The art of the handwritten note (+ 31 templates!)
Now it’s personal.
My mother always made my brother and me as kids send handwritten notes of thanks after receiving gifts. At the time, it seemed an awful trial to sit still and handwrite personal notes to every single thoughtful person, yadda yadda yadda, can we just go outside and play?
Now I understand. I value a three-days-later snail-mail card far more than a one-hour-later text message. My friend took time out of her day to sit for 15 minutes and think of me? That is thoughtful.
“It’s fine to send a very quick response via email but also then send a handwritten note and just make sure you didn’t say the exact same thing in the email and the handwritten note,” says Deborah Thomas-Nininger of DTN Productions International, a provider of soft skills training programs.
She’s known for her etiquette training and tells me one of the things Princess Diana was known for was addressing her notes of thanks before attending an event. The notes weren’t written, but they were addressed and ready to go once she returned.
“The more organized you are, you don’t drag your feet,” Thomas-Nininger says.
She also recommends against using a card’s printed message as an excuse for not inscribing your own. After losing his wife, one client told her he trashed all the Hallmark cards in which friends had only signed their name and kept the handwritten notes and letters recalling memories of his late wife.
As a deep lover of the handwritten letter, I have a huge stash of stationery and cards. (Some of my favorites are from Quill & Fox, Ello There, 1canoe2 and Rifle Paper Co.) Yet even as a writer, when I sit down to compose a letter or greeting card message to a loved one, I’m often stumped. I tend to cycle through a few versions before hitting upon exactly what I want to say.
“In addition to the thank you for the gift, also mention what the gift was or is,” says Thomas-Nininger. “So you could say, ‘and thank you for the beautiful set of china. It matches my decor perfectly. It is being used tomorrow.’ For every occasion, make it sound memorable, personalized and not scripted.”
We’re all stumped from time to time. To that end, I’ve created templates for a handful of occasions and shared them below. Feel free to borrow and tweak for your next handwritten note — but make sure it’s in your own voice.
“It should never sound like you actually copied it from a Hallmark card,” she said. “It should be a message that truly resonates. If you were to verbally say it, would it sound like you?”
That would explain why the word “so” appears so often below.
Thank you card
- I can’t thank you enough for X. I so appreciate you thinking of me and am glad to be thinking of you in return every time I use it. You’re a peach.
- How thoughtful of you to send me X! Such a surprise, and now I think it’s my new favorite thing. I have it here on my desk and think of you whenever I glance its way. Thank you!
- Thank you so much for the thoughtful gift! I love X so much and can’t believe I went so long without it. I really appreciate you thinking of me. I’m glad to know you.
- Happy birthday! Cheers to your next 365-day trip ‘round the sun.
- Wishing you all the best on your special day. Happy birthday!
- The happiest of birthdays to you! I hope you get everything you want and deserve this year.
- Happy birthday to a best friend and partner in crime. Let’s celebrate you this weekend. It’s on me.
New child card
- You just had a baby! I bet your house is a mess: Can I come clean it for you Sunday afternoon? Feel free to snooze through the visit while I scrub. You’ve earned it.
- Congratulations on your beautiful new child! How lucky we are now to get to know him/her. What a doll.
- I’m so sorry for NAME’s passing. He/she was so kind: Remember that time he/she [really nice thing goes here]? I’ll never forget how grateful and cared for that made me feel. I’d love to come over and cook dinner for you, whenever you feel ready. I’m here.
- I was so sorry to hear about your friend NAME’s passing. I can’t imagine how you’re feeling. It’s hard to lose someone so dear. I’ve always loved hearing your stories about NAME. Whenever you feel ready, I’d love to learn more about him/her. Until then, I’m thinking of you and sending positive thoughts your way.
- I’m so sorry to hear your dog NAME died. Our pets are part of us, our first children and closest family, and I know you’ll miss him/her. I found this sweet photo of the two of you shortly after you adopted NAME and wanted to send it your way in case you don’t have a copy. I’m thinking of you often and here when you’re ready to talk.
Get well card
- You’re sick, and it’s the pits. I promise to be here for you when everyone’s giving the pity look and treating you like you’re delicate. I know you’re not. Let’s kick some ass.
- I’m so sorry this is happening to you. I don’t know the right thing to say here, but I’m thinking about you, pulling for you and bringing a casserole to you on Friday. How’s 6 p.m.?
- Congratulations on your marriage! I’m so excited to see the two of you start this wild and crazy life together as a married couple.
- Congrats on being a wife/husband! Wow, can you believe we’re old enough to embody the title? NAME is lucky to have you on his/her arm, and I’m so grateful to have been a part of the ceremony. Mazel tov.
- I was thinking of you and haven’t told you lately how much I appreciate what you contribute to our team. Thank you for your hard work on X project. We’re lucky to work alongside you!
- NAME, thanks so much for working overtime last week. I know it affected your family and probably made you feel wiped out. I want you to know one, last week was an anomaly, and two, your dedication is so very appreciated. Can I buy you a cup of coffee tomorrow in thanks?
New house card
- Congratulations on your beautiful new home! I’m so happy for you to make your own. I can’t wait to see it reflect your personality.
Work achievement card
- Wahoo, a promotion! I can think of no one who deserves this more than you. I can’t wait to see what you do with this new role.
- Congratulations on your TITLE award! So happy for you. Way to go, you.
- Congratulations on your retirement! Boy, have you ever earned it. When I think of all you’ve put up with these past X years — late nights, disgruntled clients, nosy co-workers, that tuna fish smell in the break room — I’m so excited for your new “workweek.” Can’t wait to see what you do with this time!
- Yowza, retired! Congratulations on having worked your bum off for the last X years. Enjoy this time!
Valentine’s Day or anniversary card
- Happy Valentine’s Day, NAME. How lucky am I to have you? Thanks for being my partner and making me laugh for X whole years.
- I love our anniversary. It’s a whole special day that’s private and just ours for us to celebrate the feat of being together X years. Can’t wait for all the years and anniversaries to come.
- To my favorite mom: Happy Mother’s Day! Thanks for wiping my bum, teaching me to use a fork, drying my tears, not throwing up while I learned to drive an automatic and the myriad other thankless tasks you’ve performed. I’m thanking you now and always. Love you.
- Mom, thanks for being my mentor, friend and champion — not to mention chauffeur, coach, teacher, party planner and chef. Boy, you’re underpaid.
- To my wife on Mother’s Day: Thank you for being the best role model for our kid/kids. We’re lucky to have you.
- Dad, thanks for cutting the crust off the bread, cheering on the sidelines, chauffeuring me around town and advocating for me. I love you. Happy Father’s Day.
- Happy Father’s Day, Dad! Thank you for being a great example all these years. I hope I’ve made you proud.
- To my husband on Father’s Day: I love watching how our kids look up to you. Thank you for being a positive example of both good behavior and utter silliness.
Thanks for reading! I’m Katie Lewis, a writer, editor and journalist. I work with creative writers, content marketers, community managers and others to collaborate on impactful pieces of writing — such as novels, short stories, email marketing campaigns, website content, modern resumes and confident cover letters. If you resonated with this piece, I’d love to hear more from you: in the comments, on Twitter or on my blog.
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