Thank you Notes: When To Send a Handwritten One, When It’s OK to Email or Text & When One’s Not Required

Expressing Thanks: Modern Manners for When It's Best to Text, Call, Email, or Handwrite Your Gratitude


By: Maralee McKee, Manners Mentor

Today is about the art of knowing what kind of thank-you to extend for different occasions and situations.

When do you owe someone a handwritten thank-you note?
When will an emailed note fill the bill?
When is your verbal thank-you plenty?

These are all great questions, and some have new answers that are an example of how the right thing to do evolves to meet the sensibilities of the times.

Thank-You Notes: When to Write, When to Email, and When One Isn’t Necessary


Dear Maralee,

Thank you for your wonderful column! I miss you on the Z (Z88.3 FM). I have a pretty basic question. I heard once that if a gift is opened in the presence of the gift giver, a handwritten thank-you note is unnecessary because a verbal thank-you was offered. Is this true? If so, is it true in all circumstances? Thank you again for your valuable blog!


In the midst of our throw-away culture, handwritten thank-you notes are permanent expressions of our gratitude. They’re always gracious and in good taste. I doubt anyone who receives one thinks this about the author: “Wow, what a time waster. Didn’t he know this wasn’t necessary?” Instead, it’s more likely the recipient reads it and glows: “Wow, he really noticed and appreciated my efforts.” Let’s always be lavish in extending gratitude. It encourages the giver and reminds us of our blessings.

The answer to your question could fill a chapter. (In fact, there will be a chapter devoted to this topic in my second book, Social Savvy.) For now, here’s a tip sheet for knowing what to send when. You might want to print it out to keep for reference. One interesting fact: five years ago an email thank-you note was always considered poor form. Our sensibilities evolve, and with them, etiquette. Today, sometimes, an email thank-you note is fine.

Times When a Handwritten Thank-You Note Is Required:

-Children’s birthday party gifts
-Adult birthday party gifts
-Bridal or baby shower gifts
-Anniversary party gifts
-Graduation party gifts
-Housewarming event
-Any gifts received in the mail
-Gifts not opened in front of the giver
-Any kindness or gift extended during or after an illness, a hospitalization, or a funeral (food, flowers, assistance)
-A meal you’ve been treated to in a home or restaurant, socially or for business
-Anything that has been specially designed or handmade for you (craft, woodwork, needlework, quilt, baby items, monogram, etc.)

Times When a Verbal Thank-You Is Sufficient:

-Gifts given as a thank-you gesture (hostess gifts, bridal-attendant gifts)
-Holiday gifts opened in front of the giver (We’ll cover this during the holidays)
-Thinking-of-You items (small plants, home-baked goodies, candles, etc.)
-Gifts given by family members and closest friends and opened in front of them
-One parent thanking another for a child’s play-date, party, occasional car ride home for the child, etc.

Times When an Email Thank-You Is Sufficient:

-When an email is the next contact you’ll have with the other person. This most often happens in work situations. An example: when you email promised documents just hours after having lunch with vendor(s), coworkers, or clients, you’ll want to thank them for lunch.
-In situations where you don’t have a physical address, only an email address. (This happened to me the other day.) Always mention the fact that you don’t have their physical address and that you wanted to thank them with a handwritten note.
-Any small kindness (act or gift) that you want to acknowledge (neighbor picking up your newspapers for two days while you’re away, someone copying a recipe for you, a coworker doing something for you that’s not part of their job description, a church member helping you organize a small event, etc.)

Remember, when in doubt, do more than you think you should! It’s hard to be criticized for being overly gracious!

I’ve written more about thank-you notes in the following posts; they provide information you might be looking for or you’d just enjoy knowing:

 7 Savvy Manners for Writing Thank-You Notes After Saying Thanks


The Three Persons You Really Should Write an After-Christmas Thank-You Note To. (Even though this post mentions Christmas, you can substitute any event in its place. The etiquette is the same no matter the occasion. I just happened to write this during the holidays.) 

Please Share, Like, Pin, Tweet, or email this post to your friends, family, and those in your social media circles! The Manners Mentor Movement is growing! Thank you so very much for your kindness in helping to spread the word!!!

Until next time, keep doing what you were born to do! Be you…at your authentic best!

Hugs and blessings,


Maralee McKee

About Maralee McKee

Maralee McKee is the founder of Manners Mentor. With her best-friend style, sense of humor, and knack for updating etiquette to meet our modern sensibilities, she has been referred to as "Sandra Bullock meets Emily Post!" Maralee shows you how to become the best version of yourself. No fluff. No pretense. Just you at your authentic best! The person you were always meant to be! To learn more about Maralee click on the "Meet Maralee" or "New? Start Here" links at the top of this page.

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