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When to Say Thank You in Email

With all the talk about sending and receiving less unnecessary email, it may be challenging to know when to respond with a thank-you. In my post on thank-you emails last week, “Do Email ‘Thanks’ Please or Provoke You?” I suggested sending only sincere thank-you messages–not just “Thanks” or “Thank you.”

But when are sincere thanks appropriate? Below are 10 examples of situations that require–or inspire–a sincere thank-you.

When the other person has:

  • Delivered especially good service
  • Been particularly creative, prompt, flexible, or efficient
  • Gone beyond the job requirements for you
  • Been helpful to you in a stressful moment
  • Exceeded your expectations
  • Given you an opportunity (an interview, a referral, a preview, etc.)
  • Given you a gift or treated you to a meal
  • Been a special pleasure to work with
  • Surprised you with a thoughtful gesture
  • Bought your product or service

Of course, a written thank-you note (rather than an email) would also be appropriate for the acts above.

If you do not say thank you for gestures such as those listed, your business friends and acquaintances will not know you appreciate them. For example, two people I know are out of work in fields related to mine. I regularly send them information about job openings I learn about, but neither of them ever sends me a thank-you email. I guess it is silly for me to continue sending them job leads, since it appears they do not appreciate them.

Do you have any thoughts on my list above or on email thank-yous? Please share them.


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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.

11 comments on “When to Say Thank You in Email”

  • In my opinion say “Thank You” is good and appropriate no matter how many times you have to say it. That way you let know to the receiver how valuable is.

  • I believe that everyone appreciates a Thank You, even when the event is less grand than those you have listed. My frustration stems from Thank You’s that come in the form of internal Reply All responses. Yesterday I received four emails that were a thank you to one person, but the senders all hit Reply All.

    I feel that it is important to copy supervisors and coworkers when praising someone for an exceptional job, but a Reply All is different. The same can be said for Reply All responses to promotions/Congratulations messages.

  • It doesn’t bother me to get a lot of thank you emails. I have my Outlook set up to preview so I can easily go down the list and hit delete, delete, delete. I’d rather receive the thank you and know that the person received my email than to be left not knowing. And as I’ve taught my children, it’s better to have too many manners than not enough. 😉

  • Hi, Anne. Thanks for your input.

    The only reason I hesitate to delete the way you described is I worry that the person may have typed something beneath the thanks that I can’t see in my preview pane. Once I actually deleted a message this way, only to learn later that something I was waiting for came below in a paragraph I could not see in preview. When I followed up with the person, asking again for the information, she sent me her previous “Thank you” email. I was embarrassed.


  • If you set your preview reading pane in outlook to show to the right instead of at the bottom you can see most of the email. Then you can use the delete-delete-delete method with confidence that there will not be more information in the next paragraph where you’d expect to find “Kind regards,…”

  • Lynn,
    Is it appropriate for a senior level manager to send an email thank you to a prominent prospect or customer for meeting with them?
    If so would the thank you be better served in writing?
    At what point, up the “food chain” in a large corporation, are thank you notes not sent?

    Thank you for your time and expertise.


  • hello,

    i own a small business and i am trying to write the perfect thank you by email to my existing and future customers. i was looking for some help.

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