5 Tips for Writing a Thoughtful Handwritten Note

updated Jul 16, 2020
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Amid the flurry of rapid-fire text messages and emails we receive on a daily basis, there’s something magical about getting a handwritten note. Maybe it’s the thrill of holding a tangible piece of mail or maybe it’s just knowing someone took the time to sit down and put pen to paper. Either way, it’s a good feeling.

But when you’re the one doing the writing, it can be hard to find the right words for the occasion. Try these tricks the next time you need to get in the zone.

1. Find stationery you love.

If you’re trying to write a thoughtful note on the random cards you picked up at a drugstore, you’re already fighting an uphill inspiration battle. Instead, find nice thick notecards that reflect your personality, and keep a stockpile of various styles.

Three you’re pretty much guaranteed to need in heavy rotation are non-boring thank you cards, birthday cards, and monogrammed stationary (for professional correspondence). For the latter, Crane & Co. and Minted have massive selections that cater to a range of tastes, but for special occasion cards, scope out indie purveyors like Sugar Paper, Elum Designs, Sesame Letterpress & Design, and Emily McDowell Studio.

More Stationary Ideas

2. Start with a digital draft.

Whether you’re jotting down a short congratulatory message or a longer thank you for a job interview, it’s beneficial to get your initial thoughts down in a medium you can edit easily — and one that doesn’t risk wasting the awesome stationery you’ve hunted down.

Google Docs, the notes app in your phone, or a Word doc are all good options to make sure you’re writing a note that’s thoughtful and coherent. Before you get going, brainstorm the general gist of what you want to include, and write down a few key points you want to hit.

3. Follow a formula without sounding formulaic.

After greeting the person by name (something that often falls by the wayside in emails), your first sentence should clearly express why you’re writing. The second and third sentences should go deeper with a specific personal touch (more on that below), and you should wrap up by mentioning the future — perhaps the possibility of following up or making plans to meet.

4. Give the reader an aha! moment.

This tip comes courtesy of Sigmund Freud, who said, “I consider it a good rule for letter-writing to leave unmentioned what the recipient already knows, and instead tell him something new.” Translation: Don’t go for the obvious.

Instead of something like, “Thank you for the scarf — it’s the loveliest shade of blue,” a better move is to describe a fond memory it evokes or tell the gift-giver where you plan to wear it. If it’s for a job interview, take a point or challenge they talked about and weave in some outside industry knowledge, or tie it back to your background and how you can help the company succeed.

5. Write the way you talk.

The whole point of sending a handwritten note is to make the reader feel appreciated, which they totally won’t if you crank out something that sounds like it was dictated by a robot. Imagine you’re delivering your note in person and write your draft in the same voice you’d relay your message face-to-face.

Be honest: When was the last time you sent a heartfelt handwritten note?