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Category : Writing Tips

Writing an Excellent Thank-You Letter

S Nicholas

Thank-you letters are always a good idea when following-up after an interview, to thank a professor or colleague for a letter of recommendation, or simply thanking a friend or family member for a gift.

A hand-written note on simple stationary is preferable. Begin by writing the date in the upper right corner. Skip down a line and on the left side of the page, write your salutation (Dear Mr. Smith). Skip down a line and indent roughly five spaces.

For a thank-you note for an interview, begin by telling the person exactly why you are thankful. “Thank you for taking time to meet with me yesterday for an interview.”

Continue by writing two or three sentences expanding on that for which you are thankful. “I appreciate the amount of time you spent with me. Your company is impressive and I was excited to learn more about what you do. I valued the questions you had for me.”

Begin a new paragraph and write two or three sentences explaining your expectations. For an interview, consider this: “I look forward to hearing from you soon about the position for which I interviewed. I am available by phone or email at any point if you have further questions.”

Close by reiterating that for which you are thankful. “Thank you again for taking time to interview me.” Close by using a word that expresses both thanks and formality. The word “regards” is perfect for an interview thank-you.

If you are sending a thank-you note for a letter of recommendation, begin by thanking the person for their action. “Thank you for writing a letter of recommendation for me.” After the opening sentence, write two or three sentences expanding on why you are thankful. You might want to say: “I appreciate the amount of time you spent writing a letter for me. I value your time, and am thankful you were able to help me in this way.”

Begin a new paragraph, and expand on how you feel that letter of recommendation will help you. Those who are willing to write a good letter of recommendation would be pleased to hear how their efforts may help you. “Because I studied under you for three years, your knowledge of my work-ethic is the most valuable asset in my job search. I felt this prospective employer would greatly appreciate your insight into my work.”

End by reiterating your thanks, and offering to help them, if possible. “Mr. Smith, thank you again for taking time to write a letter of recommendation for me. If I can ever be of service to you, please contact me. I will always be available to help my college mentor.”

For the closing, “regards” might be a bit too formal for someone you know well enough to ask for a letter of recommendation. “Sincerely,” “fondly,” or even “best regards” would be an appropriate closing phrase.

For a thank-you note for a gift, after the salutation, get to the point, thanking them for the specific gift. “Grandmother, thank you for the beautiful tea set.” Then spend two or three sentences explaining why you are thankful for that gift. “I appreciate the amount of time you spent in picking out such a perfect gift for me. I can tell you put a lot of thought into the tea set. I am grateful for your attention.”

For a family member or friend who gave you a thoughtful gift, they would love to know why you like the gift and how you will use it. “I plan to use this tea set at my very next party. I host a monthly brunch for my friends, and this will be sure to get a lot of comments and compliments.”

Close by reiterating your thanks. “Thank you, again, for taking time to pick a gift that suits me so perfectly.” For someone you know well, an intimate word of closure is preferred. “With love,” “your friend,” or even “wishing you well” would be appropriate.

For any type of thank-you letter, it is important to be sincere, to thank the person for their time, and to let them know you appreciate them. A thank-you letter doesn’t have to be long, but each sentence must be carefully thought-out so that even a short note will be packed with your gratitude.

Trading Nouns for Verbs

One of the hallmarks of good writing is the use of strong, active verbs. Sadly, a lot of American academic English gets caught up in using long, cumbersome chains of  nouns rather than fluid, precise verbs. If you are interested in improving your writing stylistically, try out the following method: trade your nouns for verbs.

Of course, it is impossible to replace all of your nouns with verbs, and nouns obviously serve a necessary function in writing. However, you may be surprised at how often you can streamline your writing and make it more effective by trading your nouns for verbs. Consider the following example:

These groups have the intention of fleeing the country.

While the meaning here is more or less clear, the sentence reads much better when the noun “intention” is transformed into the verb “intend”:

These groups intend to flee the country.

Not only does the second version eliminate unnecessary words, but it also makes the writing sound more assertive and less muddled. Here are some other examples of trading nouns for verbs.

Some Americans have the tendency to over-eat. —> Some Americans tend to over-eat.

The test is an evaluation of the students’ retention. —> The test evaluates the students’ retention.

This factor had a strong influence on the results. —> This factor strongly influenced the results.

The English language contains an extremely large number of words that have both noun and verb versions, including “demonstration” / “demonstrate,” “indication” / “indicate,” “explanation” / “explain,” “effect” / “affect,” “clarification” / “clarify,” “definition” / “define,” and many, many more. Keep an eye out for these kinds of nouns; you can often sharpen your writing by replacing them with their verb counterparts.

And, if you really want to have some fun, take a closer look at the next academic article you read. What is the ratio of nouns to verbs? How many strong, active verbs are these authors using? You will swell with pride when you start finding sentences where others would benefit by trading their nouns for verbs.

The Ambiguous “This”

One very useful feature of the English language is that you can refer to extremely complex ideas with a simple four-letter word: “this.” In academic writing especially, “this” is a handy word because it allows you to create a shorthand version of what might otherwise take you five, ten, or twenty (or, heaven forbid, even more) words to say. However, the word “this” is also notorious for creating ambiguity, which is why this post explains “the ambiguous ‘this’” and how to avoid it.

Basically, the source of confusion is that readers sometimes cannot tell what the pronoun “this” is referring to. Consider the following sentence:

This is a delicious sandwich.

In this case, the pronoun “this” refers to the sandwich that the speaker is holding, eating, or pointing to; there is nothing else that “this” could refer to, and so the sentence makes perfect sense. But what if the pronoun’s referent was not so obvious?

This is delicious.

In this second sentence, the pronoun “this” is suddenly less clear. Unless we can see what the speaker is holding or pointing to, we cannot know if the speaker is referring to a sandwich, a glass of lemonade, or a bowl of pasta.

Now, in academic writing, the words and concepts that “this” stands in for tend to be much more complicated than an everyday sandwich. Consider the following example:

Children under the age of 7 tend to interpret comments made by others as being directed towards them, whereas older children are better able to differentiate between self-directed and others-directed communication. This can lead to frustration among educators.

In the above example, the pronoun “this” is ambiguous because it can refer to at least three things from the previous sentence: how children under the age of 7 interpret comments, how older children interpret comments, or the difference between how these groups of children interpret comments. To resolve this ambiguity, you can simply use the word “this” as a determiner rather than a pronoun. In other words, you are answering the question, “this what?” For instance:

This difference in communication styles can lead to frustration among educators.

In this revised version, “this” is simply a determiner which precedes the more specific phrase, “difference in communication styles.” By adding a specific referent to the previous sentence rather than leaving “this” to stand on its own, the new version avoids any ambiguity.

Remember, then, that if think you might be plaguing your reader with the dreaded ambiguous “this,” just answer the question, “this what?”