Delivering Bad News/Written Apologies

When delivering bad news, include the following:

  • A sincere greeting that does not relate to the bad news. If you open with the bad news, you may lose your reader immediately.
  • Explanation of the circumstances that led to the bad  news. Bad news is harder to accept when it does not make sense. Explain as much as possible/appropriate.
  • Deliver the bad news with an apology if appropriate.
  • Immediately after the bad news, include a statement that fosters goodwill. If possible, offer a compromise.

*NOTE: No amount of strong or fancy writing will make bad news sound good. However, a well-crafted message helps the reader understands and accept the message.

Tone – When writing bad news messages, use a tone that is clear but not accusatory.

Vague Accusatory Clear and polite
This assignment wasn’t quite what I was looking for. You failed! This assignment did not earn a passing score.
Your instructions were unclear. I have no idea what you want. These instructions don’t make any sense. Looking at the instructions you sent, I wasn’t able to get a good sense of what you were looking for.

When writing apologies, you should:

Analyze your audience by asking:

  • How serious is the issue?
  • How much damage has been done?
  • How valuable is the future relationship?

Pay close attention to your tone:

  • Establish a serious, sincere, but not overly dramatic tone.
  • Offer a sincere apology, but don’t overdo it.
  • Use diction (word choice) carefully: often how you phrase your apology matters more than what is actually stated.

Pay attention to your format:

  • Provide an explanation where appropriate, but don’t make excuses or blame others.
  • Offer to make amends or rectify the situation when appropriate.
  • Close by maintaining good will.


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Technical Writing for Technicians by Will Fleming is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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