Apology Letter Format
Although style and delivery play a role in your apology letter format, it's the severity of the transgression, the recipient, and your relationship that are the primary drivers when deciding on format.
As a general rule the more severe the incident, the more formal in tone the apology regardless of the recipient.
Writing an apology letter to your boss or teacher is very different than saying sorry to a girlfriend, boyfriend, friend or family member but only in terms of delivery and format—typed vs. handwritten, short note vs. long letter, delivered by snail mail, email, courier/priority post, or even hand-delivered.
Whether you're writing a business apology letter or personal one, the main elements of any good apology letter remain the same.
Below we'll take a look at format options for your letter of apology, followed by an explanation of delivery choices.
Considerations For Formatting Your Apology Letter
The tables below highlight options and guidelines for different apology letter formats.
Letter or Quick Note
|Letter or Quick Note
When the infraction is major or when the repercussions are significant.
More often than not, the length of your apology will be determined by the severity of the offence. By including all of the ingredients of a perfect apology, you'll naturally end up with the right length.
In general, the bigger the mess the longer the letter and that extra length will come through the detailed account of what happened and the hurt or damage done.
When the mistake is minor and the hurt caused minimal.
A quick note is a nice way to excuse yourself for something minor or insignificant but still shows the recipient that it's important enough to be addressed.
Card or Paper
|Card or Paper
When you want to start with a pre-written sentiment or add some relevant visual content to your apology letters.
This is certainly one of the easiest approaches, but pre-scripted messages most often come off as insincere. Don't just let the card speak for you so make sure that you include your personalized apology.
A simple 'I'm Sorry Card' or a blank card with your own written message is the best way to go with this type of format.
Use paper when typing or hand-writing an apology, unless of course you're sending your apology by email.
Stationary or good quality paper should be used for apology letters whenever possible, especially when the recipient holds traditional values and in most business situations.
Handwritten or Typed
|Handwritten or Typed
When the recipient of the apology was affected at a personal level.
When using a card format
When the recipient is older and perhaps more traditional or conservative in character. In this case a personal touch will be appreciated.
A handwritten format is always best for personal situations.
When the relationship is intimate and you want to add a personal touch.
Taking the time to write a letter by hand speaks volumes about the importance you assign to the apology and the respect you have for the recipient.
When you're dealing with a business relationship or a non-personal relationship (e.g. parent to teacher, fellow club member, shop owner).
In terms of format, a typed apology letter is appropriate in all business situations, although this should often be followed or preceded by a verbal apology.
There are many variation formats for letters including: standard, open, block, semi-block, modified block, indented and so on... When it comes to apology letters, we recommend sticking to the two basic standards: block and indented layouts.
Block or Indented
|Block or Indented
With a block/full-block format, all text (date, address, salutation, body, close, signature) is single spaced and left aligned.
Double spaces are used between paragraphs.
Most letters today, for both personal and business use, are in full-block style.
This format is more traditional and old-school. For a formal apology letter or for a recipient who is notably traditional the indented format may add a few brownie points to your apology.
In simple terms, the indented format is single spaced and requires that the first line of each paragraph be indented.
The recipient's address and salutation are left aligned while your address, date, close and signature be indented from the right margin.
Need some help with content? Read some of our fully flushed out sample letters, like our apology letter to a boss, to a teacher, or a mother's apology to her son.
For even more, visit our business apology letters section or explore all of the apologies posted on the site to family members, girlfriends, boyfriends and more.
How To Deliver An Apology Letter
When faced with a situation where we need to apologize, our ultimate goal is always forgiveness. That's why you're here right?
As we state all over this website, the content of your apology is the key to attaining forgiveness because without offering a proper apology there is no path to being forgiven.
However, surrounding elements like format and delivery, can help tip the scales in your favor. With that said, let's take a look at some of your delivery options.
When the mistake was serious.
When the relationship is more formal or distant.
When time is of the essence, but email is too informal.
Emphasizes your commitment to making things right again by showing the recipient that you took the time to write out the apology, went to the post office, and made the extra effort to have it delivered quickly.
Sending apology letters by priority mail is less appropriate for close or intimate relationships, unless the person is likely to be out of town for an extended period.
Appropriate for most situations. Brings a level of formality to the apology.
Shows concern for the situation and gives the recipient the time to think things over prior to responding.
Email may be the best (and fastest) approach if that's the way you typically communicate with the recipient of your apology, but using an approach that is NOT typical (a written letter) may be the better choice in some situations.
An email apology can be an appropriate way of delivering your apology letter however, keep in mind that a) it lacks the personal touch of a handwritten letter and b) doesn't have the same impact as opening an envelope and reading something while holding it in your hands.
When the relationship is close or intimate.
When you feel comfortable expressing yourself in writing and want to offer an explanation for your letter upon delivery.
When you want the person you hurt to see the regret and remorse in your eyes as you deliver your apology.
Depending on the severity of the infraction (the recipient may not be open to seeing you at all), this is an ideal way to resolve the impasse in the relationship by combining the benefits of both a verbal and written apology.
At the end of the day, you know the recipient and your relationship better than anyone. These are just guidelines, so keep them in mind but go with your instincts.
Think about the situation in reverse and consider what kind of letter you would most appreciate, how you would want it to be formatted and delivered.
Apology Letter Format Takeaways
Although the content of your letter is by far the most important, the format and delivery of your apology letter will have an effect on how it's perceived.
By thinking about the recipient and your relationship and tying them to the format and/or delivery of your letter, your chances for forgiveness becomes more likely. The reason being that as a whole, your letter is more likely to be viewed as sincere which in turn will make it more effective.
Need more help? Our comprehensive instructions on how to write an apology letter is just a click away.
Finally, if you're looking for something more professional or suitable for business read our article on how to write a formal apology letter.