time for you. I am too busy to even write the whole word, let alone how deeply I appreciate X,Y, or Z." "Thx" is appropriate in situations like, "Oh, you forgot your book while you were here. I will put it on your desk."


In this completely updated 18th Edition of the classic Emily Post’s Etiquette, the mantle is picked up by the great-great-grandchildren of the First Lady of Etiquette, who tackle the latest issues and demands of the twenty-first century—from texting and tweeting to iPhones, Facebook, and all forms of social media. The perfect guide for Millennials living on their own for the first time who wish to establish themselves properly in the workplace—as well as for Baby Boomers in the midst of planning their children’s weddings, entering retirement, and helping to care for elderly parents—Emily Post’s Etiquette, 18th Edition, remains the essential handbook to proper social behavior.


Is electronic media that different than writing a letter?

Since the technological mediums I mentioned involve sending word messages, one might ask how it is different than writing a thank you letter, card, or note. Consider these:

Sending a thank you message via email can sometimes be appropriate, but there is always the risk of it being deleted accidentally and the message never getting through.

Purchasing or making a thank you card, on the other hand, requires thoughtful consideration when making a choice. You look at the image and think how much the recipient might like the roses, or the puppy etc. If you choose to get one with a sentiment, you search through the many cards to find one that expresses what you'd like to say the best (at least the recipient hopes you did). This is called thoughtfulness. It shows them that they matter and that you are grateful.

Sending a card, letter, or note of thanks is an investment of time and energy, in contrast to the hurried, flippant, instant process that technology affords. It takes time to sit down at the desk and think up a meaningful way to say thank you. And yet, most people don't think twice about spending hours on the computer surfing the net or reading tweets.

For supporting a friend

Thank you note from a friend.
Thank you note from a friend.

When should we send a thank you note?

Thank you notes should be sent when someone has gone out of their way for you to show you that they care. Following are standard occasions to send notes of thanks:

  • Shower gifts
  • Wedding gifts
  • New baby gifts
  • Graduation gifts
  • Any gift where the giver is not present
  • After an exceptional kindness or favor
  • After a job interview
  • Condolence notes or gifts
  • When you've been a house guest
  • Parties or events thrown in your honor
  • Variety of events you've attended
  • Benevolent gifts or charity of some sort
  • Donations to your favorite charity

Exceptional acts of kindness can be anything that has helped or encouraged you. There are a million and one reasons to write notes of thanks.

This little girl is thanking her aunty for the birthday gift she sent.
This little girl is thanking her aunty for the birthday gift she sent. | Source

Do you write thank you notes?

  • Never. I don't have the time.
  • I'm a social media "thx" kind of person
  • My mother raised me right, I always send thank you notes.
  • I sometimes do, but I often procrastinate, then drop it altogether when too much time has gone by.
  • What's a thank you note?
See results without voting

Email and telephone thank you's

Email thank you notes are perfectly appropriate in casual situations with people you are very close to, such as a friend, family member, close co-worker. It also depends on the reason for saying thank you.

I have written email thank you's many times to close friends where I wanted to say more than just a few words that fit on a card, and wanted to get the message to them quickly. You can still take the time to consider what you will say and write a thoughtful message. Again though, you always run the risk of it getting deleted or lost somehow. Take time to cut and paste and save onto a word document in case it is somehow lost. There is nothing wrong with asking "Did you get my email?" If they didn't, you can try again, or send it snail mail.

Telephone thank you's are wonderful at holiday times and birthdays. It gives you and your family a time to chat and catch up and verbalize your gratitude that they will hear in your voice. Few parents have their children write thank you notes anymore when family members send them gifts, and that's okay as long as the child calls the family member and offers a proper thank you. Personally I prefer this when it comes to the grandkids. It is important for parents to teach their children how to do this and why.

Having children say thank you is the polite thing to do. It teaches children to be thankful and find joy saying thank you. It helps children to become "other" oriented.

Thank you teacher

Do you have your children write thank you notes?

  • Are you kidding me? It will never happen. They won't go for it.
  • I try but they balk and kick up a fuss, so we end up just calling.
  • Yes, I do and they are comfortable with it after doing it for so long.
See results without voting

Teach children to write thank you notes

It is wonderful to receive a thank you note from a child. I have helped my children's teachers and taught Sunday school off and on for many years and received many cards and letters of thanks, complete with drawings. May is teacher appreciation month and a good time to have your child and/or his class write a note or poster of thanks. These are treasures teachers will always hold dear.

It is important also for parents to model gratitude in the home. Not just in written form, but as a way of life. In fact, it is the modeling of gratitude that will make the greatest impression and impact on the children. It will cause gratitude to grow in their hearts.

