The Art and Science of Writing a Good Thank You Note

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By Mitchell Friedman, Associate Dean of Career Development and Student Affairs

Published 9.6.13

Nothing is as important as taking the time to acknowledge those who've helped you with a project, event, or with advice or feedback. The benefits are numerous: first, it tangibly acknowledges the support and reaffirms your decision to seek outside assistance rather than simply relying on yourself; second, it lets the individual know that their contribution mattered; third, it can help to foster a new relationship (or strengthen one that already exists); and fourth, it simply feels good to express gratitude to others who have helped you navigate whatever challenges you face in your personal or professional life.

There are many ways to express your thanks. Here I want to focus on the written word.  Whether you send an email or handwritten note, what you say and how you say it matters enormously. Here are four guidelines I've followed to craft such communications throughout my career, which I've used to thank someone for agreeing to an informational interview; serving as a speaker at an event I planned; passing along my resume or marketing materials when I've been in the work-seeking mode; and in countless other circumstances.

1. Be prompt in sending a note. Immediately after the event has occurred, project completed, or support given, take the time to craft your acknowledgement to those involved.  The experience will still be fresh for you and the individual who helped, so in writing the note you each can draw on your experience more easily and thus the actual expression of gratitude will be that much more meaningful.

2. Be specific. Go beyond a generic thank you to identify precisely how you were helped, i.e. describe what someone did and how it helped to contribute to the overall success of the venture.

3. Be real. Speak from your heart. Describe how the support mattered to you by using descriptive words that highlight (to the extent you feel comfortable in doing so) feelings and emotions.

4. Don't perseverate over the note. Sit down and write the initial draft quickly. Then put it aside for an hour or two. When you return to it, consider whether it sounds/feels like you--in other words, does it feel genuine as far as your communication style is concerned? Does it clearly and accurately reflect how the individual helped you, and the significance of that assistance?  If not, make changes.  If so, send it out right away.

By taking the time to craft such thank you notes at appropriate times in your career, you're bound to stand out as a gracious, appreciative professional who others want to engage in the future.

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