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Giving Thanks: The New Rules of Thank You Note Writing

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In the age of emails and texts, receiving something in the mail that isn’t a credit card offer or bill is a rare but welcome occurrence. Handwritten notes sent via snail mail have the ability to brighten up anyone’s day—even more so when they’re sent in appreciation or gratitude. Yet even though thank you notes are almost always met with joy, they seem to be a dying art. 

The truth is, etiquette just isn’t what it used to be. These days, we’re lucky if we get a phone call or email acknowledging a given gift, let alone an actual note card. But with the advent of technology making snail mail seem obsolete, have the rules concerning thank you notes changed? 

Occasions That Need Notes
After doing some etiquette research, one thing became increasingly clear—regardless of the situation, thank you notes are always well received. There are certain events that require them; just make sure you follow this cardinal rule. According to the Emily Post Institute, anything that’s received and opened without the giver around necessitates some sort of recognition. If you ever wondered whether a thank you note was appropriate, use that as a guideline. And if your specific gift falls under one of the following categories, sending a thank you card is always the right thing to do. 

  • Wedding
  • Bridal/Baby shower
  • Graduation
  • Sympathy
  • Birthday gifts sent in the mail
  • Congratulations
  • Playing host in your honor (via party or a place to stay) 

We may know that these situations call for thank you notes, but what trips many people up are deadlines for sending notes. Often, when people are unsure of what the time frame is for politeness, the fear of being too late prevents them from mailing a card at all. When it comes to thank yous, the sooner the better is a good mandate to adopt. For most events, sending them no more than a couple of days afterward is best. With weddings, most etiquette experts give brides and grooms a year to respond, since guests have a year to send gifts. (The Emily Post Institute argues that three months is still the norm, though.) However, life doesn’t always afford much free time, so just know that a late thank you note is far better than nothing at all. 

The Best Way to Impress Employers
There seem to be conflicting opinions about sending thank you notes after job interviews. Some people believe it’s the best way to promote yourself and keep your name in the interviewer’s mind. Others argue that it’s old-fashioned and unnecessary. Personally, I’ve been hired after every interview I followed up with handwritten thank you note. One employer I spoke to said that she won’t pick someone who doesn’t send a thank you note in some form. There isn’t any good reason not to do it—a follow-up card emphasizes enthusiasm for the position, good manners, and a positive attitude. It’s a chance for potential employees to highlight their great qualities and show appreciation to interviewers. 

As with other gifts, expressing thanks over the chance to interview has a deadline. But in this particular situation, a late note isn’t all that much better than none. Since employers are looking to hire as soon as possible after the interview, send the card within twenty-four hours of the interview. Two business days following the date is the maximum limit, but considering those interviewed are trying to get a leg up on everyone else, shoot for as soon as possible. 

Efficiency or Sincerity?
Etiquette purists might consider an emailed thank you note blasphemy, but sometimes, it’s the most efficient method. For example, after an interview, a thank you card sent in the mail could take a few days to arrive. By then, an employer could receive multiple thank you emails. Email is an increasingly proper way to communicate, especially in today’s offices. When interviewing, try to figure out how email-friendly the business is and whether those in charge would appreciate a virtual note as much as a handwritten one. If unsure, send an email and then send a note through snail mail to cover all bases. It might seem like overkill, but it’s better to look extra eager than rude and uninterested. 

Otherwise, handwritten is generally the way to go with expressing thanks over a gift. Unless you and the gift-giver frequently email each other, a card sent through the mail is more polite. Though convenient, Internet communication lacks the sincerity of snail mail, so only utilize this method if you have a casual, close relationship with someone. The same goes for phone calls in lieu of actual thank you notes. If the gift-giver is a friend or family member, Peggy Post of the Emily Post Institute says that an email or phone call is acceptable. 

Regardless of the Guise, Just Give Thanks
Whether it’s via paper, phone, or the Internet, giving thanks for a nice deed is a good idea. There’s nothing worse than taking the time to buy a gift for someone and never hearing anything about it. Plus, sending a thank you note to acknowledge the time and effort someone devoted to you only increases the chances of it happening again. 

Though some circumstances allow for phone calls and emails, I do still think a handwritten note expresses gratitude on a more meaningful level. Getting something fun in the mail happens so rarely these days. Why miss out on an opportunity to make someone’s day? Don’t listen to the people who say it’s outdated; being polite and honoring those who do nice things for you is always in style.


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