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The Worst Card Ever. Learn to Write a World Class Thank You Note.

Thank You Writing Tips


Worst Thank You

So you cried.

We’ve all done it.

You open the mailbox. Gasp! There is mail actually hand-addressed to you. You smile before you even see what’s inside. It’s the personal mail that lets you know someone, somewhere is thinking about you.

But, not all tears are created equal. Tears of joy are always welcome in my book.  And then there are those ugly tears. I can do ugly tears on my own, so I don’t want a card that is going to trigger a depression-filled pity party.

Believe it or not, little nuggets of both emotions are showing up in mailboxes.

The question is, has a card you sent made someone else cry?

Keep reading to learn writing tips for sending joy, and the right kind of tears.

Unlike the one my friend received from her insurance agent.

Possibly, the worst card ever sent

There is, in fact, a wrong way to write a greeting card.

There may be no hard fast formula to regurgitate in an card, but that does not mean that any note will be appreciated and received with joy.

You don’t get “credit” for just getting something in the mail to someone.

The birthday card my friend Krista received from her insurance agent is a great example of what not to do. It remains quite possibly the most depressing card I’ve ever seen.

Here, take a look for yourself:


The words themselves are bad enough. But what did you hear when you read it?

Instead of “Happy birthday. You made it through another year. Congratulations”, I heard, “You are a year older now. Time to think about your impending death.”

Yikes! It only got worse with each of the 5 things to think about:

  1. You’re gonna die.
  2. You’re gonna lose your job.
  3. You’re gonna get divorced.
  4. Your kids are gonna have a terrible future.
  5. You’re gonna be broke and never be able to retire.

It was a birthday greeting thinly veiled in a sales pitch. And a bleak one at that.

Even if we ignore the whole “trying to sell you more insurance” angle, there is a lot we can learn about what not to do in note writing from Krista’s disaster of a birthday card. I

t’s impersonal. It’s generic. It’s disingenuous. It’s mass produced.

It’s also downright depressing. Why even bother to mail such a thing?

This card took a wrong turn right out of the gate; the sender didn’t actually even write it. The agent’s investment into this card was the 1 second it took to sign his name.

A simple “Happy birthday! Thank you for another year of business” would at least not risk sending the recipient running to find the phone number for a suicide hotline.

Seriously! It’s hard enough to get older without having a card slap you in the face for it!

Ok, enough of this doom and gloom...

Now, a little sample of joy

It can be done.

You can mail joy!

And it can be done in just a few sentences.

Allow me to share with you the best thank you card I recently received. It was from my cousin, Andrew. He got married earlier this year and Brannon and I were blessed to be able to attend the wedding and enjoy the celebration with Andrew and his new wife, Joanna.

Of course, being the awesome cousin that I am, we took a gift. And Andrew, being the awesome cousin that he is, sent us a thank you card in the mail shortly thereafter.

We are a Southern family, you know. The note is simple. And it’s darn near perfect. Here, read it for yourself.


Here’s the thing about his thank you note: it captured everything I love about Andrew.

It was his personality – good natured, sarcastic, and funny – on paper. You could tell that not all of their thank you notes said the same thing to everyone. I know that if his wife had been the one to write the note, it would not have said the same thing.

It was authentic.

It was from Andrew. Really.

And bonus, he wrote it himself.

Now, let’s get to how you can send joy in your next thank you card.

How to highlight your personality

What can you learn from Andrew to ensure your note is as well received as his?

Take a cue from world renowned expert on etiquette and manners, Emily Post.

the most important qualifications of a thank you letter are that it sound sincere and that it be written promptly. ~ Emily Post

Her advice in the 16th edition of Emily Post’s Etiquette are to “use the expressions most natural to you” when writing notes. Meaning, it sounds like you. It sounds sincere.

Following that wisdom, Andrew nailed it!

Your thank you cards can have the same appeal and give the recipient joy. Borrowing from Crane’s Blue Book of Stationery, a practical and time tested letter writing manual, thank you notes generally have 4 magic ingredients.

Andrew included these 4 but did so without losing the essence of his personality. Let’s take a look at how he did it:

1. The greeting

Robin & Brannon,
Address the recipient in a manner natural to you. How would you address them if you saw them in public? Use that same greeting on paper.

2. An appreciation of the item or favor

Thank you for the Kohl’s gift card. Joanna loves that place…

Actually mention the item by name in the note. It’s good to be specific here.

Andrew shows appreciation by mentioning that Joanna loves to shop at the very store the gift card was for. Mention a feature of the gift you received. A feature is a description of the item itself. Thank the person for the green vase, for the programmable coffee pot, for the Target gift card that you will use to purchase new towels at Target.

3. Mention how useful it will be

I really think she has already bought a new outfit or 3.

Here’s where you mention a benefit of the gift you received. A benefit is different than a feature.

Benefits are how the gift helps you. Mention how you are looking forward to displaying your favorite flower in the vase, how nice it will be to wake up to fresh brewed coffee, or how your new luxurious Egyptian cotton towels feel.

Andrew really could have taken this a step further and mention just how beautiful Joanna looks in those new outfits. There’s always room for improvement, right?

4. Sign off with a suggestion of a future meeting

I’m glad we got to see you at the reception.

While Andrew didn’t actually suggest a future meeting, he did express his appreciation for our presence at their wedding. Invite the person to stop by and see the vase in use, have a cup of yummy coffee, or let them rub their face in your new towels next time they are in town.

Suggesting a future meeting may not be practical, but it is important here to anticipate a future personal connection.

Now it’s your turn

Grab a card.

Go beyond the format and allow your personality to shine through in your thank you card.

Address the features and benefits of the gift and then highlight your personal connection with the recipient in your own distinct personality.

If you’re funny, be funny. If you’re sappy, be sappy. If you’re sarcastic, be sarcastic.

Bring authenticity to what you write. 


Flickr Creative Commons Image by Sharon Terry.

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