Thanks for what?

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With a bee in my bonnet, I did a Google site search of our forums today, to reveal more than 15,000 results containing the phrase thanks in advance.

I hate that expression, it totally winds me up — because it isn’t really thanks at all. At best it’s an empty platitude; at worst it’s emotional blackmail.

To me, the phrase says one or all of these things:

  • This is just what people say (meaningless)
  • I’m assuming that you’re going to help me, therefore I’m thanking you now (presumptuous)
  • I’m thanking you now so as soon as I get an answer I can forget about this thread (lazy, ungrateful)
  • I’m not sure if you’re going to help me, so saying thanks now will encourage you to do so, because I’ve already thanked you (emotional blackmail)

Even worse, I occasionally see this phrase in txt msg speak, written as TIA or thx, and that’s even more of a wind-up — it’s not just presumptuous pseudo-gratitude, it’s lazy and illiterate. Doesn’t inspire me to help.

The proper time to thank someone is after they’ve helped you, because that’s when it actually means something. The fact that you had to be conscious enough to step outside your immediate concern, at a point when you no longer need anyone, in order to show gratitude — that’s what makes it real; that’s when I know you really mean it.

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  • ronin

    you have issues.

  • http://www.tyssendesign.com.au Tyssen

    Or it could just be thanking people in advance for even bothering to read the thread. You can’t do that after the event cos you won’t always know who those people are. It could be “Thanks for being one of those people who like to help out others on forums, even if you may not be able to help me with this particular problem.”

    Probably a bit presumptuous to assume that your list of meanings covers everything people might try to say with that phrase. ;)

  • mech7

    thx 10x

  • http://www.brothercake.com/ brothercake

    Probably a bit presumptuous to assume

    LOL – hoist by my own batard :D

  • http://www.cemerson.co.uk Stormrider

    I use that phrase a lot, and I think you are wrong. When I use it, I am thanking the people for taking the time out to read about my problem and help me with it, for which I am very grateful. Noone has to do that here, noone is obliged to help me, but they do and that’s what makes this community great. I usually thank people afterwards as well if they have been helpful.

  • Ned Collyer

    Ur getting a bit grumpy huh James :D

    Stay off my lawn whipper snappers!

  • http://www.wplancer.com banago

    I like the phrase :)

  • http://www.wplancer.com banago

    I liked the topic a lot – thanks in advance for your next article James! :)

  • http://www.sitepoint.com/ Kevin Yank

    Tyssen, Stormrider, if that is your intent, I would suggest saying something like “thanks for your time”. The “in advance” in “thanks in advance” refers to the fact that you are giving thanks for something they have not yet done. You can’t thank someone “in advance” for reading when that is what they have just finished doing.

    Of course, this is pure semantics, and I’ll be the first to admit I’m teetering on the precipice above the yawning chasm of pedantry. :)

  • http://www.benwarren.co.uk benji

    I’m sorry but you are just becoming a complete idiot now. I think it’s time you actually posted something about web development and got over this mid-life ranting crisis you are having.

  • horace west

    Well after reading this article there is 20 seconds of my life I would like back.

  • http://www.patricksamphire.com/ PatrickSamphire

    I’ve certainly been known to use the phrase at work for emotional blackmail if I think someone isn’t going to help, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do…

    When I use it on forums, though, I’ve never once done it without also saying thank you afterwards. I don’t think it’s wrong to thank someone more than once.

  • cob

    wow, kind of snippy.

    I have been “guilty” of that myself, but never been used for the purpose of “emotional blackmail”. It’s quite presumptuous to presume the intent of the writer in the first place. Some people are trying to show appreciation, as altruistic as it may sound.

    I guess if the reader could always just ignore the post and move on, if the emotional stress is too great, that is.

  • http://www.predictascore.com Acquiesce

    I don’t think there’s always an ulterior motive for someone saying “thanks in advance”… maybe (just maybe) they’re trying to show some politeness prior to receiving any help. Politeness costs nothing, and if they’re just being polite to begin with, the chances are they will thank you afterwards also.

    Quite frankly there isn’t enough politeness going on in the world anyway, I’m not going to start moaning that there is now too much!!

    Regardless to the theory behind what is wrong for thanking someone when they haven’t done anything to be thanked, it’s not really something I’d put high on my list of things to worry about!

    In an online world where no one can see your body language simple things like saying “thanks in advance” or attaching a smiley can show people you’re just trying to be friendly and polite. Should we question people that put smileys in their requests for help (as in theory they have nothing to smile about yet!!)

  • http://www.domedia.org/ junjun

    I thought ‘Thank you in advance’ was a proper and polite term. It’s been around since long before the web. I occasionally use the term in communication when it’s appropriate. It looks like the term has been over analyzed here. I’m sure you can do the same with terms such as ”I beg your pardon’ and ‘Sincerely Yours’..

