How Business Writers Deliver Bad News Professionally

Delivering bad news can be intimidating for all business writers, whether this is their first “I regret to inform you” letter or their 50th. Writers want to simultaneously appear sympathetic, firm and tactful. In some cases, the writer will need to craft a disheartening business letter in a way that doesn’t burn any bridges. In other cases, the writer will find himself emotionally attached to the situation he is writing about. Even in this position, business writers must work to sound professional in their correspondence.

The Bad News Business Letter Format

In The Business Writer, John Van Rys, Verne Meyer and Pat Sebranek recommend the BEBE format for delivering bad news. BEBE is an acronym for “Buffer, Explanation, Bad news (plus alternative), and Exit.”

Setting up a neutral buffer at the beginning of a negative business letter will soften the blow to its reader. Keeping this opener entirely neutral is crucial. Downtrodden openers will isolate the reader too quickly, whereas a cheerful beginning might build false hope. One example of a neutral opener could be “Thank you for your application. Our team has thoroughly reviewed your credentials, and we have come to a decision.” Expressing thanks or agreement with the reader makes for an effective opening line.

An explanation should follow shortly. Business writers need to present these reasonings as formally and factually as possible. Displays of emotions should be avoided, whether they are compassionate or defensive. Effective business writing will attempt to anticipate any questions the recipient might have, and thoroughly answer them in the explanation.

Once the bad news has been stated directly and clearly, the business writer should try to stay positive. Now is the time to offer any alternative plans or compromises. Professional writers will avoid harping on the bad news once it has been stated plainly.

The business letter should end on a positive note. If future contact or work is desired, the letter should make this clear before exiting. The best closing statements will be polite and hopeful, rather than apologetic.

Phrases and Words Business Writers Should Avoid

Even with the BEBE format effectively in place, there are several phrases and words that should be avoided when delivering bad news. These phrases include the following:

You failed to You obviously did not Not our concern You must accept This is your problem This has never happened before I question your You will never Negligent Misinformed Impossible Unjustified

Improving Business Writing Skills

The BEBE format is not the only option for business writers tasked with bearing bad news, nor will it work perfectly for every situation. An experienced writer will take a business letter format and tailor it to his own specific assignment. Overall, a negative business letter should be honest, direct and polite. The writer should avoid placing any blame, and he should construct his letter as if he is an outside viewer reporting only objective facts. Sometimes even the most effective business writing will leave the reader frustrated, hurt or angry. Writers should not take these reactions personally, as long as they crafted their letter with the utmost respect and consideration.


Van Rys, John, Verne Meyer, and Pat Sebranek. The Business Writer. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006. ISBN: 0-618-37087-0

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