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November 28, 2002 - Writing Thank-You Notes - 2002-11-15

Broadcast on "Coast to Coast": November 28, 2002

MUSIC: "Thank You For ... "/Hall and Oates

AA: No, thank you -- for listening! I'm Avi Arditti.

RS: And I'm Rosanne Skirble, and this week on Wordmaster: Some advice on how to write a thank-you note, as many people will do in this season of holiday gift giving.

AA: Laura Kimoto is an instructor in the Intensive English Program at Hawaii Community College. She's been teaching her students from Asia what Americans learn about writing thank-you's -- which is, above all, give details about what you're saying thanks for.

Laura Kimoto points out the need for students to vary their writing. For instance, instead of using the word "kindness" several times, she offers synonyms like "hospitality," "generosity" or "thoughtfulness."

RS: Some things, though, are harder to teach, like the social customs that make some words better left unsaid.

KIMOTO: "For example, a girl used the word 'cute' to refer to this elderly couple: 'You are a cute elderly couple.'"

AA: What's wrong with being called a "cute elderly couple"?

RS: Well, Americans generally avoid calling attention to age. And, to refer to an older couple as "cute" might seem a little condescending.

AA: Of course the student had no idea! She was just trying to thank a nice couple she had met.

RS: You even have to be careful with your closing salutation.

AA: "Do you not end a thank-you note with love? Is that not a good idea?"

KIMOTO: "I would say that is not a good idea, depending on who the person is you are writing to, but most likely not."

RS: This time of year, Laura Kimoto suggests to her students at Hawaii Community College: "Wishing you health and peace for the New Year."

AA: A phrase worthy of a professional greeting card -- which is what Sandra Louden has written lots of over the years. She says a thank-you should be "sincere" and "heartfelt" -- and, again, big on specifics!

RS: Sandra Louden says that even if a person gives you a gift of money, you should tell the giver how you plan to use it.

LOUDEN: "You always remember, in any type of note you write, especially a thank-you note, it should have that me-to-you quality. In other words I am writing this note to specifically thank you, so I have you in mind when I am writing this. So that me-to-you voice is always very nice, very heartfelt, very successful, it makes for a very successful thank-you note."

RS: Sandra Louden says she likes to add a touch of humor, but knows that some people are afraid to include it, afraid that, as writers, they're too serious to be funny. If that's you, consider this:

LOUDEN: "It's really not as hard as you think, if you think in a certain way, and one of those ways that I talk about in classes that I teach, is to think literally. You might try something like 'thanks a bunch' and on the front maybe draw a bunch of grapes and have yourself smiling and sitting in those bunch of grapes, and that would be 'thanks a bunch.'

AA: "(laughing) I never thought of that!"

LOUDEN: "And if you want to do 'thanks a bunch' again, just think of anything with a bunch. You could do a bunch of bananas. Now if you want to get into another expression, then you say like 'thanks a million,' maybe you want to tack some fake money on the front of the card you make. You want to hand make a card and you get some of those one-hundred-thousand-dollar bills that they sell in novelty shops, and you tack that on the front of your card and you say 'thanks a ... thanks a million.'"

RS: And, she says, you can even employ humor on thank-you cards in a business setting.

LOUDEN: "For a lawyer for instance, 'There is no reasonable doubt, we thank you very much.' Or for an accountant, 'when we tally our blessings, we count you among them. Thank you for your patronage.' I find that humor is a state of mind -- it cuts across age, gender, what have you. Everyone appreciates a good laugh and a smile. And with a thank you card, another component is to keep it very short and to the point, and if it's based on a pun or a play on words, even if it's very corny, it gets the message across and it adds that little extra punch that people remember."

AA: Sandra Louden is author of the book "Write Well and Sell Greeting Cards." She also teaches an Internet course at

RS: And we'd like you to remember our e-mail address: it's Or write us at VOA Wordmaster, Washington DC 20237 USA. Oh, and thank you in advance!

AA: With Rosanne Skirble, I'm Avi Arditti.

MUSIC: "Kind & Generous"/Natalie Merchant