Thank-you notes come due

E-mails are efficient, text messages — God help us — are here to stay, but the handwritten thank-you note is not dead yet. If Geoffrey Parker and I have anything to do with it, furthermore, the handwritten note will survive and prosper. Parker’s commitment to this disappearing art form was outlined in a Wall Street Journal report by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan. If you want to make points with gift-givers, you might note his words of wisdom.

During the holidays, Geoffrey Parker, branding consultant for Parker Pen Co. and great-grandson of its founder, George S. Parker, is careful not to overlook what he calls a ‘critical’ aspect of the gift-giving season: thank-you notes.

‘It’s common courtesy,’ he says. ‘If someone does something for me, I need to acknowledge that.’ Mr. Parker sometimes thanks a gift-giver or party host with a phone call, email or text message. But he believes that these modes are ‘insufficient’ and always follows up with a handwritten message. ‘As these modern electronic devices become more common and overused, they become cheap,’ he says.

And more power to Mr. Parker. A phone call or an e-mail message might acknowledge your gratitude, but a handwritten note has soul. Quick: think of a piece of paper with words written on it, addressed to you, by someone of your acquaintance. Some little shred ties those words to that person, doesn’t it? Handwriting used to serve that purpose.

A quick check with several teacher friends turned up no one who could recall the time when cursive was routinely taught throughout the fourth grade year (though you can now learn to write online.) By fourth grade today every student on the planet knows how to text in abbreviated expletives. But nothing conveys a message — expletive or smiley face — like a handwritten note. You will be forgiven if you use a ball point pen, though Parker prefers a fountain pen with a broad nib and fountain pens can emote better than anything else. The flourish that such an implement can create — think John Hancock before he got commercialized — used to be able to paint eloquent pictures in words. My father (broad nib, dark blue ink) favored x’s at the end of his sentences, but when he left off with a dash you knew you had done something fine.

Today, a thank-you note is also an investment. But go ahead, spend the 44 cents, drop a line. Your appreciation will be appreciated.


  1. Great post and responses all…I feel so passionately about this topic that I started a Facebook Group called “Revive the art of personal note writing!” (Yes, the irony of an online group for an offline activity did not escape me). I’d love to have you and your readers join us:

    My wonderful husband–to show his support of this interest–gave me a beautiful Waterman fountain pen and some Crane stationery for Christmas. Now back to those notes…

    1. Good luck with your Facebook group. I sense we might yet keep handwritten notes alive, despite the attitude of 24-year-old early commenter alexchumley who finds thank-you cards banal (a card is not a note), says handwritten notes are going the way of the dodo and wants me to get with the program. Sigh.

  2. Wow, Fran. I agree. It is so nice to receive a thank you note, so much so that I have always tried to make it a point to write them whenever someone has done a kindness for me.
    The ones I’ve gotten this week, I must say, were simply a thrill. This year I made as many cookies as I could for my daughter’s junior high classes (38 children in all). Two responded with notes, one on the phone … I couldn’t have been more tickled. And pleased. And grateful that my efforts were not a failure. (I’m no baker, so one never knows how things will turn out.) Matter of fact, their thank you’s were the best gifts I received this season. So so very nice. Brought ☆ joy ☆ joy ☆ joy ☆ full circle

    1. I’d be inclined to bake cupcakes for the two who wrote notes, rockyinlaw. And considering the text-messaging proclivities of today’s junior high kids, an old-fashioned phone call should also get extra points.

  3. Hm. Larger issue, for some of us…texting takes…seconds? Time = attention = care, in some dodos’ POV. Taking the time to choose a lovely card or piece of stationery, stamping it, mailing it in a timely fashion, etc…all conflate to care for me.

    Sure, send me some virtual flowers. I’ll send you some virtual love.

  4. I’m 24 years old. I have written only a hand full of thank you notes in my entire life. Most were addressed to distant family members who gave some gifts at graduation.

    I find nothing more banal than a “Thank You” card. If you expect a thank you card for giving a gift then you do not understand the spirit of gift giving.

    I don’t think a hand written note has any more “soul” than a face-to-face thank you does. If you care enough to thank someone, it should not matter when or where you thank them.

    Thank you notes existed in a time where writing was the medium of communication. Like the predecessor of the car, the horse and buggy has vanished, making way for a more efficient means.

    Philosophically speaking, a text message thank you is absolutely no different than a hand written note. The sender took both their time and effort to contact you to let you know how thankful they are. If you want to argue that a hand written note is more personal and has more soul due to the fact it takes more effort then by that standard we should all be crafting monoliths to eachother to express our heart felt sentiments.

    Im glad the “Thank You” notes are going the way of the Dodo. The old makes way for the new. This has been and always will be the way things work. Get with the program.

    1. I hear you, Alex, and I surely fit in your Dodo category. I’m still a little sad for some gentle personal kindness that you may miss, and I’m still too busy with old-fashioned personal communication to engage in texting, which just strikes me as — well — impersonal. Maybe you and I, in a sort of Dodo to antiwriter fashion, can agree to disagree.

  5. Let’s hear it for the handwritten note movement. I’m cheered to know it’s international, and includes young ages. It is indeed a quick & simple kindness.

  6. My two most recent dinner guests, (as I do as well), sent hand-written notes thanking us. One was an American who had lived in France for many years, the other, much younger, half-French, half-Canadian, also many years an ex-pat. God bless ’em both and they will soon be invited again.
    There are few simple, quick gestures kinder and more appreciated.

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