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GEN BUS 360: Workplace Writing and Communication (Spring 2022)

Negative News Pattern

An indirect approach can soften bad news.  Use the “negative news pattern” unless you are certain that your reader prefers a direct approach—you may recognize this pattern if you’ve ever received a standard rejection from a college or university admissions office. 

Organizing Bad News Messages

  1. Buffer statement, to begin the message with a positive or neutral statement. Be attentive to tone here; don’t create a jarringly upbeat opening to a negative message. The tone of your buffer statement and goodwill closing should be appropriate to the tone of the rest of the message.
  2. Explanation, to prepare readers for the bad news and make it understandable and inevitable. It’s key for the explanation to come before the rejection, to force readers to read the explanation.
  3. Bad news, delivered without negative language (such as “unfortunately”) but clearly, so that there is no chance your reader will miss the news and require additional messages to clarify your position.
  4. Optional: Suggest an alternative.
  5. Goodwill closing, which works to rebuild or reinforce the relationship, in spite of your negative message.

Note that this pattern is key when writing to someone in a position above you or to clients or customers; supervisors may not always take the time to use this pattern to say no to subordinates.

Content Credit

Content on this page was created by the Business Communication team at the Wisconsin School of Business.