If you're struggling with how to write a thank-you note, remember that they're about relationships and gratitude. Focus on being specific and authentic.
I write a lot of thank-you notes. I thank donors of organizations that I support, gift givers after the holidays and birthdays, friends who have invited me over for dinner, guest speakers who come to my classes, community partners who work with my students, colleagues who help me solve problems, and editors and publishers (you know who you are). You probably write a fair number of thank-you letters too (or should), for graduation and wedding gifts, scholarships and fellowships, interviews and recommendations, moving help, and just plain good advice.
Thank-you notes are part of my daily writing practice and something I like to do when I’m still well-caffeinated and relatively creative. Writing thank-you notes involves the same elements of craft as any writing: a clear point, conciseness, and enough detail to show that you have put some thought into the exposition. Email or paper? Often an email is fine for a thank-you, but for many things, I still like the ritual of cards, envelopes, and stamps.
Many of us struggle with thank-you notes. We live in such an age of irony and casual communication—the tweet, the post, and the selfie—that it can feel awkward to express sincere gratitude gracefully. When we fumble our thank-yous, we may fall back on cute expressivity like “Thank you sooo much!!!!” (where the three ooo’s and four !!!!’s are trying do all the work) or archaic gravity like “Words cannot express the depth of my gratitude for your kind help.”
What can you say in a thank-you note besides “thank you”? Be specific about why you are grateful. Be authentic. And let your note fit the action you are thanking someone for and the relationship you have with that person. Here are some ideas and examples (with details changed) that can help you build specificity, authenticity, and good fit into your thank-you notes.
Say why a gift or act is meaningful, useful, or helpful. When someone gives a presentation, you might thank them by writing something like this:
I appreciate your coming to my class to speak about editing—and from their feedback, the students appreciated your visit as well. Having someone who works in the publishing business provide first-hand insights allows us to have discussions that go beyond the textbooks and journal articles we read. Thank you.