Top Email Etiquette Tips When You Need To Say “Sorry For The Delay”

By Elsie Boskamp
Aug. 8, 2022
Articles In Life At Work Guide

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We’ve all gotten a Friday afternoon email that we decide to leave until Monday, only for it to get buried under a few dozen new ones. There it sits, forgotten until a few days or weeks later when you’re scrolling through your inbox and realize you never responded. So, what should you do now?

Apologizing for a delayed email response is one of the best ways to maintain your reputation and relationships. To help you with this, we’ve compiled a few of the best tips and sample messages you can use the next time you find yourself needing to apologize for an overdue email. We’ll also share how to avoid needing to apologize in the first place.

Key Takeaways

  • Reading and responding to emails accounts for almost 30% of the average American’s workweek, so how you respond to emails is a significant part of your job performance.

  • Briefly apologize at the beginning of your email response, and then thoroughly and professionally respond to the original message.

  • Avoid sending delayed responses by creating automated email rules to organize your inbox and scheduling time to read and respond to messages.

Top Email Etiquette Tips When You Need to Say Sorry for the Delay

Top 7 Tips For Writing A Delayed Email

Nobody likes responding to an email they overlooked. Figuring out what to say in a late or overdue email reply can be stressful, but how you approach a delayed email can be critical for your continued and long-term career success.

It’s not always easy saying sorry for an overdue email. Still, to help you navigate email tardiness, we’ve rounded up the best guidance for getting back to business as usual after an email etiquette slip-up.

Here are the top 7 tips you should use when writing a delayed email at work:

  1. Keep it short. Short and sweet is key when it comes to writing an apology email. Instead of giving lengthy responses or explanations for the delay, just apologize, if warranted, and get right to the point. Writing a short email response will keep your message direct and concise.

    Saying something along the lines of “I’m so sorry for the delay, I will start working on this right away.” is a perfectly acceptable way to quickly and professionally respond to an overlooked email at work.

  2. Say sorry in the first sentence. Don’t beat around the bush when drafting an overdue email response. That usually just makes things worse. Instead, take responsibility, be respectful of the other party’s time, and explicitly spell out your apology in the very first sentence of the email.

    Acknowledging your delayed response right away will allow the conversation to move forward as swiftly as possible.

  3. Be friendly. This probably goes without saying, but it’s crucial to be friendly and cordial in your email when responding to a late email. Being friendly, communicative, and pleasant will give your apology email a warm tone and express your respect for the person on the receiving end of your delayed email.

  4. Stay professional. If you dropped the ball by failing to respond to an important email at work promptly, you must maintain the highest level of professionalism in your apology email.

    Emails represent a big aspect of most working American’s careers, so staying professional in your written communications will take you far. Refrain from using slang or an overly casual tone and instead aim for poise and professionalism.

  5. Take accountability. The best way to deal with a late email is by taking accountability and responsibility for your oversight or delayed response. Saying sorry and using an organization or email management system to ensure it doesn’t happen again are great ways of taking accountability for an overdue work email.

  6. Reply to the original email in its entirety. When replying to a late email, it’s even more important to make sure that you fully respond to the email by answering all the questions asked in the message and addressing all the necessary points required to move the conversation forward.

    After apologizing for your delayed response, it’s always a good idea to double-check the original email and make sure you answer it in its entirety.

  7. Offer a better method of communication. While this isn’t necessary for every overdue email apology, including an alternative communication method can be a great bit of information to add to your response.

    This can be especially helpful for professionals working on important deadlines or projects. It offers a second means of communication, allowing the conversation to flow more easily and important emails to be overlooked less often.

Best Examples of Apologizing for a Delayed Email Response

If you’re not sure how to format your apology email, we’ve put together a few sample emails that you can use as a template if you find yourself in the position of needing to write an overdue email response.

  1. Sorry for the delay. One of the best and most common ways of responding to an overdue email is by clearly communicating your sincere apologies for the delay and letting the receiving party know how very sorry you are for any inconvenience this may have caused.

    Instead of offering excuses or explanations, this method of responding to a late email and writing a letter of apology allows you to take responsibility, make amends, and get back on track when it comes to sending and receiving business emails.

    Here’s a great sample email offering sincere apologies for a late reply:

    Dear Angela,

    I am sorry for the delay in response, and I apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused. Unfortunately, I was researching a new promotion idea and unintentionally overlooked responding to you right away.

    I reviewed your research and am excited about launching this new advertisement and marketing campaign. I attached some additional information I think could be useful when planning outreach events and social media promos.

    I would appreciate it if we could arrange a meeting for later this week to discuss the project and review our projected campaign timeline. Let me know your availability, and I would be happy to organize it.

    I am looking forward to working with you on this project. Going forward, please don’t hesitate to reach me on my cell phone should any urgent matters arise. Again, please accept my apologies for the overdue reply. I assure you, it will not happen again.

    Best wishes,

  2. Thank you for your patience. Even if you don’t want to explicitly say “I’m sorry” in your delayed email response, it’s still important to take accountability and full responsibility for your tardy reply and recognize the inconvenience it may have caused.

    Thanking someone for their patience is a great way to recognize a late email response without coming off as rude or insincere. If you want to take accountability for getting back to someone late without directly apologizing, this is a great way to do it:

    Dear Austin,

    Thank you for your patience, I have just transitioned to a new role in the company, and your email inadvertently got lost in my inbox. I hope the delay has not inconvenienced you.

