Negative Message

This week you will be composing a Negative Message. Please view the Negative Message content item located under Week 5 for the details of this assignment.




Negative Messages and Electronic Communication

Introduction | Planning Negative Messages | Writing Negative Messages | The Direct Approach for Certain Negative Messages | Completing Negative Messages | Types of Electronic Messages | Planning, Writing, and Completing Electronic Messages | When to Avoid Electronic Messages | Test Your Knowledge


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Previously, we studied routine and positive messages using the direct approach. This week, we’ll study negative messages that often (but not always) use the indirect approach. Examples of negative messages are a memo announcing budget cuts in a department, a letter turning down a job applicant or request for credit, an e-mail to a customer to convey that a shipment is late, or a press release on a company website announcing projected layoffs. We will also take a look at electronic communication which has quickly become the communication medium of choice for most, if not all, businesses.

Planning Negative Messages

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Negative messages are far more difficult to write than routine or positive messages because readers resist the message, either by objecting, or becoming angry, emotional, dissatisfied, or unmotivated. You might wonder: If readers are just going to be upset by a negative message, why not just blurt out the bad news and hope the bad feelings will blow over soon? The reason is that doing so runs the risk of damaging professional relationships, and will likely cause more problems. Crafting a well-written negative message is your best chance at preserving professional relationships and gaining acceptance of the negative message. In addition, crafting a message that softens the blow allows (ideally) for goodwill to be maintained going forward.

Key Point


In North America, we often speak of valuing directness, forthrightness, and honesty in communication. It is important to note that the direct and indirect approaches are both equally honest and forthright. Writers do not choose the indirect approach to be dishonest or deceitful. Both methods of organizing messages express the same ideas; the only difference is the format — whether the main idea comes first, or the reasons come first.


In the planning step of any writing task, we must analyze the audience. Here are some aspects of audience analysis we considered previously, when we worked on taking an audience-centered approach and writing routine and positive messages:

How many people are in my audience?
Who are they (gender, age, cultural background, position within the organization, etc.)?
How close is my relationship to them?
How much do they know?
How much do they need to know?
What are their interests in the situation at hand?
How will they react to my message?
The final question — “How will they react to my message?” — is crucial in helping us determine the type of message we’re writing. What makes a message negative? Just as in routine and positive messages, the content is part of the equation. If the message is one that announces something bad, then it is negative. But there’s more to categorizing these messages than just the content. We must also anticipate the audience’s reaction. Sometimes our perception of the message content as writers differs from how our audience will receive it. What seems like a routine announcement about a business change might come across as a real inconvenience for someone else. A negative message, therefore, is one in which we expect the audience’s reaction to be displeasure. If you anticipate that the reader is likely to become upset, angry, disappointed, or inconvenienced, then you’re delivering a negative message.

Just as with other kinds of messages, the next step after analyzing the audience is to establish your purpose for writing. Ask yourself these questions: What is the main idea you need to express? What do you want readers to think, do, feel, or believe after reading your message? The answers define your purpose. Once your audience and purpose are well-defined, the next step is to gather any necessary information, and choose a medium. When writing negative messages, the information you must gather will often be reasons for the negative main idea.

The last part of the planning step is to choose an organization: should you use the direct or indirect approach? With routine and positive messages, we use the direct approach. With negative messages, we usually use the indirect approach.

Writing Negative Messages

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Since the audience will be displeased to hear the news, writers should use the indirect approach. Begin with a buffer statement, continue with reasons, state the main idea, and follow with a positive close. We provide the reasons before the bad news itself to persuade readers to accept and understand the bad news, rather than rejecting it outright. Granted, readers typically will jump to the bad news part of the communication, but they will go back and read the reasons and rationale for the bad news. The following are some tips for handling each of these message parts effectively.

In the buffer statement, avoid giving the impression that good news is forthcoming, but also avoid telling too much of the bad news too soon. The buffer statement needs to be related to the content of the message, too. Many times, an effective way to begin is to make a statement of values, such as, “At Miller and Sons, customer service is our number one priority.”
Then, move on to the reasons that caused the bad news, such as, “Due to a manufacturing error at our plant in Taiwan, we did not receive our shipment of hand-beaded evening bags.” There may be more than one reason that led to the negative news. Presenting the reasons before the negative news itself is a means of persuading the audience to accept the negative news.
Then, deliver the bad news in unequivocal terms. Don’t hedge. Don’t try to soften the message so much that it’s open to misinterpretation. Be firm, yet respectful of your audience. “As a result, we are unable to fulfill your order by the date we promised.”
Close with a positive ending. This might be offering an alternative, when possible. Or, it might be a statement explaining how you’ve seen to it that the problem will not reoccur. It might simply be a forward-looking statement that lets the reader know that, even though you have bad news today, you still hope for a strong and long-term business relationship for the future. A positive close is particularly important in a negative message, as it is the writer’s opportunity to maintain or restore goodwill.
Most writers find this kind of message the most difficult to write and deliver because the audience has the most resistance. Knowing the basic indirect approach organization can help you draft messages quickly, easily, and most importantly, effectively for your readers.

