How To: Write Thank-You Notes

A fresh look at an old-fashioned wedding ritual

The art of writing thank-you notes has fallen on hard times lately. In place of a handwritten expression of delight in a wedding gift, guests are apt to receive a telephone call, e-mail, or preprinted card with "thank you" hastily scrawled across it. Or worse—a note written by a commercial service that has signed the bride's name. How on earth can a bride trust a stranger with something so personal? I suppose it's better than no acknowledgment, which forces a guest to ask if the gift ever arrived.

Please, don't miss out on the pleasures of the old-fashioned thank-you note—and believe me, it is a pleasure. In today's high-tech world, a note written by hand conveys the message that you value your friends and relatives. "These relationships are important," says Joy Lewis, of New York City's Mrs. John L. Strong Fine Stationery. "We should never be careless of them."

I realized how right she was when I received a note with this lovely story: "When I was a child I'd sometimes ask my mom where she'd gotten a particular pitcher or platter. She'd say, 'Oh, Mrs. Bumpety gave it to us as a wedding gift.' Now, when I have children and they ask about the exquisite vase you gave us, I'll be able to say, 'Oh, it was a wedding gift from Nissa and Mel.' In just three sentences, she let us know how much she valued us.

Simple white or ivory fold-over notes or correspondence cards on heavy stock are always in good taste. Traditionally, when you personalize notepaper, you use your maiden name or initials if you send the notes before the wedding; your married name or initials if after the wedding. Though that's still correct, you may also use a monogram consisting of both your initials.

You may want to invest in a fountain pen. Try several before you buy; pens differ in feel and writing style. A good rollerball or felt-tip pen is also acceptable, but never use a ballpoint. And if you are fearful your handwriting will be illegible, practice! Consider it a rehearsal, like practicing your walk down the aisle.

Even before you address your first invitation, buy a small file box and some three- by five-inch cards. Write the name and address of each person or couple to whom you're sending an invitation and file the cards alphabetically. When a gift arrives, jot down the date, a detailed description, and the store it came from. "Writing a thank-you note is a ceremony," says Lewis, "one that should be a pleasant experience for writer and recipient." To create a sense of calm, set aside a comfortable area for the job, where you keep your card file, paper, pens, and stamps. Start the notes as the gifts arrive, acknowledging those sent before the wedding within two weeks and those received on or after the wedding within four weeks of returning from your honeymoon.

As you're writing, refer to both of you when you say how pleased you are, but sign only your name. If your spouse shares the task, he does the same. Specify the gift by name and say how lovely it will look in your home. If you receive a check, don't mention the sum, but do indicate how you'll put the check to use. Although your creativity may crumble after a dozen notes, try to think of something special to say in each one. Think of it as your gift to the people who love you!

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