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.

A fountain pen resting on a handwritten apology letter

 

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.

 Three steps to an effective apology

 

Let's break it down even further with some sample phrases and the actual structure of your apology letter.

The Elements of a Good Apology Letter


  Apologize and provide a detailed account of what happened.

You need to show the recipient that you understand what you did wrong. The opening of your apology letter can do both. For example,

Dear______________,
I'd like to apologize for my horrible behavior... I'm sorry for my hurtful words... (add the specific details)


  Acknowledge the hurt, the damage done, and take responsibility.

You need to convey that you take full responsibility for your actions and the hurt it caused. This becomes the main body of the letter.

I could see your pain and continued to criticize... I had no right... There is no excuse for it, I'm so very sorry.


  Express regret and ask for forgiveness.

Express your regret over what happened and ask for forgiveness.

I regret how I acted and every word I said... Please forgive me...


  Promise that it won't happen again, and keep it.

And, if appropriate offer a form of restitution (mostly for business situations) and ask if there's anything else you can do to make things right again.

I promise that I will never behave that way again or say hurtful things to you... I hope that over time I'm able to regain your trust... If there is anything else I can do, please let me know.

Sincerely,

 

These are the basic elements of a good apology. We highlight the important phrases and the types of things that you need to write and include. However, you will need to elaborate on each of the points and tailor it to your situation.

Need more? 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 page and explore all of the apologies posted on the site to family members, girlfriends, boyfriends and more.

Format, Style & Delivering an Apology Letter

The table below highlights options and guidelines for different apology letter formats and suggests when to use which format and why.

Apology Letter Format When To Use It Format Pros & Cons
Handwritten...

When the recipient of the apology was affected at a personal level.

When the recipient is older and perhaps more traditional or conservative in character. In this case a personal touch will be appreciated.

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.

A handwritten format is always best for personal situations.

Typed

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.

Card

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 often come off as insincere.

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.

Paper

When typing or hand-writing an apology.

When the apology is business related.

Stationary or good quality paper should be used for apology letters whenever possible, especially in business.

 

At the end of the day, you know the recipient and your relationship better than anyone. These are just guidelines on format, so keep them in mind and go with your instincts.

Think about the situation in reverse and consider what kind of letter you would most appreciate.

And, if you're looking for something more suitable for business or more professional in tone read our article on how to write a formal apology letter.

Apology Letters & Length

   Style      When To Use Why
Letter

When the infraction is major or when the repercussions are significant.

More often than not the length of the apology will be determined by the severity of the offence. By following the guidelines to a perfect apology, you'll end up with the right length.

Itemizing the implications of your error will help to convey your willingness to accept responsibility.

Note

When the mistake is minor and the hurt caused minimal.

When you feel a card format would add a nice touch.

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.

 

The big takeaway here is that your letter's length will really depend on how badly you messed up. 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.

How To Deliver An Apology Letter

   Delivery      When To Use Why
Priority Mail

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.

Regular Mail

Appropriate for most situations.

Shows concern for the situation and gives the recipient the time to think things over prior to responding.

E-Mail

Email may be the best (and fastest) approach if that's the way you typically communicate with this person, but using an approach that is NOT typical (a written letter) may be the better choice in some situations.

Email can be an appropriate way of delivering an apology letter. However, keep in mind that it lacks the personal touch of a handwritten letter and doesn't have the same impact as opening an envelope and reading something while holding it in your hands.

Hand Delivered

When the relationship is close or intimate.

When you feel more comfortable expressing yourself in writing, even in an intimate relationship.

When you want the person you hurt to have something tangible that reflects how sorry you are.

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.

 

Apology Letter Format Takeaways

Although the content of your letter is by far the most important, the format 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 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.


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