How to Write a Regret Letter

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A regret letter is a kinder term for a rejection letter. They both do the same thing: Let someone down. While letters of regret are a necessary part of hiring, publishing, college applications and more, they are almost always painful to receive. They are not that much fun to write, either. But letters of regret do serve a purpose, and learning to write one well is important.

Basic Format for a Rejection Letter

Follow a set of general guidelines for writing a rejection letter no matter the occasion. It's almost always best to keep these letters short and to the point – you don't want the recipient to sit there pondering your meaning before the rejection dawns on them. And, you also don't want your message to be murky.

  • Say thank you for their time, their application, their interest, depending on the circumstances.
  • Deliver the rejection. 
  • Provide the primary reason for the rejection.
  • Offer kind words or even a glimmer of hope, depending on the circumstances.

Sample Letter of Regret for a Job

Dear X,

Thanks so much for taking the time to meet with us last week. While your resume is strong, we are seeking a candidate with more experience in writing digital content. I hope you find the right job in the near future.

Sincerely

Note that the letter begins with a thank you, moves quickly to the rejection and the reason for that rejection, then ends with kind words.

When a Longer Rejection Letter Makes Sense

Once in a while, you want a rejection letter to do more than simply reject. For example, you're filling a position at work, and the candidate didn't get the job but came very close. In this case, write a rejection letter that will keep the applicant open to future options with the company.

Or maybe you run a magazine or literary journal, and the submission wasn't quite there but was awfully close. You'd like to see more of this applicant's work, so the letter should explain what went wrong and how to improve their chances next time. In this case, add a lot more detail to your reasons for the rejection.

Sample of an Encouraging Rejection Letter

Dear X,

Thank you for submitting your story to our magazine. While it's not a fit for us at this time, I suggest you try again in the future. I'd like to see a story where you focus more thoroughly on both character development and plot. At times, this story wandered, and I wanted a clear line from start to finish. I was also left wanting to know a lot more about the character of Mary. She was intriguing, but unformed. Please consider submitting another story in the future.

Best wishes

The Subtle Art of Rejection

The ability to be clear and straightforward, while also sensitive to the reader, is a skill that develops over time. Letters of regret are deceptively simple. When you are in the position to write such a letter, remember to be clear, but kind.

References

About the Author

Heather Skyler is a business journalist and editor who has written for wide variety of publications, including Newsweek.com, The New York Times and Delta's SKY magazine. She has a bachelor's degree in English from Miami University and a master's degree in writing from the University of Washington in Seattle. Before writing for a variety of publications, she taught business writing in Seattle.