Don’t Send Glitter: Proper Ways to Say “Thank You”

By Will Jonsson

Recently I was writing thank-you notes to a few of my professors and other faculty who wrote letters of recommendation on my behalf. After searching around on the internet, I found that advice about these is sparse and relatively inconsistent. So I set about creating my own format based on the scattered information I’d found and implemented a few aspects of my own.

Professors are not required to write letters of recommendation. If a professor writes me a letter, they do so because they want to see me succeed and because they truly believe in my potential for success. I find that the best way to acknowledge this is by referring to them with the respect they deserve, so I keep the tone professional, as opposed to casual or friendly.

Letters of recommendation are of such an individualized nature that it seems like a “form letter” response would be in bad taste, and perhaps a bit condescending. To acknowledge the time spent working toward my success, I like to personalize each thank-you note to the person I’m giving it to. I feel like this is best achieved by starting from scratch on each one. This helps prevent me from getting into a rut with my vocabulary and phrasing.

I also like to individualize each thank-you note by expressing gratitude for specific aspects of each letter. Granted, this is only something I can do if I have requested copies of the letters. If I didn’t have copies of the letters, I could mention aspects of their class or pedagogy that drew me to ask them in the first place. I feel like this personal touch really shows appreciation for the time and effort they invested.

I like to give hard copy thank-you notes; I find there is something especially meaningful that is gained by giving your note in an envelope. However, it can also be acceptable to send thank-you notes as emails. In either case, maintaining a professional format is important. For examples of professional letter formats, I strongly recommend these examples from the Purdue OWL. I also found this example letter from Dr. Tara Kuther helpful in crafting the basic skeleton of my own thank-you letters.

To all of you who are nearing graduation, I wish you the best of luck in your job searches and graduate school applications. I hope you find this helpful when crafting your own thank-you notes.


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