How to Write an Explanation Letter in 3 Simple Steps

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published June 2, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

If you want to clarify any miscommunications or provide additional information at work or school, doing so in writing can be helpful. You can write a letter of explanation to allow your recipient to read your message and refer to it for clarification when necessary. Learning how to write this letter can help you improve communication and ensure your recipient understands your message.

In this article, we discuss what an explanation letter is, tell you why writing one is important, explain how to write one, and offer templates and examples to improve your writing.

What is an explanation letter at work?

An explanation letter at work is a formal printed letter or e-mail written to explain something that occurred, to answer an inquiry, or to provide any missing information. Clients, contractors, team members, or students may write this type of letter to provide information and inform other individuals about situations.

For example, a professional might use this type of letter to explain the reason they missed a deadline or lost a client. These letters can help clarify miscommunications between peers, supervisors, instructors, or business partners. They might also become documented as part of an official record for future reference.

Why write an explanation letter?

Writing a letter of explanation can provide many benefits to the individual writing the letter because it allows them to share their point of view in situations. For example, a team member who misinterpreted something might write a letter explaining their confusion about their task.

The team member may use the letter to explain their perspective of the situation and any reasoning that contributed to their understanding of the task. In this scenario, the written documentation from the team member might help resolve the miscommunication and prevent it from happening again in the future.

These letters can also help in personal situations like mortgage or loan payments. Financial lenders might require explanatory letters about their client's finances, especially if it may affect future payments. Specific reasons for wanting these can include address changes, gain or loss of jobs, and late or missing payments. Sometimes individuals might need to add other documents to their letters for reference.

Related: Writing an Excellent Letter: Tips and Examples

How to write an explanation letter

While every letter of explanation is unique, these letters typically include similar details and formatting. Here are three easy-to-follow steps you can consider when writing your own letter:

1. Choose a letter format

Start by deciding the format for your letter. You can handwrite or type your letter and send it via mail or deliver it yourself, which is a more formal method of delivery. You can also type your letter and e-mail it to your recipient. Choosing the format depends on your relationship or partnership with the recipient and the communication style of your work or academic environment. For example, your professor may request that you only communicate with them via e-mail, eliminating the option of a handwritten letter.

2. Explain the situation

To begin writing this type of letter, you might explain the situation or circumstance and any contributing factors. Consider including information to answer questions like:

  • What happened?

  • How did it happen?

  • Were there contributing factors?

  • What is the current situation?

Including answers to these questions can provide detailed information about the situation and help the explanation stay concise. It's also important to reference your role in the situation and what preventative steps might have helped.

Related: How to Start a Letter, With Tips and Examples

3. Take responsibility and accountability

Taking responsibility refers to expressing acknowledgment for any personal choices you made that may have contributed to the misunderstanding or mistake, rather than suggesting someone else was responsible for it. It's important to include how you plan to handle the situation differently in the future to prevent it from happening again. For example, someone who missed a deadline might say they can start keeping a monthly or weekly checklist with deadlines to help prevent them from missing another one. Offering ways to repair the current situation is also important.

Related: How to End a Letter

Templates for a letter of explanation

While your letter of explanation is unique to your situation, using a template to help you form it can ensure you include all the necessary information. Here's a formal and informal template you can use when writing your letter:

Formal template

Here is a template for a formal letter of explanation:

[Sender's name]
[Sender's address]
[Sender's phone number]
[Sender's e-mail]

[Date]

[Recipient's name]
[Recipient's address]
[Recipient's phone number]
[Recipient's e-mail]

Subject: [insert subject of the letter]

Dear [recipient's name],

I am writing to you today about [reason for the letter]. I wanted to explain the situation to avoid miscommunications on both sides. [Two to three sentence explanation of the situation].

I apologize for any inconvenience this situation may have caused and hope to rectify it going forward by [plan to resolve the issue]. Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,
[insert name]

Related: How to Address a Business Letter Professionally

Informal template

Here's a template to consider for informal letters of explanation:

Subject: [insert subject of letter]

Dear [insert name],

I am writing to you today about [reason for the letter]. I wanted to discuss this situation in writing to avoid any miscommunications. [Two to three sentence explanation of the situation].

I take full responsibility for this error and apologize for any inconvenience it may have caused. I plan to [explanation for resolving the issue]. I hope you will consider my apology and plan for resolving this situation promptly. Thank you.

Sincerely,
[insert name]

Examples of explanation letters

Here are some examples of what completed letters of explanation may look like to help guide you when writing your own letter:

Formal example

Here's an example of a formal work letter of explanation:

Harry Jones
315 Yonge Street
Toronto, Ontario M5A L6P
(555) 555-5555
harryjones@e-mail.com

March 1, 2022

Toby Moss
158 University Ave
Toronto, Ontario M8P H9T
(555) 555-5555
tobymoss@e-mail.com

Subject: Customer service complaint

I'm writing to you today to address the recent customer complaint a member of my team, Alice Atkinson, received on February 27, 2022. The complaint came from a regular customer of the restaurant. It stated that Alice was rude and didn't allow him to order a third steak from the all-you-can-eat menu. Alice explained that the restaurant's policies recently changed to put a two-steak per-person limit. She showed the customer the statement on the menu, but he was angry and insisted on talking to me because I was the manager on duty.

I explained the policy again but let the customer have another steak as he wasn't aware of it. The customer still submitted a formal complaint about Alice, but I believe it's unfair as she was following the company's policies. At the end of the shift meeting, one of the other servers suggested changing the menu because it still says all-you-can-eat, which is now misleading. I agree and believe this change can limit any complaints going forward.

I apologize for any inconvenience this complaint may have caused, but I wanted to clarify the situation so Alice isn't held responsible. Please let me know if you have any questions or want to discuss this further in person.

Sincerely,

Harry Jones

Informal example

Here's an example of an informal letter of explanation a student may write and send via e-mail:

Subject: Late presentation

I am writing to you today about the project I was supposed to present yesterday. You may have noticed I wasn't in class and I apologize for not e-mailing you sooner, but unfortunately, I overslept and didn't hear my alarm. I was up late working on the presentation even though I have been working on it since you assigned it, but I didn't manage my time well.

I am a member of the school's newspaper committee and soccer team, so my extracurricular activities may have influenced my lack of efficiency and time management. In the future, I aim to prioritize my academic tasks better and create a detailed schedule to adhere to.

I accept full responsibility for not presenting my work on time and apologize for any inconvenience it may have caused in class. I have attached my project and hope I can present it this week. I understand if you give me late points as it's not fair to my classmates who presented on time. Thank you.

Sincerely,

Meredith Tillman

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