A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

8 Times Etiquette Dictates You Should Send a Handwritten Thank-You Note

Updated: Jan. 25, 2024

Before you say, "It's the thought that counts," here are the eight instances when you should mail a physical note!

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After receiving a gift

When someone takes the time to pick out, wrap, and send you a thoughtful gift, sending thank you notes is a necessity. Whether it’s for your birthday, wedding, or baby shower, these gifts are given with love. “Medium is part of the message,” notes Daniel Post Senning, spokesperson for The Emily Post Institute and co-host of “The Awesome Etiquette Podcast.” “Your level of intent is illustrated with a handwritten note.” Choose nice stationary or cards and include a thoughtful message. Senning explains that these notes don’t have to be long—thank the individual for the gift, and for their attendance to your event or shower if they were present, and include a follow up as to how you will use the item and if possible, when you will see them next! Here are some tips for writing a heartfelt thank you.

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After a dinner party or being treated to a meal

Dinner parties are tough on the hosts. Send a nice thank you following to ensure that they know that their efforts were appreciated by their guests. This is particularly important if the dinner is in a professional capacity. “This is your opportunity to make an impact,” says Senning. Not sure what to write in your thank you notes? “Model after a thank you note after one that you’ve received and like,” he adds. Follow these etiquette rules when you visit someone’s home.

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When someone does you a favor

Did a friend babysit your kid when your babysitter canceled? Did a coworker help you out with a major project? If someone takes their personal time to do you a favor when you were in a bind, it is your responsibility to thank them. When in doubt, “if you can’t thank them for it in person, reply with a handwritten note,” says Senning. Want to go a step beyond? Here are some suggested thank-you gifts to choose from.

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Following a job interview

After you’ve interviewed for a job, consider writing a thank you for the opportunity. (This includes writing a thank you note after a phone interview). “I think personal, hand written notes allow you to stand out in professional settings, especially since the job market can be so competitive,” notes Rachel Doyle, founder and president of GlamourGals.org. “Also, it is fun to find beautiful and unique stationary to use,” Doyle says. Sharon Schweitzer, JD, founder of the Access to Culture blog, further explains that “this demonstrates professionalism and grace, showing your potential employer that you are sincerely invested in the opportunity to work for their company. As a gesture of gratitude and sincerity, a thank you note also demonstrates your interpersonal communication skills,” she says. “Thank them for taking the time to interview you for this opportunity, and tell them that you hope to work with them in the future.”

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To your mentor

Has someone guided you professionally or personally? Have they spent their own time to teach you a new skill, share their experiences, or talk about issues you may be having? If you have an awesome mentor doing these things with you, send them a thank you note to let them know that you appreciate their time and dedication! “Taking the time to sincerely thank your mentor with a note is a wonderful way to express your gratitude for their guidance and wisdom,” explains Schweitzer. “Consider mentioning a specific piece of advice or insight they shared with you and how it positively impacted your personal or professional life, and emphasize how their leadership helped you grow. You may also consider a thoughtful gift related to their interests or hobbies, such as a fine pen and stationary, a quality bottle of wine, or a subscription to their favorite magazine,” she says. Have a special mentor who has a positive impact on your life? Learn how to write a heartfelt thank you note for your teacher.

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When someone gives you their time

Before writing my PhD dissertation, I met with multiple university presidents in Scotland and when it was time to start researching, I emailed one gentleman I had met with and started my message with “I don’t know if you remember me.” He said that he of course remembered me, because my thank you note was on his desk as he was super impressed with that extra step. I knew that this was a busy man, giving a student his time and showing my gratitude for that was not only important, but made an impact.

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After a promotion or raise

Though you’ve likely worked hard to earn that promotion or raise, so have other people. Send a thoughtful and professional note to your boss or those on the board who were in charge of dictating your change in position or salary. (Make sure you know the 13 ways to be a better co-worker.) According to Schweitzer, “sending a thank you card after you receive a raise or promotion demonstrates your personal investment in your career, as well as grace and humility.” In your note, be sure to “include why the advancement means so much to you, and consider mentioning how you plan on giving back to the company for their faith in you,” explains Schweitzer.

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Following an important event

Let’s face it, we’re all busy, attending and planning events for boards we are a part of or charities we support. Remember, the attendees that come to these are just as busy, but still take the time to come learn more about what cause we hope to share or raise money for. A simple note lets them know you value their attendance and ensures that they may come back to your next event.

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When a text or email is OK

According to Senning, there are some instances when a text or email are permissible. “Gratitude is important and can come in many forms,” he notes. However, only text someone thanks if you text on a regular basis—and be aware that if you’re dealing with a generation gap, your grateful intentions may not be as well received! And don’t forget that true gratitude carries many health benefits.