    So now we’re going to alienate the people that try to be polite in these forums? :-/

  • http://www.caseyburk.com Wolf_22

    So now we’re going to alienate the people that try to be polite in these forums?

    Now you understand why companies prefer to hire “people-people” versus “techy-people”.

  • http://www.maestrosdelweb.com/ cvander

    Great post.. I just did the same search in a spanish developers forum (I bet hispanic users do this even more). And I got about 130k results.

  • Patricia G.

    I prefer emotional blackmail myself.

  • colorbycolor

    Though I would like to respectfully disagree with your position on “Thanks in advance”, I’m sure that your response would be along the lines of, “Respect me for what? How do you respect me when you do not know anything of me but this post? Can one really respect someone that they have barely even heard of? Are you trying to emotionally blackmail me into staying calm in light of your disagreement by claiming to show me respect?”…so I’ll just say, you are wrong and thanking someone-even in advance-is fine.

  • http://boyohazard.net Octal

    What’s this got to do with Web Tech?
    Is Sitepoint becoming brothercake’s personal ranting podium?

    You don’t like to be thanked in advance? Well how about a flat no thanks – to this pointless blog entry.

  • http://www.sitepoint.com/ andrew.k

    Thanks for feeding the troll. His regular food pellets have been getting expensive due to the drop in the US dollar.

  • http://www.magain.com/ mattymcg

    @benji and @Octal: While we welcome your feedback, please keep your comments civil. There are plenty of comments on this post that have found value in brothercake’s post. SitePoint has always been proud of being a friendly community — we welcome personality and honesty, not hostility. Thanks.

  • http://www.demondesign.net demonDESIGN

    I tend to agree with some of the more negative comments posted so far.
    It really does come down to personal preference.

    Not sure it really warranted an actual blog post.

  • richie

    Blogs are for intelligent thought, not angry bitching… TIA for remembering it ;)

  • http://www.sitepoint.com AlexW

    Blogs are for intelligent thought, not angry bitching… TIA for remembering it ;)

    You don’t read many blogs, do you? ;)

  • Leni

    “thanks in advance” isn’t meant to be taken literally. It’s an understood formula that expresses civility alongside the question. It can flag that you don’t intend to post a second “thank you” email – helping in a small way to keep the signal to noise ratio healthy.

  • http://autisticcuckoo.net/ AutisticCuckoo

    Although I understand what you mean and concede that you make a valid point, I think it’s dangerous to tar everyone with the same brush.

    Yes, TIA can be trite and as empty of sincere meaning as a Flash site is of semantics. But it may also be heartfelt and equivalent to, ‘I shall be grateful if you help me’.

    Think of it as a down-payment of the thankyous. You get half of it up front, the rest on delivery! :)

  • http://www.nosaintshistory.com Phil from Loreau

    Wow, what an attitude!
    “Thanks in Advance” is just a way people….. myself included…. to show a little appreciation for some attention others give.
    I understand were you’re coming from, but come on. An attempt at politeness in this self-centerd world of ours is hardly something to get upset over.

  • http://www.twice21.com ParkinT

    I close most email messages with: ATdhvaannkcse

    That really is “Thanks” in “Advance”

  • http://weblog.200ok.com.au/ 200ok

    I actually think it’s less about the phrase and more about the sincerity. TIA is fine if it’s a geniune “I acknowlege and appreciate this is a big question and will take some time to respond”. It doesn’t excuse people who simply parrot things without any thought, though.

    The one that makes my brain snap is people who use “LOL” like it’s punctuation. “I have a question LOL. I can’t make this thing work LOL. Help me out? LOL THX”

    Some people might just be following what they think is a forum convention. ie. They’re trying to fit in and follow the “rules”.

  • http://pcmech.com Force Flow

    When I’m asking a question or for help in a first post, I usually end it with:

    Thanks :)

    While nobody has actually done anything yet to solve the problem, by the time someone actually reads or skims to the end, I figure they put forth at least a minute amount of effort and time into reading the post, possibly considering an answer, and/or maybe doing a quick google search.

    Either way, I think it’s reasonable to thank the person who views a thread for the unseen effort or interest, even if they don’t actually post anything. Deliverables aren’t everything, after all.

    But anyway, it’s just a simple way to add a closing that says “Hey! You’ve reached the end! Thanks for reading! Feel free to post if you have something to add!”. Course, you could just say that, but that gets about as wordy as this comment I’m writing here. :rolleyes:

    As for the exact phrase “thanks in advance”, yes, depending on the person reading it and the person writing it, it can carry various sentiments; some of which were fleshed out in the original blog post that spawned this discussion, some of which were touched on in some of the comments before this one.

    Ultimately, with anything in either the written language or the spoken language, you have a salutation/greeting, an intro leading to what you want to say and little about how you got there, what you want to say, and some sort of closing to signify you’re done speaking.

    Pay attention to how you talk to somebody on the phone next time. How do you greet them? How do you hang up? Does that translate over to writing and posting on the forums.

