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Don't forget the value of pen and paper

Recently, Steve Hartman at CBS News did a report on thank you notes that included an interview with John Kralik whose book, 365 Thank Yous (Hyperion, December 28, 2010) was just published in time for the 2010 holiday thank you note season.

While this book focuses on Kralik’s effort to write thank you notes each day, it raises the interesting question: “Why should we write notes to people?”

The answer, in a nutshell, is that notes - thank you and otherwise - are a way of staying connected that is personal, that people appreciate, and is memorable. In this electronic age our communications are rapidly becoming more and more impersonal as we find faster and faster ways to get that communication done. Text-speak is just the latest example of faster is better: ‘b4’ for “before,” ‘cul8r’ for “see you later,” ‘lol’ for “laughing out loud.” The examples are legion. While they make sense in a text as long as they are decipherable by the uninitiated, you don’t want those abbreviations creeping into your business communications—emails, reports, or letters.

The time and effort it takes to think about the recipient, to compose and hand write the note, to address and mail it, and the tactile feel of nice note paper makes it a communication that says, “You are important to me.” When I’m asked what’s the difference between an email thank you and a handwritten one, I explain that an email is written, sent, received (hopefully) among many other emails in a day and read (hopefully), and then deleted. After a handwritten note is received and read, it is most likely put down on a desk or counter, or posted on a wall where it is seen and remembered repeatedly. “Would you rather be deleted or remembered?” I ask the questioner. The answer is self-evident.

The heart of the issue is the personal nature of a handwritten note. One of my greatest concerns about the evolution of electronic communications is the loss of the “personal” in those communications. While email, texting, and chatting are great business tools, their everyday use simply doesn’t carry the same importance, permanence, or meaning as a handwritten note. The note itself evokes your presence when it is opened, held, and read. The handwritten note is a perfect way to stand out from the crowd and of keeping you foremost in the recipient’s thoughts.

Sure, email and other forms of electronic communication are here to stay and they do a great job to keep businesses humming along at warp speed, but it doesn’t lessen the value of occasionally sending a handwritten note, something that stands out and honors the recipient.

As Kralik and Hartman have discovered, recipients really appreciate it.

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