Thank you Doctor


Is there hope?

The ethos of communication in America today is defined and driven by the desire to get things done as fast as possible, as easy as possible, and as conveniently as possible. It is sad that communicating gratitude in written form is viewed as a prehistoric practice to most people today. Barring a miracle, it will probably not return any time soon. The die has been cast. We can only hope that this mindset will wear itself out or that the emptiness of it will cause a hunger to find connection and thoughtfulness once again. Wouldn't it be wonderful if note cards one day became best selling items?

© 2013 Lori Colbo

More by this Author


Jackie Lynnley profile image

Jackie Lynnley 2 years ago from The Beautiful South

I 100% agree with this! If what I am hearing is correct though, kids today do not know how to write because they never have to. It is becoming a lost art. Hope this will encourage some parents to not only teach their children this courtesy but start using it themselves. ^

lambservant profile image

lambservant 2 years ago from Pacific Northwest Author

Amen Jackie. You're preaching to the choir. Stay tuned, I am working on a hub on how to write a thank you note. Thanks for stopping by with your affirming comment.

Faith Reaper profile image

Faith Reaper 2 years ago from southern USA

I hope this article is sent around the world, as it surely does seem like a lost etiquette nowadays! With all the texting going on, I am not sure younger persons even know how to write anymore? The world is moving at such a fast pace, it is sad that many will not even know of such. It is important that all parents teach their children this ... but will they take the time or have the desire to do such?

I know when I receive a special handwritten note from a special friend or anyone really, it means the world to me. I have kept each and every single one I have ever received! It is just so personal.

Up and more and sharing!

God bless you dear sister,

Faith Reaper

lifegate profile image

lifegate 2 years ago from Pleasant Gap, PA

Hi LS,

Another one of those missed notifications. "Sending a card, letter, or note of thanks is an investment of time and energy, in contrast to the hurried, flippant, instant process that technology affords." Although I admit I don't often write notes like I should, I think that sums it up. It's all with the new attitude of "I don't have time for you; I'm too busy with my own agenda; etc. I'll work at trying to do better. Thanks for the challenge.

CraftytotheCore profile image

CraftytotheCore 2 years ago

Such a great Hub! I was so stunned the first time I sent a present to someone and never heard back. It was about 20 years ago. That's around the time I started noticing people didn't bother to say thanks any more. When I asked the person why I had never heard back, they said that they didn't know I was expecting a thanks.

It wasn't so much that I was expecting anything, but a little acknowledgment would have been appreciated.

I've always sent thank you notes. I've recently sent wedding shower gifts and never got a response. I think it's rude. It seems like people expect a gift now a days, but don't think of the importance of thanking the person who sent it. Just backwards.

lambservant profile image

lambservant 2 years ago from Pacific Northwest Author

"It seems like people expect a gift nowadays, but don't think of the importance of thanking the person who sent it." Oh crafty, BINGO! You put it into perspective so perfectly in one sentence. May I use that quote in this hub (attributed to you of course)?

Sunshine625 profile image

Sunshine625 2 years ago from Orlando, FL

Due to technology it's easier to send a text or an email as a form of a thank you note, but I still snail mail them out also. As do my daughters. Who doesn't like to receive something cheerful in the mail, instead of just bills.

lambservant profile image

lambservant 2 years ago from Pacific Northwest Author

That's true sunshine. Thanks for stopping by.

Michael-Milec profile image

Michael-Milec 19 months ago

Thank you lambservant from the bottom of my heart for an edifying lecture.


Bold , truthful and much needed message. (Oh how I wish that this would be a curriculum choice of godly parents.)

You have put me back into comfortable memory zone of old fashion common sense lifestyle, back there where our parents, grandparents with minimal or no formal education gracefully raised a thankful generation...

(Ouch ). A correction has to be made, since we have neglected one part of it, namely the notes / letters/ thank you in writing.

Great Hub, Voting up, useful, beautiful , interesting.

Peace with us.

lambservant profile image

lambservant 19 months ago from Pacific Northwest Author

Greetings Michael, I hope my "lecture" wasn't hurtful. I came on pretty strong when I wrote this because I wasn't hearing from certain people for gifts I mailed and just wanted to know they arrived. We should not give only to hear gratitude, we give because we love and care. But it is nice to hear thank you. It should be a common courtesy. Blessings my friend!

Michael-Milec profile image

Michael-Milec 19 months ago

Hello lambservant. Certainly, wasn't hurtful, rather instructive and practical, whereby a 'giver' and a 'receiver' create an atmosphere of sublimity... would only add to ' this little light of my,' when more often practiced by those who are already called " a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to him..." (Just a thought)

God bless and protect you.

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