Bad news letter

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27 February 2016

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Your order for five Canon LPB-8 A1 Laser Printers arrived today. This lightweight, rapid-speed, letter quality printer is the leading machine in the field. Our main function is to purchase office equipment in large quantities and then resell it to retailers. In order to do this most efficiently, we ask that all orders be for at least 12 units.
If you will call me at 551-5656 and increase your order to a dozen or more, your machines will be shipped within three days.

Should you feel that this order is too large, Harrison & Sons, Inc, a retailer in your area, should be able to provide you with excellent service.(Give a solution) Their price will be slightly higher than ours, but they have a fine reputation for sales and service. You can reach them at 227-0404. The first paragraph, the buffer, discusses the quality of the machine, a fact with which both the buyer and the seller can agree. The reasons for the bad news and the bad news itself are presented in sequential order. The third paragraph offers a solution for the problem. The final close offers an alternative.

In writing a bad news letter, every effort should be made to reduce the impact. A well-written bad news letter will accomplish three objectives: 1. The reader will realise that the bad news decision is final. 2. The person will understand that the decision was both fair and reasonable.

3. The reader’s attitude towards the writer and the company will remain positive.
A bad news letter has four elements: buffer, reasons, decision and close. They are discussed in detail on the next pages.

A buffer is a neutral or non-controversial statement that is used to open a bad news letter. The most effective buffers have four characteristics: 1. they are pleasant;
2. they are relevant to the issue;
3. they are neutral in tone, saying neither yes nor no;
4. they provide a transition to the next part of the letter where the reasons for the decision are discussed.
1. pleasant, offering assistance
We like to help our customers as much as we realistically can. 2. relevant and fair
We have carefully reviewed your application for an extension of credit with our firm.
3. neutral, finding a point on which the writer and the reader can agree. The objective of a credit line should be to make one’s financial obligations easier to manage.

 Avoid saying no at the beginning of the letter. This will discourage the individual from reading the rest of the message and defeat the effort to present the news in an indirect manner.
 Do not apologise. An apology weakens the reasons that follow and may lead the reader to conclude that the rejection was unnecessary.  Avoid writing an overly long opening paragraph. “We are in receipt of your letter of January 18” adds nothing to the letter and may give the reader the impression that the writer is stalling for time.

 Do not use a “know-it-all” tone. “Our years of experience have shown us that ….” is likely to be negatively received.

To justify the bad news decision and to explain the situation to your reader, you give reasons for the negative decision.
Four guidelines are:
1. Do not hide behind company policy. Explain the specific reasons behind the policy rather than mentioning the policy itself.
2. Do not talk down to the reader.
3. Do not be so brief that the reader is unable to follow your explanation. We have reviewed your request for an increase in your credit line and have
decided to take no action at this time.
4. Avoid using negative words that are likely to upset the reader. (mistake, error, will not, regrettably, dismayed, cannot, fault, wrong, unable).

Make a clear statement of the decision. In many cases the refusal does not have to be explained in detail, because the previous section has already conveyed the decision. If it has not, then this is the time to do so. There are three useful techniques:

1. Give the refusal a minimum amount of space.
2. Put the refusal in the middle of the paragraph.
3. Use the passive voice

Active: Since you forgot to send in the refund request until after the assigned period, we are unable to give you the refund.
Passive: Since your request for a refund was received after the assigned period, we are unable to grant your request for
a refund.

Don’t use indirect approach. Get to the point quickly

Positive Close
End the letter on a positive note. This depends on the situation. For example, in the case of a person who wants an extension of credit, the writer could recommend purchasing the goods for cash. In the case of a customer who has made a mistake and now wants the order refilled for free, the writer could offer a discount on future orders. However the close is written, it should keep the customer’s goodwill.

Do not:
 bring up the refusal again
 apologise for the decision
 ask for a continuance of the correspondence. The closing statement: If you have any further questions about our decision, do not hesitate to write.
indicates that the matter is not closed.
 use clichés. If we can be of help in the future, please let us know has no real meaning. The reader has just been refused something; he is unlikely to believe the statement.

A bad news message should make clear that the bad news decision is final but is also fair and reasonable. It should be written in such a way that the reader’s attitude towards the writer and the company remains positive. Bad news messages usually follow the indirect approach. They have four elements: buffer, reasons, decision and positive close.

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"Bad news letter" StudyScroll, Feb 27, 2016.

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StudyScroll. (2016). Bad news letter. [Online]. Available at: [Accessed: 27-Sep-2023]

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