    I’m so excited to hear that the Heart Association’s golf fundraiser is back on for this year. I would love to design the invites. Attached, I have included a few drafts I have been working on for your event — a save the date, a formal invitation, and an event program.

    Please review the documents at your earliest convenience and let me know what you think. Once I hear back from you, I’ll go ahead and start making revisions and final edits so we can get these sent out to your constituents as soon as possible.

    Really looking forward to working together again, and, as always, don’t hesitate to call me if you have any questions or concerns.

    Best Wishes,


Why It’s Important to Apologize for a Delayed Email Response

Forgetting to respond to an important email from one of your clients, coworkers, friends, or acquaintances is nothing new. In fact, almost all working professionals will do this at some point or another in their careers. Since we all do it, you might be thinking, ‘It’s OK then, right?” Well, not exactly.

Today, emails take up nearly 30 percent of the average American’s workweek. Even though those short online messages may seem trivial, they are important and can directly impact your performance on the job.

According to research, routinely responding late to work emails hurts your credibility and professional relationships, leads to harsher job evaluations, and causes your supervisors and coworkers to lose respect and trust for you.

That being said, if you forgot to respond to a timely email, you’re not automatically pinned as unreliable and unresponsive.

A simple apology can go a long way in life, and the same is true of overdue emails.

Saying sorry for responding late to an important email will allow you to:

  • Take responsibility.

  • Communicate your regret for the delay.

  • Reverse any negative feelings from the other party.

  • Show your commitment to the project, communication, or task at hand.

  • Help you build trust and connections.

While apologizing, especially at work, can sometimes be uncomfortable, it’s the quickest way to move past a delayed email response and get back to business, especially if the email you forgot to respond to was urgent or timely.

Writing an apology email for an overdue response is also a surefire way to communicate that you really care about responding and communicating with that person. Doing so can help you establish better working relationships, grow and maintain your professional network, and move on after a tardy message or communication.

Recognizing When to Apologize for a Late Email Reply

Apologies are important when drafting and responding to an overdue email, and, for the most part, they’re worth using. Saying sorry for a delayed response, whether it was accidental or not, will help you quickly move the conversation forward and get back to the task at hand. Here are two factors to keep in mind when you’re considering whether or not to apologize for a delayed response:

  1. Consider how delayed your response actually is. Unless you work in a fast and deadline-driven occupation, where email responses are expected to be virtually instant, you’re generally entitled to 24 hours, or one full business day, before your response is considered late.

    For non-urgent matters, however — like, for example, an old client checking in or a colleague congratulating you on a promotion — you can take a few days to respond before your email will be considered late.

  2. Consider how urgent the email is. While non-urgent emails don’t always require an apology for a delayed response, urgent ones almost always do. When responding late to a timely email, like one about a deadline, an upcoming project, a board meeting, or an interview, it’s essential to be apologetic and communicate your regret for the delay, take responsibility, and preserve your character.

As important as it is to apologize for a late email reply, it’s just as important to say sorry only in situations when an apology is really warranted. Over apologizing could make you come across as insincere and careless, so recognizing when to apologize for an overdue response is essential to good email etiquette at work.

Apologizing for a Delayed Response to a Personal Email

When it comes to work emails, apologizing for an overly delayed email should become practice. However, personal emails are a bit of a different story. Responding late to a personal email doesn’t always require an apology. In fact, whether or not you say sorry is an entirely individual decision.

Typically, most people tend to apologize for delayed personal email responses if the message is urgent or timely, like a graduation party invite with an overdue RSVP date. However, there’s really no right or wrong choice.

If you’re unsure if your email requires an apology, just remember, a short and sweet apology goes a long way when it comes to overdue email responses, so, when in doubt, as long as you’re not over apologizing, it’s probably a good idea to just say sorry.

How to Avoid Sending Delayed Responses

While sending an occasional delayed response is unavoidable, here are some ways to avoid making it a habit:

  • Set automated email rules. Most email platforms allow you to set rules that will automatically sort or flag emails from certain people or with particular keywords.

    If you have a few people who regularly send emails that need a quick response, having those messages automatically go to their own inbox will keep them from getting lost in the shuffle.

  • Schedule time to check and respond to emails. This could be 30 minutes twice a day or an hour every other day, but it’s best to get in the habit of sifting through your email inbox regularly.

    In addition, training yourself to immediately reply to emails — or at least flagging them and putting them on your to-do list — will help you avoid letting them sit unanswered for days.

  • Set out-of-office responses. If you know you’re going to be out of the office on vacation or at a conference, set an automated email response explaining that you’re gone and when you’ll be able to respond.

    This helps set the expectation that you won’t be getting to their message in a timely manner but that you aren’t just ignoring them, and it allows the sender to reach out to someone else if they have an urgent question or request.

Final Thoughts

When life happens, and you don’t respond to your emails quite as fast as you’re expected to, don’t worry. There are plenty of great ways to quickly and professionally handle overlooked emails.

Taking responsibility and apologizing for a delayed email response by being friendly, accountable, and professional will help to ensure you preserve your positive reputation and professional relationships at work, show your interest and commitment to the task at hand, and illustrate your respect for the receiving party.

By following the tips and tricks outlined in this article, you’ll be well on your way to writing effective and appropriate apology emails for an overdue or delayed response.

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Elsie Boskamp

Elsie is an experienced writer, reporter, and content creator. As a leader in her field, Elsie is best known for her work as a Reporter for The Southampton Press, but she can also be credited with contributions to Long Island Pulse Magazine and Hamptons Online. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism from Stony Brook University and currently resides in Franklin, Tennessee.

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