Good manners cost nothing, so the saying goes. It takes very little time and effort to show your appreciation for a gift or someone's kindness and it will make them feel like you really appreciated them. You don't need to write a huge descriptive letter to express thanks; something short and sweet will do fine.
Stock up on nice paper, cards and stamps. Never let a lack of stationery be an excuse for not sending a note. If the thought of filling a piece of letter paper makes you nervous, keep small cards instead. A few well-chosen sentences will suffice. Museum gift shops are a particularly good place to buy these.
Send it on time. According to etiquette specialists Debrett's, when sending a thank you note for a gift or hospitality, you should aim to send it within a week to 10 days after the gift or event. When sending out notes in relation to a much larger occasion, like your wedding, then within three months is considered appropriate.
Handwrite it. A handwritten note means so much more than a computer print-out. Choose a nice pen, ink or roller ball as opposed to a biro, and use your neatest handwriting. If you are worried about making mistakes, draft what you want to say on a piece of paper first and then copy it out carefully.
Keep it short. For gifts, start with "Dear whoever" and go on to be specific about what you are thanking them for so they know you have paid proper attention and have the correct item. "Thank you for the lovely necklace you gave me for my birthday" is a good start. Then say something complimentary about the item like "I love the design and it goes particularly well with my green dress. I know I will get a lot of wear out of it." Then sign off appropriately with "love from" or "yours sincerely" depending upon your relationship.
Cajole the children. Good habits start young and children should be strongly encouraged to write their own letters. You can help them out when they are very young and ask them to sign a note you have written for them or draw a picture, but as soon as they are old enough, they should be responsible for writing notes themselves. Provide stickers or fun stamps to make the exercise more enjoyable.
Send an email. While handwritten notes show that someone has taken time over their thank you, an email or telephone call is acceptable for less formal occasions like dinner parties. In general, if you received a written invitation to something, write back. If you were invited by email or over the telephone, you can respond in kind.
Look online. If you really struggle with words and how to express yourself, there are websites devoted to writing perfect thank you notes. They also provide templates and examples, but be sure to tailor them to your circumstances or they might sound robotic or inappropriate.