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A Guide to Penning the Perfect Thank You

(1) Greet the Gift Giver

How formal you want to be here will depend on your relationship with the person as well as the message you want to convey. You don't have to start addressing your sister as "To My Dear Ms. Emily Kate Witherspoon" just because you are thanking her for a lavish birthday gift. On the other hand, if you want to show respect to your great Aunt Beatrice by following traditional etiquette, you might not want to scribble "Hey Aunt Bea." Follow the path that feels right to you…just make sure to mention the gift giver by name.

(2) Say Thanks

This seems like it would be the easy part, but for some reason it's usually not that simple. Don't get stuck…just say it! If "thank you for the pretty bouquet of flowers" sounds like an overly simple sentence to you, it's because it is…and that's what makes it so perfect. The point of your note is to acknowledge that you received the gift and to express your thanks. Stick to the point.

If you've received cash as a gift, never mention the monetary amount. Use words like "generosity, kindness, and thoughtfulness" in place of a dollar sign. "Your generosity is appreciated" trumps "Thanks for the $20"

(3) Explain Why or How the Gift is Special

Now you should tell the person how you'll put the gift to use. "The roses smell lovely and the bright colors are really lifting my spirits during this cold winter season." Stuck on the money issue again? Try explaining why their generosity is appropriate at this time. For example, "I'll be thinking of you when we put it toward our long-awaited vacation next month."

You should have some fun here, and get personal and descriptive if you want, but keep it real and keep it honest. Telling your Aunt Bea that "I literally have not taken off this sweater and matching hat since the day they arrived two weeks ago" seems less than sincere.

(4) Reflect on the Past and Look Ahead to the Future

This is a nice touch because it makes the recipient feel that they are a part of your life. As a guide, think about why or when the gift was given and think about when you'll see the gift giver next. "It was wonderful to see you at our wedding. I'm looking forward to seeing you at Thanksgiving." Writing to someone you barely know or rarely see? Try something like "It was so nice of you to think of me. I hope all is well with you and that we cross paths soon."

(5) Say it Again

Drive the point home by saying "Thanks" one more time.

(6) Sign-off

Give your regards and sign your name.

Here's an example in its entirety for your reference:

Dear Aunt Katrina,

Dear Aunt Katrina,
Thank you so much for letting me stay with you during my visit to New York. Seeing the city was such a wonderful experience for me, and it wouldn't have been possible without your generous hospitality. Above all, it was so wonderful to spend some quality time with you and my sweet cousins. Let's not let so much time pass before we get together again…how about a summer vacation my way? My home is always open to you and yours. Thanks again.

Thank You Note Don'ts:

To get your message across with class, speak from the heart with sincerity and (please) avoid the following mistakes. Don't:

Send a "Thank you" email - it's simply too impersonal and doesn't require enough thought or effort on your part.

Write, "Thanks for the gift. It's awesome." - The giver wants to know that you know exactly what they gave you. Mention it directly and by name.

Use pencil. Or a word processor - Again, too impersonal. And pencil is temporary. Use black or blue ink to write your note.

Mention monetary amounts. "Your generosity is appreciated" trumps "Thanks for the $20"