We've all felt the pang of guilt.... we received a thoughtful gift or were hosted for a lovely dinner, and have let too much time pass without a proper thanks. Today's guests, Beth Ingram and Katherine Porfilio of Etiquette Revolution—a consulting, training, and coaching company based in my home state of Georgia—lend some advice for taking the pressure off, channeling your inner Emily Post, and remembering the point of timely and thoughtful written communication. So excited to have them share their expertise!
An Etiquette Inspiration
As an impressionable young girl, I fashioned myself to be like my Aunt Eva. A relatable version of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Aunt Eva represented what I believed to be the perfect embodiment of elegance and style. My visits with her were limited; she lived in Washington D.C., I in Alabama and Georgia. But she was always present with me through her letters.
Every beautifully crafted sentence captured her essence. Her letters were always written on her signature monogrammed Crane’s stationery. Each sentence beautifully crafted in a straight line and her cursive handwriting always matched her outward elegance. Her letters to me conveyed that I alone was her most adored great niece (or so I believed). Aunt Eva was a Lady of Letters and I wanted to be just like her.
My visions of grandeur as a Lady of Letters faded away with the realities of adulthood. With every thank-you note written acknowledging Christmas, birthday, and wedding gifts, I would try with all my might to channel Aunt Eva, asking myself:
How did she get thank-you notes written on time? How did she know how to strike the perfect tone to make each note special to the recipient? What made her style of writing and presentation unique to her? What was the secret to her success?
I learned over time that the secret to Aunt Eva’s success came from her application of understanding the basics of etiquette and good manners. Long before “branding” became synonymous with our current culture, Aunt Eva believed that written communication was an extension of herself.
Occasions That Merit a Thank You Note
Thanks to Aunt Eva and my mother, I understood early on when a thank-you note was required. If I received a gift, a thank-you note must be sent. If I received an invitation, a thank-you note should also be sent. And yet, with all my wonderful role models setting the example, I sometimes (okay, OFTEN) failed in the execution.
In those early years of learning my own writing style, I felt I had to pour my heart out in gratitude. The thought of having to sit down and write a letter exhausted me; even when I knew it was the “right” and “kind” thing to do. But I wasn’t supposed to write a “letter”—rather simply a “note” of thanks.
How to Structure a Proper Thank You Note
Thanks to the Crane’s Blue Book of Stationery and my etiquette mentors over the years, I finally learned not to overthink the process. Most importantly, I learned to keep it simple. And cheating is not allowed! A note of thanks should come from your heart, not off the drugstore card rack. A correct thank-you note is ALWAYS handwritten and should consist of four sentences* (five sentences max if you really feel the need to pour your heart out):
1. Thank the person for the event or gift.
2. Mention something specific about the event or gift.
3. Mention something about the other person unrelated to the event or gift in a conversational tone.
4. And finally, mention the event or gift again.
Dear Aunt Eva,
Thank you so much for the latest edition of Emily Post’s Book of Etiquette. I truly appreciate your thoughtful gift and know that it will come handy as I prepare to become an etiquette consultant. My mother and I will look forward to visiting you during the Thanksgiving holiday and I can’t wait to hear more about your latest travel adventures. Again, my sincere thanks for this treasured gift in support of my consulting business.
The Difference Between Obligatory and Sincere
Among my discoveries in crafting a well-written thank-you note was how NOT to sound robotic in tone. Always read your notes out-loud as if they were to be read to a group during a meeting or during a dinner conversation. Listen to your tone of voice and inflection in how you wish “the gratitude and/or interest” to come across. Write naturally as if in conversation and edit often.
The more you write, the better you become. As Emily Post once said, “the most important qualifications of a thank-you letter are that it sound sincere and that it be written promptly.”
Being Prompt and Polite
Try to send a thank-you note within 24 hours, if possible. In our fast-paced world, this time-frame is not always possible. If some time has passed and the thank-you note still has not been sent, it is still better to respond later than not at all. But please….don’t wait longer than a week!
While I am not a fan of using email to say “thanks,” I do realize that it is inevitable in some circumstances. Bear in mind though that correspondence via email should be held in the same regard as written correspondence.
From Katherine Porfilio, a self-confessed pen fanatic:
A pen that you love to write with makes all the difference, especially when writing a thank-you note. Writing with a special pen makes you feel that expressing your thoughts by hand is worthy of your time and effort. Studies have shown that handwriting positively affects your brain and that letter writing has a profound effect on your psyche – whether you’re the writer or the reader*. It’s also good for us to slow down, gather our thoughts and enjoy watching those thoughts flow onto paper.
These are some of the things I consider when choosing a pen:
· Line width
· Pen weight and thickness
· Available ink colors
· Body material
· Acid free·
· No bleed
· Dries fast
· Ergonomics (comfort)
Although my preferences change over time, I am currently using three types of pens for letter writing:
My absolute favorite is a fountain pen! Besides being beautiful, they have distinct advantages. They feel good to write with, connect you to history (imagine Benjamin Franklin writing for the Pennsylvania Gazette), are comfortable to use, require little pressure to write with, can be used with different size nibs (for a variety of line thicknesses), and if you are endowed with calligraphic skills…the lines are beautiful.
Fountain pens can vary greatly in cost, but for everyday, economical use, I prefer the Pilot Metropolitan Retro Pop Fountain Pen, which has a steel nib. I have several of these and fill them with different ink colors (ink bottles can last for years, so it’s a great investment). Just be careful as well-made fountain pens are addictive and can be expensive. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!
My second favorite pen is the PaperMate Ink Joy gel 0.7. They come in a wide range of colors and are a delight to write with (the darker colors are better). The ink is super smooth and glides onto the page. It’s aptly named and is a joy to write with.
My third favorite is the Pigma Micron. This pen comes in different line thicknesses and tip shapes. They can be found in packs of all-black or different colors.
Don’t Miss the Point
The “point is,” regardless of the type of pen or paper you use, hand-writing a well-crafted thank-you note is an art that is still important in today’s world. When in doubt, write it out. Handwriting a thank-you note not only makes you smarter, and it will also impress the recipient!
Beth Ingram and Kate Porfilio are co-owners of Etiquette Revolution: a consulting, training and coaching company that specializes in etiquette, essential life skills and personal development. Their passion is to promote the practice of etiquette; a code of living that improves human interactions through courtesy, civility and respect. Their services and classes are offered nationwide as well as internationally. To learn more, visit jointheETIQUETTErevolution.com.