8 Times You Must (Yes, Must) Send a Thank-You Note

Here's when you have to send that thank-you note—and how to write one.

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Thanks, gracias, thanks a million, warmest thanks, and thanks a bunch are just some of the many different ways to express gratitude. Sometimes just speaking those words isn’t enough, though. That’s where the handwritten thank-you note comes into play. According to Emilie Dulles, who has more than 29 years of experience in traditional etiquette, people should be sending more thank-you notes than ever before. Here’s when you definitely need to send them—and how to write one.

When should you send a thank-you note?

After a job interview

This should go without saying, but you should absolutely be sending a thank-you note after a job interview—if you want an offer. Bonnie Tsai, the founder and director of Beyond Etiquette, says it’s important to express your gratitude towards your interviewer regardless of whether or not you landed the job since they made time in their busy schedule to meet with you.

After receiving gifts

No matter the occasion, you should send thank-you notes after receiving gifts for a birthday, wedding, graduation, or a holiday like Christmas, according to Tsai. “They took the time to find a gift that they believe you will enjoy, therefore it’s important it’s important to let them know how much you appreciate their effort and present,” Tsai says. Dulles adds that it’s a good idea to specifically mention the gift in your note and include a message about how much you like the item.

After someone writes a letter of recommendation

If your professor or boss writes a letter of recommendation for you or helped you with an interview, a thank-you note is a good way to acknowledge your appreciation for their effort and support, Dulles says. The benefits of gratitude and counting your blessings last long after sending this note.

After receiving condolence notes or gifts

Tsai says it’s important to send a note to everyone who gives flowers, donations, or notes. It’s perfectly acceptable for a close friend or relative to write the notes during this difficult time.

After being a houseguest

If you’ve ever hosted friends or family from out of town, you know how hard it is to prep and host even those you love most. So take the time to write a thank-you note when you are a guest at their place. Again, your host or hostess made an effort to prepare their home for your stay, so it’s good to recognize their generosity, Tsai says.

After a dinner party

Hosting a dinner party takes lots of planning, preparation, and effort. Sending a thank-you note is a nice reminder for the host that the dinner party was fun and you appreciate their hosting and planning skills, according to Tsai.

After someone does you a favor

Thank-you notes aren’t just for special occasions or big gifts. Show that you recognize the little things with a handwritten note. Thank-you notes after an act of kindness, generosity, or favor are always a good idea, Dulles says. “For example, if your neighbors water your plants while you are on vacation, a thank-you note should be sent to recognize the time it took them to help,” Dulles says.

After a major life change

You should send a thank-you note if you are going through a major life change such as a divorce, graduation, wedding, or promotion. People forget to send thank-you notes while going through changes because of extra responsibilities and obligations. It’s during those seasons of change, however, that family, friends, and colleagues step up through acts of kindness. Writing thank-you notes recognizes their support and is a therapeutic way to acknowledge the encouragement from others, according to Dulles. Saying “thank you” is one of 19 simple ways to strengthen a relationship.

How to write a thank-you note

Thank-you notes don’t have to be overly long or complicated, Dulles says. They should be personal and heartfelt according to the occasion and recipient. Here’s how to get started:

Address the recipient based on your relationship

Address friends and family by their first names, but use Mr. or Mrs. for an interviewer or potential employer, Tsai says

Acknowledge what you are thanking them for

This line should be a specific reference to the gift since it’s the main subject of the letter.

Mention how you plan to use or display the gift 

This is your chance to explain how the item is meaningful.

Close the letter with warm words about the person

The end of the note is your chance to add more personal elements and warm words about the gift giver, specifically. Tsai recommends referencing something in the future with them involved. For example, “I look forward to having you over for dinner after we are back from our honeymoon.”

Don’t worry about sending thank-you notes if someone picks up a bar tab or if your neighbor tosses your newspaper on your front step, Dulles says. If you receive a thank-you note from someone, you don’t have to send them one in return, either. If you’re questioning whether or not to send a thank-you note, consider this: Thank-you notes might have been the norm a couple of decades ago, but nowadays they are a secret weapon for a person who wants to be remembered, supported, and favored, Dulles says. They show that you recognize, care, and appreciate someone else. It’s never a bad idea to give someone that simple acknowledgment. It’s easy to be appreciative when you remember these 16 powerful quotes to remind you to be grateful every single day.

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Emily DiNuzzo is an assistant staff writer at Reader's Digest who previously wrote for INSIDER, the Food Network, POPSUGAR, Well + Good, Westchester Magazine, and more. There's also a 90 percent chance Emily is drinking tea right now, but when she's not writing away about food and health with a cuppa by her side, you can find her lifting heavy things at the gym, listening to murder mystery podcasts, and liking one too many astrology memes.