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Writing an Apology Letter

by Alice Feathers, M.A. TESOL, Professional Editor and Writer

What You Need to Know

Each of us has, at one time or another, said or done something that we wish we hadn't said or done. Rather than dwell on the mistake, however, we should take quick action to remedy the problem and then get on with life. An effective letter of apology is an important part of that process and can help turn "lemons into lemonade" and actually improve a relationship. This short article will give you several reasons for writing an apology letter and offer a few important suggestions to help you write a good one.

TIMING. Write the apology letter as soon as possible.

ACTIONS. Rather than focusing on the damage you have caused, write about things you will do to rectify the situation.

BRIEF. Keep your apology letter short and to the point.

SINCERITY. No one wants to read overly dramatic language. Choose your words carefully and express yourself clearly and simply.

TONE. Your apology letter should be considerate and respectful. Remember, you are trying to rebuild a damaged relationship.

BLAME. Take full responsibility for what you have done.

FOLLOW UP. Try to set up a time when you can apologize in person, then back up your apology with considerate behavior in the future.

Apology Letter Tips:

For a defective, damaged, or incomplete product
Write this apology as soon as possible after the incident. Focus on actions to rectify the situation rather than any damage you may have caused. Accompany your apology with a promise of compensation or restitution. A sincere apology can go a long way toward winning back a disgruntled customer. Consider offering the customer a peace offering such as a discount on their next purchase.

For a late payment
Your apology should be brief and to the point. Your reputation as a trustworthy customer and credit risk may be in question, so your immediate and thorough attention to the matter is important. Focus on your actions to correct the problem and offer assurance it won't happen again. A sincere, well-worded apology can do much to defuse a potential problem. Rebuild your reputation by consistently making payments on time in the future.

For a missed deadline
Apologize for a missed deadline as soon as possible after the incident. The tone of your letter should be considerate and respectful because you have probably caused some inconvenience. The letter should focus on actions you will take to make up for the missed deadline. A sincere, well-worded apology followed by positive action can do much to undo any damage to your reputation. Rebuild your reputation by consistently making your deadlines in the future.

For a shipping delay or error
Write this apology as soon as possible after the incident. Do not apologize unless you plan to take full responsibility, and do not blame your reader or anyone else in any way. A sincere, well-worded apology can be effective in winning back an unhappy customer's confidence and patronage. Consider offering the customer a peace offering such as a discount on their next purchase.

For betrayed trust
Write this apology as soon as possible after the incident. Don't apologize unless you plan to take full responsibility. Focus your comments on the actions you are taking to rectify the situation, not on the damage done. A sincere, well-worded apology, coupled with action, can go a long way toward repairing the damaged relationship. In this situation, it is usually best to apologize with a handwritten note or face to face.

For hurt feelings
Write this apology as soon as possible after the incident. Assume your reader has good reason for being offended. Express your regret with deep sincerity. In this situation, it is usually best to apologize with a handwritten note or face to face.

For missing a meeting or an appointment
Whether you have already missed an appointment or will miss an appointment in the future, an explanatory note is a courtesy that will be appreciated. It shows you do take the relationship seriously. Be concise and polite.

For missing an event or for forgetting someone
Write this apology as soon as possible after the incident. Focus your comments on what you are doing to rectify the situation rather than on any damage you may have caused. A sincere, well-worded apology can go a long way toward patching up a damaged relationship. Back up your apology with considerate behavior in the future.

For being late to a meeting or appointment
Write this apology as soon as possible after the incident. Don't apologize unless you plan to take full responsibility and don't blame anyone. Rebuild your reputation by being consistently on time in the future.

For offensive behavior
Write this apology as soon as possible after the incident. This apology is best expressed with a handwritten note. Back up your apology with considerate behavior in the future.

For poor or inadequate service
Write this apology as soon as possible after the incident. Don't apologize unless you plan to take full responsibility. A sincere, well-worded apology can help win back disgruntled customers and business associates. Back up your apology with model behavior in the future.

For someone else (business)
Normally, you should only apologize for your own offenses. However, if you are in some way accountable for the offender's behavior—as a supervisor might be, for example—it may be appropriate to write an apology even if the offender also writes one. Write a sincere apology as soon as possible after the incident.

For someone else (personal)
Normally, you should only apologize for your own offenses. However, if you are in some way accountable for the offender's behavior—as a parent or youth leader might be, for example—it would be a good idea to write an apology, even if the offender also writes one (under your guidance). Write a sincere apology as soon as possible after the incident.

To an employee or employees
Write this apology as soon as possible after the incident. The apology should be unilateral. Do not attempt to apologize unless you plan to take full responsibility. A sincere, well-worded apology, coupled with action, can go a long way toward patching up damaged relationships with employees. Consider offering the employee(s) some sort of peace offering such as a check bonus or a one-time, 2-hour lunch break.

Business apology
Write this apology as soon as possible after the incident. It should be clear, concise, and dignified. Focus on actions you are taking to rectify the situation, rather than on any resultant damage. A sincere, well-worded apology can go a long way toward winning back disgruntled customers and business associates.

Personal apology
Write this apology as soon as possible after the incident. Focus on actions you are taking to rectify the situation, rather than on any damage you may have caused. A sincere, well-worded apology can go a long way toward patching up a damaged relationship. Back up your apology with considerate behavior in the future.

Apology-Letter Summary

In order to make a letter of apology effective, always write it as soon as possible after the offensive action takes place. Write a brief letter that is carefully worded and sincere. Whenever possible, make suitable restitution and assure the offended party that you will not repeat your regrettable behavior in the future. Back up your apology letter with appropriate behavior at the next available opportunity.

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