Be prompt with thank you notes

Etiquette advice from Jeanne Howell
Nov. 17, 2012 @ 06:29 PM

Thankful Thank You Notes

I remember high school graduation as a really enjoyable time. There were parties and presents. It was bunches of fun.

At one event, I wore my turquoise crepe dress with matching shoes.

For some reason I ended up with mud splattered all over the front of it.

I could not have cared less. Ella Maddox, who worked full time for my family and basically raised my brothers and me, didn’t think it was all that funny.

But after my friend Flossie and I described our night out on the town as high school graduates, Ella couldn’t stop laughing.

So when Fred and I get invitations from family high school graduates, it always brings a smile. I still think about those happy years and my carefree state of mind and optimism.

This year, we sent gifts to our family’s two graduates.

We promptly received a nice handwritten note from Chase, our nephew. He plans to attend York Technical College next fall. He thanked us for the check we gave him, spelled our names correctly and wrote a second paragraph about his future, told us he was happy he saw us at his graduation party, and signed with love.

Not so for our niece Taylor. Belatedly, we received a thank you note with my name spelled incorrectly.  Taylor was so far off I’m not sure that she knows my name and I’ve been in the family at this time for 15 years.

Oh my, perhaps she should have just said Mr. and Mrs. Howell instead. Or look at the card we sent her and copy the name I had signed.

In addition, she didn’t use Aunt or Uncle before the names as her cousin Chase had done. Her note had only two short sentences, and the last one had a glaring spelling error.

Well, this gives me a wealth of ideas to market my “How to Write Thank You Notes” seminar to the rising senior class of 2013, if nothing else.        

I will add a tagline about the future of employment letters and how to present oneself. What a goldmine Taylor has opened up for me ... if only I’d given her more gifts sooner. Hallelujah!

A little chitchat goes a long way in your typical thank you note, so just add a few lines about yourself and your life. The receiver of the letter will know you put in some thought and effort.        

I was also dismayed when a recent soon-to-be University of Virginia student addressed a letter to us as “Howells.” She didn’t put “Mr. and Mrs. Fred Howell” or “Mr. and Mrs. Howell.” Just “Howells.”

She also began the note “Howells,” not “Dear Howells” or “Mr. and Mrs.” Just “Howells.”

How odd that she addressed us that way. Where did she pick up that inappropriate title?

Thank-you letters are quite simple to write.

You start with addressing the individual you are thanking. The usual salutation is “Dear,” followed by modern honorifics or title: Mr. for men; Mrs. for married women;  Miss for unmarried women and Ms. if you’re not sure of the marital status of the woman. Follow this by the last name.

In the case of a good friend, just use his or her name.

Your first sentence can thank the receiver for the gift. The second part of the letter can mention plans to use the gift, or your plans for your future education or wedding – anything that would add a little interest.

After that, you can close your note. Then, check your spelling and grammar. Address your envelope with an honorific and the first and last name of the person you are thanking, and add the rest of the address.  

Don’t be a total klutz and do what I did. I sent Cecil and Bill Scanlon a thank you note for a crystal knife rest they gave me, and I didn’t proofread it.

I left a blank where I meant to put a descriptive word. I guess I’d planned to look it up and fill in the blank and then didn’t. That error got back to me through the grapevine, and I still remember it 45 years later.

 Monroe resident Jeanne Howell teaches etiquette to business and private groups. She may be reached at