The Importance of a Timely Note

Primary Care Blog

In my medical practice, I've used note writing extensively to communicate with patients, with families of patients, and with referring physicians. And yet, when I receive a note, which is not related to patient care, it is always a little surprising and uplifting, and emphasizes why note writing (and note receiving) is so appealing. 

In this Internet age and the age of information, we are bombarded with electronically conveyed messages, television and radio broadcast, faxes, and even computerized bulletin boards. There’s a generation of young people that do nothing but text each other and seldom make use of the phone or face-to-face interactions with peers and friends. A hand written note is now a rather novel and, therefore, powerful method of communication. It tells the recipient that you thought about them following your face-to-face or telephone encounter. A note tells the person you value them and allows you to reinforce the points discussed during your encounter. Let me give you an example:

Several years ago I had the pleasure of a five-minute meeting with Lou Holtz, who at the time was the head football coach at Notre Dame. One week after meeting the famous coach, I received a personal note from him, acknowledging our meeting and highlighting several points we had discussed, including our mutual interest in motivating others to reach their full potential.

I called Coach Holtz and asked him how he was able, with his busy schedule, to not only find time to write such a personal note, but to remember details from our brief conversation. During our subsequent conversation, Coach Holtz revealed some of his note writing secrets and illustrated how notes can have a similar empowering impact on people in your life. We covered the following points:

To whom should you write? Coach Holtz suggests writing to anyone to whom you want to express thanks, appreciation, congratulations, or acknowledgment. Coach Holtz writes his barber or a waitress if he is receiving good service. If someone goes the "extra mile" for Coach Holtz or his family, that person receives a personal note. Coach Holtz is so committed to note writing that he encouraged his coaching staff and all his players to write at least one note a day.

How do you remember to whom you will write? The best way to remember seems to be to write yourself a note! I use a cell phone and a free app, Dragon Dictate, to record notes and reminders to whom I will write. When you write or dictate the names of people to write, you can also record a key word(s) that will jog your memory later about your conversation.

How long should your note be? According to Coach Holtz, the shorter, the better. The person to whom you are writing may be overwhelmed with junk mail, faxes, and letters that must be read and responded to. If your note is short, you can be sure that your note will be read. A long letter may be skimmed over, as the reader feels pressed to get on to other tasks. A concise note delivered in a timely fashion is better than a longer note that takes days or weeks to arrive.

In addition, Coach Holtz recommends brevity and relevance. Don't ramble. Be personal and sincere. The best style is a simple, conversational manner. Unless you are generally a formal person, avoid formalities such as "I've acknowledge the delivery of your parcel," or "It was indeed a pleasure to have made your acquaintance."

What should the content of your note include? You want to immediately grasp the attention of your reader. Coach Holtz suggests that the first sentence gives the reason for your note. He usually begins his notes by simply stating, "The purpose of this note is..." or "I just wanted to say thank you for..." and then gives the specific reason he's writing. You might not begin a note this way, but Coach Holtz is a direct and honest man, and his opening fits his personality. When you write a note of appreciation or thanks, you'll want to do it any style that's yours and with which you are comfortable. 

Why is timing important? As with all forms of communication, promptness is important. The sooner your note is on the desk or in the hands of the person to whom you’ve written, the greater its impact. Think of the difference between and note arriving 1- 2 days after you communicated with someone and a note arriving weeks or months later. If you're serious about incorporating note writing into your business or into your personal life, you will have to prioritize and organize your day’s activities to make time for it.

Why are timely notes so important in building your network? Social psychologists report that written communication is one of the best ways to enhance a relationship. Everyone enjoys receiving mail, and the thoughts enclosed in a timely, appreciative note can be read and savored for a long time. My encounter with Coach Holtz underscored for me why so many business people and professionals should make use of timely notes.

Coach Holtz believes that the few minutes you take each day to write a note of thanks, congratulations, or acknowledgment to a friend or colleague is an investment in your friendships and in your business or professional practice. Networking is predicted to be the contact sport for the new Millennium. My encounter with Coach Holtz emphasized that successful professionals, whether in coaching or medicine, have discovered the importance of a timely note.

The thank you note I use is a “Thanks a Million” check shown in Figure 1.


FIgure 1.


Neil Baum, MD

Neil Baum, MD, is Clinical Associate Professor of Urology, Tulane Medical School, New Orleans, LA, and author of Marketing Your Clinical Practice: Ethically, Effectively, and Economically, Jones Bartlett Publishers. He is also author of Social Media For The Healthcare Profession, Greenbranch Publishing, 2011. He blogs at