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Do Email “Thanks” Please or Provoke You?

In the Email Intelligence classes I teach, a hot topic for discussion is email replies that say only “Thanks.”

Some people complain that “Thanks” emails waste their time. They have to stop what they are doing, click open the emails to see if anything comes beneath “Thanks,” and delete them.

Others say, “I’m human. I always appreciate a thank you.”

Still others say, “I like knowing the other person got my email. ‘Thanks’ is an acknowledgment.”

IT (information technology) people say a “Thanks” email is just another message that takes up storage.

responding to emails with "thanks"

Considering all the opinions I have heard in business writing courses, I have developed my own view. My guideline is:

Do not reply to say thank you unless the message merits sincere thanks, or the person who sent it needs acknowledgment that you got the email.

By “sincere thanks,” I mean more than one or two words. Sincere thanks might be:

Thanks for responding so quickly to my request.
Thank you for being flexible.
Thanks so much for the great information. You rock!

If a message merits a sincere, specific sentence of thanks, that’s what I write. I don’t reply “Thanks.”

People who reply to email on their smartphones have told me that sincere, specific sentences take too long to type. Can’t they just type “Thanks”?

If typing is an issue, I suggest “Thanks!” or “Thank you!” or “Terrific!” Although it requires knowing where the exclamation mark key is located, the exclamation adds energy to their brief message.

The other part of “Thanks” is acknowledgment. Sometimes people need acknowledgment that their important email has been received. When that’s the case, I recommend email replies like these:

Thanks. Got it.
Thanks. Consider it done.
Thanks for letting me know about the change.
Thanks. I’ll pass it on.

I never respond to routine emails with “Thanks.” They don’t merit sincere thanks, and the sender doesn’t need confirmation that I received them.

I don’t mean to be impersonal. I am a huge fan of courtesy and of nurturing business relationships through thoughtful writing. But when “Thanks” becomes an unconscious, meaningless habit, it’s time to stop it.

What is your view? Do you welcome all thanks or wish they’d disappear?

Syntax Training

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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

21 comments on “Do Email “Thanks” Please or Provoke You?”

  • My thoughts, Lynn, are that this is a great suggestion. I’ve taught my students to skip the “thanks” unless someone has gone out of their way to assist you by doing something that’s not part of their routine. Yes, IT people hate these messages but how many of us have ever had a conversation with IT about “thanks” messages? I love your suggestions above and am going to implement them next term.

  • There is nearly always a pre electronic communication answer to any of these predicaments. Would you write a letter to reply saying “thanks” to a letter received regarding the same thing? If not, there is no need to reply with “Thanks”. Easy.

  • An excellent question that bears thinking about, Lynn. I use email heavily, and check my inbox throughout the day on the computer as well as receiving it on my smartphone when I’m away from my desk. I tend to have quite a bit of correspondence going on at once, and I think of email more as threads of conversation than as individual letters. As a result, I wouldn’t think twice about receiving a “thanks” reply to a routine matter. I’m sure I’ve even sent them, although I do tend to personalize my communication, so I am likely to send a message saying, “Thanks so much for your time – this is so helpful,” rather than simply, “Thanks.”

    That being said, I know many people who are not nearly as plugged in to their inbox as I am, and who do not read every item as it appears. I imagine that for the person who sits down once per day (or even less frequently) to check email, weeding through the inane and the unnecessary might take up a frustrating amount of time. Your guideline makes sense, and can help those of us who think of email as being more like a conversation than as correspondence to remember that not everyone looks at it that way. I will start thinking more about whether a response to an email is necessary, or simply perfunctory.

  • I would add that I appreciate getting even just a “Got it” when I’ve sent something to someone that requires action, like an invoice, or a piece of information that is time sensitive. I look at email as a conversation, and if someone I was talking to handed me something or answered a question I had, I would say thanks, or acknowledge them

  • Lynn,

    Maybe you can say more about this part of your stance: “unless the message merits sincere thanks.”

    I think there must be a lack of awareness or agreement in society about what merits thanks, because I find myself getting annoyed several times a month when someone for whom I have done a favor does not even trouble to say “thank you.”

