So many people have landed on this site looking for advice on how to write a good apology letter, I thought I’d better do something to help them out.

If you can’t avoid situations that require you to say ‘sorry’, this is what I’d write.

Copy it by all means (there’s a cut-and-paste version at the foot of the page), but don’t expect an apology if it backfires.

An apology letter in three paragraphs

The main thing to remember about apology letters is the fact that you are addressing them to very angry, and often irrational, people. If you’ve run over your next-door-neighbour’s cat, embezzled millions from the bank, or sold one of your customers a pair of exploding trousers, the chances are that they will want to crucify you.

Whilst it’s good to straighten things out, never make more concessions than you actually need. And above all, never admit to other personal weaknesses in your apology (“I once ran over my own cat/ stole my own money/ wore combustible lederhosen” will not help your case). Admissions like this will be used against you. Often.

Instead, stick to three paragraphs.

  1. The apology
  2. Taking the blame
  3. The compensation

Let’s go through them, one by one.

The apology

This is the hardest part, but the simpler you make it, the more sincere it will appear to be. Don’t try and justify yourself. Don’t qualify the apology with excuses. Just. Say. Sorry.

Something like this should work.

Dear [name],

I’m writing to say that I am very sorry that [insert what happened]. I can understand how upset you must be.

Then move to the next bit.

Taking the blame

Don’t hedge. Don’t qualify your guilt with excuses. Take the blame on the chin. But leave enough ambiguity in case the lawyers get involved (handy in case you offend someone who is very irrational). Then start to get a bit more upbeat. Here’s your second paragraph.

I feel that the fault is entirely mine, and I realise that my letter may not be welcome at this difficult time. However, I would like you to know that I am thinking of you, and if there’s anything I can do to help the situation you need only ask.

The next bit’s the compensation.

Compensation

I mean compensation in the sense of making amends. You need to recognise that you can’t undo your actions, but that – sensitively – you can do something positive to make up for what you’ve done. To return to our three examples of cat murder, bank embezzlement and supplying exploding trousers, you could try the following:

  • I hope that you don’t think this is inappropriate, but I have made a small donation to Cats Protection in memory of Tiddles. I admire the work they do, although I understand that nothing can make up for your sad loss.
  • I hope that you don’t think this is inappropriate, but I have given half the money I stole to a charity for retired bankers. Nothing I can do will ever put the money back in your account, but I hope this will in some way make up for your sad loss.
  • I hope that you don’t think this is inappropriate, but I have sent another pair of exploding trousers to Mrs Teufelsdröckh — whom I know you cannot stand. It’ll be a blast!

Bringing the apology letter together

I know I’ve not been entirely serious, but I think that the examples should give you a good structure to work with.

Let’s bring it together, and feel free to cut, paste and use as a template for your own apologies.

Dear [name],

I’m writing to say that I am very sorry that [insert what happened]. I can understand how upset you must be.

I feel that the fault is entirely mine, and I realise that my letter may not be welcome at this difficult time. However, I would like you to know that I am thinking of you, and if there’s anything I can do to help the situation you need only ask.

I hope that you don’t think this is inappropriate, but I have [insert what you’ve done to help make things better]

With my kindest wishes.

Yours sincerely,

[insert your name]

And there it is. Simple, dignified, and written for the right reasons. But above all, if you feel your words are better suited to the situation, then have the confidence to use them. You’re almost certainly right.