The Art of Thank You Notes. You’re Welcome.

All it takes to stand out in the age of email is a pen.

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It’s a magical moment. You open your mailbox and there, peeking out from the pile of sales flyers and bills is an unexpected miracle – a handwritten letter. In a time when the average worker sends and receives 112 emails a day, it’s rare to receive a thoughtfully written note on a piece of actual paper.

“There’s no meaning or staying power to an email or even an emailed thank-you note,” says Suzanna Bierwirth, designer and owner of Binth, a Chicago boutique that sells originally designed stationery, among other things. “Emails are like air. What are you going to do – print an email and put it in your scrapbook? But a handwritten note, that brings warmth and personality to the message. It becomes a keepsake. Finding old notes in piles of paper in my office makes me smile.”

The value of thank-you notes isn’t lost on many. In government, thank-you notes are so important that producing them is considered an official operation – staffers are trained to copy the signatures of elected officials, which are also often pre-printed. When the letter is written by the official’s own hand, however, it can become a thing of legend.  Author Yann Martel received a handwritten note from President Obama for his novel The Life of Pi. He shared it on his blog, and it has since gone viral.  “I’m going to have the note framed,” he wrote.  “If there was a way of tattooing it on my back, I would.”

In business, it is customary to send a thank-you letter after a job interview.  Now that’s more likely to be done via email, too.  At Google, the mother ship of digital, the analog thank-you note is adored by a hiring exec who waxes nostalgic:  “I don’t see a lot of written thank-you notes around here, alas. Occasionally someone I interview will send a handwritten thank-you note, but it’s rare.” 

It works the other way around, too.  Lisa Truong, who runs a non-profit, thanks every donor with a handwritten note.  “I make it a priority because it’s nice and different from what other organizations do.”

It’s really that easy. Next time you want to make an impact, put down your tablet or your phone and whip out a pen and some stationery. And while you’re at it, pick some pretty paper. Bierworth prefers one-sided cards that allow just enough room to make your statement.  Binth’s boxed “Love Letters” – that celebrate beautiful typography (and a love of letters) – were designed with that in mind. 

“Keep it short, and put your soul into it,” she advises.  “Make it look pretty, because it might be around for 20 more years.”

Kim Tracy Prince is a freelance writer in Los Angeles who just realized she never sent a thank you note to the guy who got her this gig. Find her on House of Prince.


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