Thank you notes: Should you send an email or write a note?

A recent Infographic on thank you notes caught my attention:

It's a lovely infographic, but I disagree with the process of decision making that it outlines. 

Instead, I would like to propose my own rules about when you can write an email and when you must send a physical thank you note.

When determining whether an email or an actual thank you note is required, ask yourself the following questions:

1. Is the recipient the kind of inane and pedantic person who would be offended by an email in lieu of a handwritten thank you note?

If NO, send an email. Not only is it more efficient, but it allows you to say more in less time.
If YES, answer the following:

2. Is the recipient someone whose opinions you care about?

If NO, send an email.
If YES, consider sending an email. If you're still uncertain, answer the following question.

3. Is the recipient the kind of small-minded, vacuous person who might underhandedly complain about your failure to send an actual thank you note to people who you know and respect?

If NO, send the email.
If YES, grudgingly send the thank you note.

When these rules are unavailable to you, you can always rely on this one question to arrive at an equitable solution:

Is the recipient a backwards-thinking, arcane traditionalist capable of underhanded, passive-aggressive, prickish behavior with far too much time on their hands?

If NO, send an email.
If YES, send a thank you note. Or better yet, eradicate this person from your life entirely if possible.

I sent an email in lieu of a thank you note about 90% of the time. I am capable to write far more meaningful and memorable things in an email than I can in a thank you note, and I usually do. As untraditional and impersonal an email may seem to some, if done right, it can be far more meaningful and impactful than a small piece of card stock with 3-5 scribbled sentences.

When I send a physical thank you note, it's almost always in situations that still demand a physical thank you note (in response to gifts, for example, though even then, I will send an email to close friends) or when the recipient is likely to be offended by the email and his or her response to the email will be more troublesome to me than the actual writing of the thank you note.  

It should also be noted that if you are a person who thinks that a thank you note sent via email is never acceptable, you should know that you are a dinosaur. You are slowly but surely becoming extinct. You may enjoy your thank you note perch high above the masses, but please know that the world is moving on without you. 

Most of us understand that it's the thought that counts. It's a lesson we were taught as children, and it remains true today. 

 The thought - contrary to arcane and dwindling belief - does not require ink, envelope, and postage to count. 

3 most important rules of the thank you note

TIME assets that the thank you notecard is not dead.

No duh.

That said, quite a few people are small minded and idiotic when it comes to thank you notes. Here are three simple rules that should be remembered at all times. 

  1. The heartfelt thank you note is a beautiful thing.
  2. The expectation of a thank you note is a petty and stupid thing.
  3. Gossiping about the absence of an expected thank you note is a vile and thoroughly disgusting thing.


This is not the first time I have written about the tyranny of the thank you note.

I have proposed the Matthew Dicks Law of Thank You Notes before.

I’ve supported the thank you note send via email.

I’ve proposed solutions to dealing with thank you note Nazis.

I’ve even written about rules 2 and 3 before in the context of my birthday.

They are all valid arguments, but when in doubt, stick to the 3 rules and you can’t go wrong.

The Matthew Dicks Law of Thank You Notes

Inspired by a pair of insipid aunts in Will Schwalbe’s memoir The End of Your Life Book Club, I offer this bit of indisputably accurate wisdom regarding gift giving and thank you notes: There is nothing wrong with being disappointed when someone fails to send you a thank you card for a gift that you sent.

I find the requirement a little tedious and arcane when a verbal thank you has already been expressed upon receipt of the gift, but some people think a more formal act of appreciation is important and appropriate.

I think these people are slightly insane, but so be it.

But the important thing to remember is that there is something very wrong with telling other people about a person’s failure to send a thank you note. When you tell a parent, relative, coworker or friend about someone’s failure to send you a thank you note for a wedding or birthday gift, you become exponentially worse than the person who didn’t send the thank you card.

You become a vile and disgusting person.

That’s my rule.