A question I often get asked is whether a thank you letter is stuffy and unnecessary in our new, liberal modern age. My answer is always, most definitely, no. There will never be a time when a thank you letter of any sort is no longer needed…at least, I certainly hope not.
As a child, my parents would tell me that if I didn’t send thank you letters then people would not want to give me a present next time. Whilst this parental hyperbole is not strictly true, they do perhaps have a point. A thank you letter is a gesture that you are actually grateful with the present you have just received. Simply saying thanks on the day is just not enough. They have gone out of their way to buy you a present, so a quick (doesn’t have to be lengthy) note to say thank you is hardly laborious. I do know someone who does her thank you letters by telephone. If you do choose to do it this way (which is better than nothing) make it a decent length call: first to say thank you but then ask about their family/life etc.
Thank you letters should also be sent after you have received any form of hospitality, and preferably the very next day. Emails are acceptable if you really cannot bear to write, but be clear that text messages are no way to communicate your thanks.
The same basic principle applies in the heady world of business. The rule used to be that if you received a letter today, a reply would be sent tomorrow or at least the day after that. Even in these times of budgetary and manpower constraints, some form of acknowledgement should be given. It tells the sender that you have successfully received their correspondence and you are dealing with it. Even the new-age email has the function for a ‘read receipt’ to be sent back to the sender.
Not many people bother to respond to business letters (or emails) anymore, which is quite frankly wrong. One of the golden rules of manners is to make people feel valued and appreciated. A letter saying ‘thank you for your letter dated X, which we received today/yesterday…. we will get back to you shortly’ will do. “But that costs money!” I hear you cry. If the sender has included their email address on their letter, then a similar electronic letter can be sent.
Whilst we’re on the subject of business correspondence, we should remind ourselves how to open and close a formal letter. If I were writing to someone I did not know (and by that I mean them as a person, as well as their name) then I would open my letter with ‘Dear Sir’ or ‘Dear Madam’ (or even both – ‘Dear Sir or Madam’). I would then close it with ‘Yours faithfully’. On the other hand, if I were writing to someone to whom I knew their name, then I would start it with, ‘Dear Mr. Smith’ and close it ‘Yours sincerely’. These are simple rules that once learned should never be forgotten.
It is never acceptable to start a letter to a client with “Hi William”, as my bank once did. They won’t be doing that again. Nor do I favour “Dear William Hanson” which appears more and more frequently and suggests mailmerge has been used.
In any event, remember that if someone has made an effort to write or email you, it takes very little time, money or energy to respond and you never know what dividends it will pay later.
Tutor, The English Manner