The Direct Approach for Certain Negative Messages

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While most negative messages require the indirect approach, in certain circumstances, the direct approach is better. Readers who might prefer the direct approach are those who:

are not likely to respond emotionally;
understand, in advance, that they might receive bad news (such as applicants for credit or employment);
and like the direct approach as a personal preference.
Writers may also opt to use the direct approach in delivering negative messages when a particularly firm tone is necessary, and maintaining a positive working relationship is not a priority. To choose between the direct or indirect approach in delivering a bad news message, analyze your audience. Think about what your audience would prefer. Also, consider the likelihood of your audience listening to your reasons. Do not use the direct approach if you think the audience will stop reading after you deliver the bad news as the main idea.

Direct or Indirect?

The following flowchart shows the decision-making process in choosing between the direct and indirect approaches when faced with the task of writing a business message.

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Next, practice your decision-making abilities by viewing the tutorial about choosing between the direct and indirect approaches again from the Tutorial tab under Week 5.

Completing Negative Messages

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The third step is to complete the negative message. When completing your bad news message, revise to make your message as concise and clear as possible, while making sure you remain sensitive to the audience. Be extra careful in ensuring that the message is free from errors and typos so as not to confuse readers and make a bad situation worse.

Types of Electronic Messages

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Today, we increasingly send messages electronically. Due to its speed and low cost, e-mail is a useful medium for business messages. Electronic communication in the business world extends far beyond e-mail, though. Corporate America is also using blogs and microblogs, instant messaging (IM), and even text messages more frequently with each passing year. Part of the move toward expanding electronic media use is due to its low cost and convenience. Another part, though, relates to the company’s credibility. In other words, using newer technologies shows clients that the company is up-to-speed with modern technology.

Planning, Writing, and Completing Electronic Messages

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As we all know, in personal use, people tend to employ shortcuts and abbreviations when writing in electronic media that they wouldn’t use when writing in print media. If you are like most people, you have found yourself typing LOL, CUL8R, or BRB (laugh-out-loud, see you later, and be right back). In personal communications, these shortcuts save time and are perfectly acceptable. In professional communications, using these shortcuts is unacceptable, except perhaps for communications among close colleagues within one organization. Even in those cases, though, writers should remember that other readers may read the writing at a later date.

Even with quick forms of electronic communication, professional writers should expect to follow a three-step writing process of planning, writing, and completing. Special considerations for electronic media are outlined in the table below.

Problem Areas
Recommendations for Successful Electronic Messages
Message Length
Electronic messages are meant to be quick and easy. Keep messages short.
Paragraph Length
It is harder for people to read on screen than on paper. Reduce paragraph size to about 75 words, and add an extra space between paragraphs to improve readability.
Subject Lines
People receive too much e-mail. Short, specific subject lines help readers know which messages are important to read, and help them find messages to refer back to later.
Security & Privacy
Electronic media is the least secure of all media choices. Don’t use it for private, confidential, or sensitive information.
People receive too much e-mail, and instant and text messages interrupt people when they are doing other things. Avoid overusing electronic messages; otherwise, you may reduce productivity.
When to Avoid Electronic Messages

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Sometimes, it’s best to avoid electronic messages altogether. Avoid using electronic media for any message that contains potentially sensitive or private information. Also, avoid using electronic media for distributing negative messages of any kind. In 2006, Radio Shack received quite a bit of bad press for laying off 400 employees via e-mail; the general consensus in the business world was that in an unfortunate situation, their choice of medium made the situation much, much worse.

Different audiences and purposes call for different media. Some of our choices are meetings, phone calls, interoffice memos, business letters, flyers, e-mail, websites, and so on. Once you have analyzed your audience and purpose, you must choose which medium to use. A good guideline to follow is the more negative the message, the more personal the media choice should be for delivery.

Test Your Knowledge

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Direct Approach vs Indirect Approach



What is the primary factor writers consider when selecting which approach to use to deliver a negative message?

The audience is the primary factor that determines the approach. Writers analyze their audience’s attitude toward the topic and select the approach most suited for the message and audience.

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View each term then click “Flip Card” to see the definition.

This is an outline of the three-step writing process, which should apply to your analysis of a Week 5 scenario presented in the Negative and Bad News Message tab. Answer the case questionsrelated to each step directly on this form. For the three-step process questions, you may use short phrases and sentences for your answers.Then add a page break, and write a message as directed in the Negative and Bad News Message tab and save the document as one file.


Student name


PlanAnalyze the SituationWhat is your general purpose?
What is your specific purpose?
Exactly what do you want your audience to think, feel, or believe after receiving your message?
Who is your primary audience?
What is the audience’s background?
What are the audience’s reactions likely to be to your message?
Gather InformationWhat information does your audience need to receive?
What facts must you gather in order to create an effective message?
Organize the InformationWhat is your main idea?
Will you use the direct or indirect approach?
Why are you using the approach you chose?
WriteAdapt to Your AudienceHow will you show sensitivity to your audience’s needs?
How much credibility do you already have with your audience?
How will you establish the additional credibility you need?
Will your tone be informal or more formal?
Compose the Message
You DO NOT have to attach your first draft.
CompleteRevise the Message
List three or more changes you made between your first draft and final draft suggested by the prompts in therevision checklist on page 155 in Chapter 6.

First change
Second change
Third change
Additional changes
Produce the Message
Use effective design and layout for a clean, professional appearance. Proofread the Message.
Review for errors in layout, spelling, punctuation, and other mechanics.
You DO NOT have to list typos and mechanical errors.
Submit these questions and your responses along with a fully formattedmessage to the audience in the Dropboxas one Word file.



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