Writing Well: Have I Got News for You!

Have I Got News for You!

“I'd rather write a good-news letter than a bad-news letter any day,” you say. “No way!” counters your better half. “Bad-news letters are actually easier to write than good-news letters.” Stop arguing: You're both right—and wrong.

The difficulty you have writing a message depends on your familiarity with the situation and the information you must convey. Even good news can be hard to deliver when you don't know enough about the situation or have a lot of information to include. Let's do some special deliveries now.

When the News Is Good

Writer's Block

Never go overboard when you're delivering good news. For example, if you praise someone in print for a job well done, never mislead them into thinking the letter will lead to anything more—such as a promotion or raise. If you promise more than you can deliver, you're opening the way for potential litigation. Your letter can later be used as proof of intent.

Compared to some of the horrible situations we face every day at work, delivering good news seems to be the least of our problems. But even such a seemingly pleasant task as giving welcome news has its sandtraps. To avoid getting bogged down, try these guidelines.

First, recognize that good-news letters provide information as they build a positive image of the writer. They also cement a good relationship between the writer and reader and reduce the need to send any further correspondence. This way, you can finally get to the bottom of the pile of paper on your desk.

Good-news letters are written this way:

  1. Start with the good news.
  2. Summarize the main points of the message.
  3. Provide details and any needed background information.
  4. Present any negative elements as positively as you can.
  5. End on a positive note.

The following is a model good-news letter.

Rte. 453 and Cowplop Road
Glassy Point, Idaho 67819

May 2, 2000

Professor Schmendrick
Department of College Studies
Solid Community College
Kneejerk, Nevada 98761

Dear Professor Schmendrick:
good newsWe are pleased to offer you a term appointment as an Assistant Professor
summarize main pointsof Self-Actualization, effective August 31, 2000. You will be teaching two classes in Barefoot Aluminum Foil Dancing, one class in Underwater Fire Prevention, and one class in Advanced Quantum Physics. In addition, you will mentor six undergraduate students in the “I'm Okay, You're Okay” department.
backgroundWhatsamatter U is a select liberal arts college on the cutting edge of the twenty-first century. We pride ourselves on our wide and eclectic course offerings, focus on self-awareness, and high tuition costs. This year we are especially excited about our new major, “Fen Shu and You”, which already has three enrollees.
negative elementsYour salary will be $20,000, and you will be considered for a tenure-track position at the end of your five-year probationary period. This is the standard procedure at our university.
positive endingPlease send your written acceptance as soon as possible and let me know if you need any software or supplies. On August 31, please report to the personnel office, located on the second floor of Cheez Whiz Hall. Please stop by my office at noon, and I'll take you out to lunch at the Dew Drop Inn.
 Welcome to Whatsamatter U!


Seymour Miles, Dean

When the News Is Bad

Word Watch

A buffer is a neutral or positive statement that allows you to soften a negative message. Buffer statements can provide good news, state a fact, provide the order of events, refer to enclosures in the letter, thank the reader for something he or she has done, or state a general principle. Naturally, whatever method you select will suit your audience and purpose and directly relate to the contents of the letter.

You should live and be well, but into each life a little trouble always comes. And when it does, you'll probably have to be the one to write the letter about it.

Bad-news letters deliver the lousy news and help readers accept it. They also build a good image of the writer and his or her organization. To be effective, bad-news letters leave readers feeling that the decision was reasonable and that even if they were in the writer's position, they would make the same decision. Bad-news letters accomplish this by using the following pattern:

  1. Open with a buffer, a statement that allows you to soften the negative message to come.
  2. Give reasons for the action.
  3. Present the negative news. Don't over-stress the downside, but be very clear. You don't want your reader to miss your message. If that happens, you'll just have to deliver the bad news all over again.
  4. Present an alternative or compromise, if one is possible.
  5. End with a positive statement.

The following is a model bad-news letter.


Really Big Bank, Inc.
City Center Quadrangle
San Diego, CA 98732

Dear Valued Customer:

bufferStarting Friday, May 26, you will have access to your money 24 hours a day at Really Big Bank. To make this possible, we are installing the latest-model
reasonsautomatic teller machines. Here at Really Big Bank, we are committed to delivering fast and efficient service.
messageAs we install the automatic teller machines, the drive-up windows will be closed from May 20 to 25. During that time, you can make any transactions
alternativesby coming into the bank during regular hours, 9:30 A.M. to 3:00 P.M. Or, you can bank online, at www.ReallyBigBank.com. Free hook-up software is available at the service desk.
positive endThank you for banking with Really Big Bank. We value your patronage.

April Knights

Vice-President, Customer Service
book cover

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Writing Well © 2000 by Laurie Rozakis, Ph.D.. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book direct from the publisher, visit the Penguin USA website or call 1-800-253-6476. You can also purchase this book at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.