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Curriculum and Student Achievement

Bad News Correspondence

Bad news letters and memos are typically written in three parts: a buffer (common ground), the reasons/justifications (why) and the bad news (what), and a goodwill ending.

{COMMON GROUND} Because you want your readers to read your entire letter or memo, including the reasoning behind the bad news, you need to begin with a neutral statement. This statement will establish "common ground" between you and your reader. In other words, it will be a statement that you and your readers can agree upon, but will not mislead your readers into thinking that you'll present good news.


Common ground: "The travel committee reviewed your request to attend the Syllabus Conference in Santa Clara, California in July."

** Many writers are omitting the buffer section of a bad news communication. Analyze the needs and expectations of your audience carefully before deciding whether to use a buffer.**

{WHY and WHAT} To effectively write a bad news letter or memo, you need to tactfully present the justification/reasoning for the bad news. Begin with pertinent, favorable information followed by more unfavorable facts. Because you are trying to prepare your readers for the bad news, that news should come after the justification/reasoning section. You will want to state the bad news as positively as possible to maintain the goodwill of your readers. This section could be several paragraphs in length, depending on the situation.


Why: "The university increased its travel budget this year by $5,000. However, with the increase in requests we've received and because we are close to the end of a fiscal year, we have used all our travel funds for the year."

What: "As much as we would like to fund your request, we just do not have the money to do so."

{GOODWILL ENDING} End your letter or memo with a positive, friendly close. You could choose from any of the following: appreciation, invitation to future action, alternative, clear statement of action, willingness to help, or reader benefit and goodwill. Even though you have given your readers bad news, you want them to see you positively.


Appreciation: "Thank you for your interest in new, emerging online technologies."

Invitation to future action:
"Feel free to resubmit your request at the beginning of the next fiscal year."

Alternative: "You may want to check if any departmental or divisional funds are available."

Willingness to help:
"Please contact me if you need help finding another source of funding."