    I’m sure many forum frequenters can find parallels between posting a question on the forums and other lines of communication.

  • http://www.brothercake.com/ brothercake

    Yeah that’s an interesting parallel to draw, and for me, re-inforces the original point.

    For example, I’m very careful not to ask leading questions of my friends – “do you mind if I do X?” is an open question without implying an answer, but “you don’t mind if I do X do you?” is a leading question that carries an assumption of compliance.

    Similarly, “thanks” is an open statement, but “thanks in advance” carries implications (conscious or otherwise)

  • http://www.sitepoint.com AlexW

    I close most email messages with: ATdhvaannkcse

    That really is “Thanks” in “Advance”

    I think it’s also the name of a small but funky shelving unit at IKEA too.

    Or did I dream that?..

  • http://www.jtresidder.com/ jtresidder

    That’s the most ridiculous peeve I’ve come across in a while.

    Force Flow says it best, but I’ll add that when I use it, it’s a promise of gratitude for any effort you take in thinking about my query. It doesn’t matter if you can help, or even if you reply, I’m appreciative of you taking the time to get that far and I’ll be polite enough to say so.

    More fool anyone who finds that annoying.

  • http://boyohazard.net Octal

    @mattymcg re: hostility – how about a post that labels your users as presumptuous, lazy, ungrateful, emotional blackmailers? Hardly promoting a “friendly community”.

    I stand by my original comment; this is not a post that fits into the category of web tech and furthermore is not the kind of post I have come to expect from Sitepoint. I made my comment direct and to the point, it was not uncivil and was nowhere near hostile especially when held up to the content of the original post.

  • Bezierk

    without reading the comments or eventual discussion around this topic i must say:

    surely you jest, kind sir!!! you are either a troll, and a kind i have never seen before because you’re writing this here, on a blog; or a fool who has no notion of netiquete… either way i feel trolled but i’ll play along.

    when someone posts a question or something that implies a reply and finishes it off with thanks in advance is being nothing more than polite. i mean, seriously… are you for real???

    let’s look at what you said it could be:

    * This is just what people say (meaningless)
    * even if it is something people just say, it’s not meaningles, it’s polite!!!

    * I’m assuming that you’re going to help me, therefore I’m thanking you now (presumptuous)
    * I’m thanking you now so as soon as I get an answer I can forget about this thread (lazy, ungrateful)
    * these trains of thought are just dumb, I won’t even bother…

    * I’m not sure if you’re going to help me, so saying thanks now will encourage you to do so, because I’ve already thanked you (emotional blackmail)
    * you don’t really know people used to this kind of interaction around the internets, do you? I’ll clarify: people who tend to help do it for the kicks saying this shit won’t change their tendency to help you. nor will it change the attitude of the hardasses who just ignore help posts by looking at the title. like anyone would think “hey this guy thanked in advance. darn, know i must help him!!!”, while on the other end of the internet some other guys laughs it up like a villain.

    i write “thanks in advance” every time i ask a question over the web and it always means – and i suppose _everyone_ knows that (yes, even you, you big troll) – “thanks for taking the time to read this stupid-ass question, i really hope you can help me out.” and that’s nothing more than polite and humble. but hey you’re asking for a favour so you better be polite and humble within…

  • http://www.digitalgreenlight.com busy

    Not a good article; there’s really no point complaining about something like that.

    I’m assuming you wanted people to think, “Oooh, I never thought of it like that before.”

    There’s a reason nobody thought of it like that before.

  • michellew

    You must have some serious control issues or an inflated sense of self-importance to tell anyone what is and is not an acceptable way to offer thanks.

  • http://davidseth.net/ david.seth.p

    @Octal: I agree with you. This post has *nothing* to do with Web Tech and should be placed in an “Opinion” category or personal blog. SitePoint has excellent articles and an excellent reputation. Let’s keep that.

  • bconley

    With everything that is happening in the world and everything that is happening concerning your specialty alone, this is all you could think about bitching about? You need to seriously re-think the crap you spill into this website.

  • http://weblog.200ok.com.au/ 200ok

    Goodness me, does nobody appreciate a rant any more? What’s the web coming to :)

    Anyway, online social interaction is a cornerstone of the industry. It’s entirely on topic to examine online social conventions. If it’s not an area of the industry that interests you, just move on to the next post!

  • michellew

    OK, so basically this guy has nothing better to blog about then things he thinks other people do wrong. Here’s his recent blogs:

    -Thanks for what
    -You can stick your em-dash up your dot dot dot
    -You guys all suck
    -You’re Fat and I Hate You
    -A collection is not an array

    Loser.

  • http://www.brothercake.com/ brothercake

    And clearly you have nothing better to do than throw inane insults at what you perceive is an easy target.

    Point of fact, my last few posts have had the highest traffic and the most comments of any of the posts on this blog in months. I’ve polarized opinion, and given lots of people the opportunity to put theirs across.

    If it bothers you that much then don’t read it.