    I don’t think they’re in the camp that a simple “thank you” might clutter up my inbox. Rather, they’re oblivious to the fact that courtesy calls for courtesy in return.

  • To me, an even more interesting subject is the issue of the “You’re welcome” e-mail. I try to minimize the amount of times I send “thank you” e-mails, and I like your suggestions about this, but I never feel irritated by a “thank you” e-mail from someone else.
    To me, it’s the “You’re welcome” e-mail that is truly irritating. This is a truly superfluous e-mail. Why did the person write it? What is it supposed to mean? Does it mean this person always has to have the last word in an exchange? Does it mean that the person thinks he/she was doing you a big favor by sending the first e-mail? All of these questions pop into my head when I get a “You’re welcome” message. I strongly recommend against sending them.

  • Hi, everyone. I was just kidding with my previous comment. Didn’t the thanks look silly and pointless without any details?

    Your thoughtful comments echo the variety of points of view I hear in classes.

    Marcia, thanks for encouraging more details about what merits sincere thanks. I will address that subject in a separate post.

    Katie, you’re right about “You’re welcome” emails. I concur that they are pointless. And yet every rule seems to have an exception. When I have ruled against such messages in email classes, people have countered, “But if you receive a really thoughtful message of thanks, wouldn’t you want to respond ‘You’re welcome’?”

    Stephanie, thanks for talking about different types of audiences. As always, the situation, the audience, and the writer’s purpose affect writing etiquette.

    Thank you all for taking the time to contribute.


  • Lynn, thanks for the tips, really. Or, should I have skipped the gratitude since I have nothing more to contribute than a sincere thank you? I’ve read it, I’ve learned from it (as with all your posts), yet I have offered nothing more than thankfulness, and perhaps wasted your time with gratitude.


  • Hi, Pete. You could never waste my time with gratitude! Sincere gratitude always feels good to the recipient.

    If you had written just “Thanks, Lynn,” your comment would have come across as rote and meaningless. But you kindly wrote, “I’ve learned from it (as with all your posts)”–which brings life and meaning to your thanks.

    Thank you for taking the time to comment and for giving me a chance to clarify my view.


  • I just got a pointless cc of a thank you sent to another person because the sender used Reply All. I wish he would read your blog!

  • I know this is late in coming but I just had a thought today about this topic. One reason I appreciate the “Thank you” e-mail is that it gives me the opportunity to save the correspondence in a designated folder in my e-mail program. Even though my software tracks sent items, it’s easier to retrieve important e-mail dialogs from my folders. The folders are categorized according to topic which makes retrieving past correspondence simpler. Also, items in my customized folders are archived longer than sent items.

    Just a thought from someone who spends alot of time sending and archiving e-mails.


  • Stephanie, thanks for your thought. As I understand it, you move the thanks email, with its accompanying thread, into the proper folder. This is easier than moving your sent email into the folder. That makes sense to me.


  • Two thoughts:
    1. In my opinion, it is never incorrect to thank someone, regardless of the importance of their helpful or kind act.
    2. Anyone over the age of 13 ought to learn how to write a thank you note (on paper or email) without starting “Thank you for the. . .” Put some thought into your expression of appreciation, people.

  • Lynn
    I find the “Thanks” only emails to be an interruption. If I receive regular emails such as daily or weekly reports, I don’t reply. If I have infrequest requests, I put my thanks in the salutation when sending the request. I also use the “Thanks, this data is the info I needed” response.

  • I always appreciate a thanks, even if the sender was a bit lazy and failed to provide details. But of course, then there is the opportunity to send back, “Thanks for what?”. Oh, I forgot, that just will annoy IT a bit more. I believe the storage issue is a little weak as the basis for not sending a “thanks”. I do agree the sender should be specific and identify what they are thankful for – quick response, accurate info, etc. But to give up manners for the sake of IT storage, please – Since when the format of the performance of manners took over the purpose of them?

  • Here is how I handle thank you’s…

    In the subject line I add at the end … Thanks! eom

    eom meaning end of message so you don’t have to open to read.

    Has worked well for me even though sometimes I have to answer the question what is “eom” but, I love teaching people new things so works well.

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