Write a great business thank-you note

May 16th, 2011 | By | Category: Job Interview, The Package

Michigan State University
School of Journalism

Snail mail has been on my mind lately.

One reason is that I have heard some complaints recently about the way colleagues at Michigan State University have been addressed, sometimes by people they don’t know, in emails, and the offhanded way those emails are written. One, a professor with a doctorate, was put off by a student who began a simple request for a favor this way, “Hi, Kevin.” Typos followed.

The other reason is that I walked into my reporting class with some boxes of thank-you notes and told the class we were all going to thank one of the sources who had helped us with the stories we had written on our beats.

It turned out to be a lesson for me.

I asked the students whether they were prepared to write a thank-you at all times, with a box of cards and a strip of stamps in a place where they could find them. A few of them were that prepared.

“Why am I having you write thank-yous?”

The answers spilled out: “To be nice.” “Because it is the right thing to do.” “So they will talk to us again.” “To get more clicks on our stories.”

Yes, yes, yes and yes.

We navigated the tricky waters of thank-you writing: Lousy handwriting, finding the right person to address the envelope to, making sure that we did not turn the envelope upside down before we addressed. The thoughtfulness of having someone else lick you envelope because you’ve been eating chips in class and don’t want the thank-you “to be all chippy.”

It was fun.

But there are some strategies:


Do I write, “Dear So and So?” That sounds too intimate. I think this is generational. My 50-plus generation is still used to “Dear” as a standard salutation and we don’t read anything into that. But letter writers must be comfortable with what they write, so we talked about surrogates like “Thank you, So and So” or just diving in with the name and a comma. Commas, we felt, were warmer than colons, but not too presumptuous.

I saw some beautiful lettering and some that showed a lot more care than what we put into emails.

One person had a Whiteout emergency. Who buys Whiteout these days?


A good thank-you need not be long. Three sentences are enough if they are specific.

Thank you, Ms. Source,

I appreciate the time you took to show me the library’s new swimming pool. I had never before seen a swimming pool in the library. The time you took to show me the pool and explain how it has helped with the low humidity in winter really helped me write a good story.


Form-letter thank-yous, even if written by hand, are insincere.

Thank you, Aunt Janice for the lovely gift.


A simple “sincerely” can always get you out of a thank-you. If you’d like to be a little warmer, you can write, “Thanks again.” I love the numbers of up-and-coming adults who say “thank you so much” and really seem genuine about it. This is a great quality.


I brought in four kinds of cards. Because we are a class from Michigan State University, two were university cards and the other two kinds were pretty basic designs. One was blue and brown with “Thank you” on the outside; one was a business-style cream card with an embossed “Thank you” and no ink at all.

For the kinds of thank-yous we were writing, bunnies and kittens are out. They look childish for business thank-yous.

If you want to get carried away – and I suggest you do – invest a little money in personalized stationery that conveys the brand you are projecting. People will be sure to remember you in this post-snail-mail age.

One student asked, “May I have a second card to thank someone else?”

“Yes, you may.”

“Thank you.”

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