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Hi, I'mKevin Shoffner

Hand-Written Letters: The Lost Art

A real deal thank you letter has become a lost art. Let me first say, I am not always perfect on this, but I continue to try to do better because I think there is something about reviving it. I speak of this from what I remember seeing growing up, what has left me with the biggest impression, and from what I have heard via professionals in corporate / HR / friends over the years.

Social and professional status isn’t gained by taking shortcuts (speaking from experience), but there are some really fast, easy things you can do to stand out in both arenas — like breaking out some stationary and sending a thank you note.

What’s the Point?

In a world of fast and efficient digital communication, what’s the point of writing a message on a piece of paper, paying for postage, and physically dropping it into a box so it can arrive days later? Well, the inherent inefficiency is kind of the point. It signifies you took the time, pen in hand, to personally express your appreciation.

And, by the way, that hassle also means a lot of other people aren’t doing it. It’s an easy way to stand out. For example, if we’re talking about a job interview, every other candidate has a BA just like you. Handwritten thank you notes set you apart.

I will give a shout-out to Debbie Schallock over at cooldeb.com as she is one of the most genuine / authentic human’s you will ever meet. Over time she has sent hand written letters when I have least expected it and would change my outcome of the week, and once my life. Even more recently an amazing college intern in my office took a few moments to write a simple and short but personalized note to myself and co-workers. Let’s just say: that’s way over the top for today’s college culture and she will never be forgotten. I would mention her name, but my guess is she would be embarrassed if I did.

When to Write

If someone goes out of his or her way to do something nice, write a thank you note. Wedding gifts, shower gifts, job interviews, dinner parties, house-sitting, dog-sitting, babysitting – you name it. At worst, it will be appreciated and discarded. At best, someone will be really impressed with your style and charm.

How to Write

Thank you notes are the tweets of the composition family. Understand that these aren’t long letters; they’re short and to-the-point notes. That being said, your brief message should include a few basic elements.

  • Write by hand. Typed notes are as impersonal as emails. And if you’re considering a thank you email, just get out.
  • Be specific. Even if you’re staring at 120 wedding gift thank-yous, make a one-line mention of what the gift was and how you are looking forward to using it. Note: If the gift is cash, don’t mention the exact amount. It yanks off the veil of subtlety from your message.
  • Write on stationery with a nice pen. Basic office supply stores offer heavy weight stationery in a variety of colors. As for pens, make an effort to go beyond the disposable ballpoint (optional). I keep a fountain pen nearby in case I need to write a quick note, but really you don’t have to. You don’t have to have a $450 Parker Duofold Centennial, as I tend to keep a $5 pen to $12 pen. It’s a few pennies more than a ballpoint but makes all the difference.
  • Draft it out before you put the pen to paper. Sometimes it’s easier to write a succinct, coherent message by typing it, so pound out a draft on your computer and then transcribe the draft by hand.

A Can’t-Miss Template

Note that this example is a bit formal. For a business contact, job interview, or anything similar, that’s what you want. If you’re thanking a close friend for hosting you at their Super Bowl party, though, you can afford to be markedly more casual.

Dear Mr. Smith,

Thank you so much for the wonderful book on modern engineering of politics in today’s corrupt economy. I’ve already read several chapters, and especially enjoyed the one on how aliens informed the hipster movement. [Specificity] It’s very readable and will give me some great examples to mention in my thesis next October[Demonstrating usefulness].

It was wonderful seeing you — I hope we can meet again next time I’m visiting my parents. [Courteous, but not gushy].

Kevin

These two small paragraphs will take about ten minutes to write, but can make a huge difference. Mr. Smith is so impressed with your class and thoughtfulness that he mentions you to his close personal friend and government official. Soon you’ll be a high-ranking government official as well, wealthy and popular with all who know you. Behold the power of the thank you note.

 

 

One final disclosure: I won’t discount anybody who doesn’t send letters (again, I don’t do it enough) and I think this article is more of a reminder that I need to do it more…

1 comment
  • Debbie
    Debbie | August 4, 2017

    Aw, Ksho, you make me blush. I credit Chancellor Sullivan for the thank you note etiquette. She was extraordinary with her reach and kindness. I credit me Mum with handwritten notes. I still get a biweekly letter from her. She started that back when I was in university. Lovely post and particularly love the make perspective. Brava!

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