Modern Etiquette: Getting those thank-you notes right

Thank you note

Is your New Year's resolution to be more appreciative? To stay on top of things? If you haven't already sent thank-you notes for any holiday gifts you received, the peace and quiet of New Year's Day is the perfect time to begin the year on the right foot.

When is it appropriate to send a thank-you note? The short answer is any time someone gives you a gift. A thank-you note is always appreciated, even if you've said thanks in person. It's a personal way to tell the person you truly value the effort they made.

The biggest obstacle to thank-you note writing is often writer's block. You just don't know what to say, so you put it off. You don't want to send a generic letter, but you don't know how to make the message special. It's true no one wants to receive a form letter, but don't worry about penning a Pulitzer Prize-worthy note in order to have it be appreciated by the recipient. A few tips:

The sooner you write, the easier it will be. The gift will be fresh in your mind, so you can focus on that instead of on how to express, "I'm so sorry this note is late!"

Write the note as though you were speaking directly with the person you are thanking. This often helps conquer the stiff tone that can creep into the most well-meant notes of thanks.

Good news: Thank-you notes don't need to be long! Three to five sentences gets the job done. You can always write more if you want to.

Be enthusiastic and sincere. If you're not sure what to say, mention how you plan to use the gift, "The gravy boat you sent will be perfect at the holidays."

Focus on the positive. Don't mention any dissatisfaction with the gift. Even if the item you are thanking for isn't your favorite, you can usually find something about it to praise. If you plan to exchange it, mention that in a conversation rather than in a note.

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