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Pen to Paper: Art of the Hand-Written Note

August 8, 2009
Pocket mirror with Chinese characters

Recent gift from my Aunt. Pocket mirror with Chinese characters.

As children , my sister and I were always required to write thank you notes whenever we received a gift from someone.  As I grew older, I realized this was not a tradition still practiced by everyone, particularly those of my generation.  However, in this digital age, I feel the hand-written note has become even more precious and necessary in expressing gratitude for someone taking the time to send you a sweet card, buy you a gift, or invite you to a dinner party.  The continual influx of thoughtful gifts and invitations, prompted by my recent graduation and approaching departure for China, have required me to spend even more time thinking about and writing notes.  There is nothing so lovely to receive in the mail as a well-thought-out note. 
Here are several of my tips on note writing passed down from my mother, imparted by my childhood etiquette teacher, and picked up over the years from some of the most well-mannered ladies of my acquaintance. 
French cards and my "Little Pink Book" of addresses

French cards and my "Little Pink Book" of addresses.

1. Timeliness: Always strive to send out the note within one week after the event you attended or one week after receiving the gift.

2. Material: You don’t need to use the most precious of parchment, but please don’t use notebook or computer paper either.  Simple cards and stationery can be found at extremely reasonable prices.  My favorite place to shop for inexpensive notecards is Target.  Bookstores have a large selection as well. 
3. Writing: Hand-written are by far the best notes.  Unless your writing is completely illegible, your notes should be written by hand.
4. Content: Always thank the person for their thoughtfulness, but also include details of why you are so appreciative.  Instead of “Thanks so much for the necklace.”, try “Thank you so much for the lovely necklace.  It is absolutely gorgeous.  I have already recieved so many compliments while wearing it, and I am looking forward to wearing it next week at our company benefit.”


5. Target audience: Always keep in mind the recipient of your note when writing.  Most important to tailor to the individual are the opening “Dear”, “Mr./Mrs./Ms.”, “Hello”; the closing “Yours truly”, “Best wishes”, “Sincerely”; and name line when addressing the envelope.

 See posts from one of my favorite writers, Vicki Archer, on several thank you notes she received after hostessing a  party in celebration of her daughter’s 21st birthday at her home in the South of France (here) and on her own extensive card collection (here).

Also, for more etiquette advice: a book introduced to me by a good friend also known as Miss Manners: Emily Post’s Etiquette.
Received anything special in the mail lately?


10 Comments leave one →
  1. August 9, 2009 12:04 pm

    I absolutely love this! I too was brought up to send a thank you note after a party or a dinner and for gifts – and I long ago replaced the note with a thank you email. Now you’ve got me thinking – and I’ll be heading to my favourite stationery store to see what they have in stock.

    What a lovely idea!

    • Ashley Bruckbauer permalink
      August 9, 2009 4:30 pm

      Beware the stationery store can be highly addictive! Glad that you enjoyed the post!

  2. August 9, 2009 12:13 pm

    Good ideas. I especially like to keep a supply of blank cards on hand to use for my special notes to folks.

    I guess because I am a Life Transition Coach I am in frequent contact with people who are going through difficult times in their lives. I regularly drop people a short note acknowledging their challenges and just reminding them that they are in my thoughts. Many are stunned to get a hand-written note in their mailbox. I don’t think it happens very often.

    My big indulgence when I am handwriting messages is to use my Mont Blanc fountain pen that I was given as a speakers gift many years ago. It makes the experience of writing as special for me as it is for the recipient.

    Thanks for the reminder that sometimes it is the small things in life that make all the difference.

    Gwen McCauley

    • Ashley Bruckbauer permalink
      August 9, 2009 4:28 pm

      Thanks for the comment, Gwen. I do think having things such as fancy pens and pretty stationery enrich the note writing practice, making it quite enjoyable! I know I too always keep a constant supply of cards and printed paper. 🙂

  3. August 9, 2009 12:15 pm

    I recently got a hand written note from a man whose book I had written about.Made me feel great. With so few people writing them, they even have a bigger impact. Hurray for note writers.

    • Ashley Bruckbauer permalink
      August 9, 2009 4:26 pm

      Thanks for the comment! I know, I love seeing a pretty envelope mixed in with all the bills and junk mail! It always brightens my day!

  4. August 11, 2009 10:18 am

    It makes me a bit sad to see centuries old traditions going out the window in favor of instant messages and facebook posts. I, for one, will never completely reject the handwritten note.
    Lovely post!

    • Ashley Bruckbauer permalink
      August 11, 2009 5:41 pm

      Thanks for the comment! Glad you enjoyed the post!

  5. August 16, 2009 4:27 pm

    Great article Ashley. This is a dying tradition in the digital age and that makes it all the more special when you send or receive a hand-written Thank you or Birthday card. My Mum always sends me a fab card for my birthday every year and she’s done some of her best writing in them! I’ve kept them all. Just means so much more than an email or an e-card these days.


  6. October 26, 2010 2:53 pm

    birthday cards that are personlized are the best in my opinion, they really come from the bottom of the heart of the sender’~,

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