The lost art of the thank-you note

By Greg Dardis / Guest Editorial

You probably have one filed away somewhere, tucked in a desk drawer or pinned on a cubicle wall – a note, handwritten, from an admired business associate acknowledging your extra effort or praising an achievement. For some reason, you decided to save it. It means something.

In this age of technology, it’s no secret that personal gestures are paramount. Sure, correspondence can include the same words whether delivered through email, text or card stock, but the medium really can make the difference. That attention to a detail like this can set a person apart in business.

The handwritten note most often takes the form of a thank you, but it can serve many other purposes. A prompt, sincere, handwritten note is always appropriate.

In case you haven’t handled stationery since responding to high-school graduation gifts, it’s worth revisiting the why, when, what and how of business-note writing.

The why: While it is easier and faster to send a message electronically, a handwritten note conveys formality and earnestness. It shows respect for the recipient, bolstering business relationships. As its use wanes in our digitized culture, it also is a way for the sender to stand out and make a memorable impression. The impression is lasting; people are less likely to toss a written note than delete a typed email.

The when: Most of us have been taught to reach for stationery after job interviews, but a handwritten thank you is appropriate after a variety of occasions, including business lunches or dinners, social events with business associates or upon receiving a business-related gift, even if you’ve already expressed gratitude in person.

Handwritten notes are also an effective way to recognize an associate’s accomplishments, such as a promotion, transition to a new company or retirement, or to reintroduce yourself to a potential business contact after a networking event. A short note is also a meaningful way to let colleagues know you appreciate their work, generating continued goodwill with a simple gesture. Handwritten notes can also express your personal disappointment and encouragement when a colleague has resigned or lost his or her job.

The what: A note’s format varies depending on its purpose but should include a greeting, a short message and a salutation. Start the message with “Dear ___,” deferring to a title and last name unless you are in frequent first-name communication with the recipient. Get to the point with the first word of the message: “Thank you,” “Congratulations” or “I’m sorry to hear,” not “I’m writing to say thank you.” Use the following sentences to express why you feel the way you do. For example, that the business lunch inspired a new project or was a long-anticipated opportunity to learn more about your associate’s work. Avoid a generic, form-letter feel by referring to a specific aspect of your encounter or relationship and express your desire for future affiliation with the recipient and his or her work. Reiterate your appreciation or goodwill and end with an appropriate salutation and your signature.

It is crucial that your note is prompt, especially if it is a thank you. Mail it as soon as possible. If you fear it could be delayed, it would be appropriate to send an email to express the same sentiment ahead of the handwritten note or deliver it to the recipient’s office in person.

The how: The tools of the trade make as much impression as the words. Chose high-quality stationery in a simple yet sophisticated style, such as a three-by-five inch card embossed or engraved with “thank you,” your name or your initials. Chose an ink pen that doesn’t glob or easily smear. Write legibly and check spelling and grammar. Practice a draft of your message on a similar-sized card to confirm word choice and sentence spacing.

One of my favorite chapters in the 2008 bestseller “The Last Lecture,” written by the late computer-science professor Randy Pausch, is titled, “The Lost Art of Thank-You Notes.” In it, Mr. Pausch relayed the story of a graduate school applicant whom he had intended to reject, until he discovered a thank-you note in her file. The gesture changed Mr. Pausch’s mind. On handwritten notes, “It’s just the nice thing to do,” he said. “And you never know what magic might happen after it arrives in someone’s mailbox.”

It’s the magic of that personal touch that inspires some of us to hold on to those notes years after they were postmarked and can open doors we didn’t even know were in front of us.


Greg Dardis is founder and president of Dardis Clothiers, located at 805 Second St., Ste. 3, in Coralville. For more information, visit