Formatting/Structuring the Bad News or Apology Letter

Be sure to follow the bad news letter structure when delivering bad news or making apologies:

  • The buffer/cushion (paragraph 1) works to set up the communication and put the reader into a more receptive frame of mind.
  • The explanation (paragraph 2) explains the purpose of the communication and provides a brief (when appropriate and necessary) overview of the situation.
  • The negative news message (paragraph 3) directly addresses how the bad news directly affects the reader/customer/recipient.
  • The redirect (paragraph 4) discusses specific actions that you will take (or that have already been taken) to remedy the problem. In the case below, this redirect also includes a solution strategy enhanced with a soft-sell message (a subtle, low-pressure method of selling, cross-selling, or advertising a product or service). This can also work as a conclusion.

Here’s an example of a well-structured bad news message:

Buffer or Cushion Thank you for your order. We appreciate your interest in our product.

Explanation – reasons why

We are writing to let you know that this product has been unexpectedly popular, with over 10,000 requests on the day you placed your order.
Negative News –  focuses on what they can do This unexpected increase in demand has resulted in a temporary out-of-stock/backorder situation. We will fulfill your order, received at 11:59 p.m. on 09/09/2009, in the order it was received.
Redirect –
this example also includes a soft-sell message
We anticipate that your product will ship next Monday. While you wait, we encourage you to consider using the enclosed $5 off coupon toward the purchase of any product in our catalog. We appreciate your business and want you to know that our highest priority is your satisfaction.

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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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