When it comes to apology letters, it's important to consider format, length, & method of delivery. These three elements are related in important ways and play a major role in how effective a written apology can be.
The table below provides a useful set of guidelines for crafting an effective apology letter and the best format to use for your situation.
Apology Letter Format
When to use
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.
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.
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 'Sorry Card' or a blank card with your own written message is the best way to go with this type of format.
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.
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.
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.
How To Deliver Your Apology
When to use
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.
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 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.
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.
The elements that surround apology letters, and their format, are important. They hold subtle distinctions which, when applied correctly along with the ingredients of a perfect apology, will help you achieve your goal of forgiveness.
Not sure you need to deliver a written apology? Then learn how to say sorry effectively with a verbal apology.