Writing a Bad News Answer
to a Request or Complaint Letter


Points for Writing the "Bad News" Response to Request/Complaint Letters

  • Don't deliver the bad news in the opening paragraph.

  • Always try to tell what you CAN do before you say what you CAN'T do.

  • Explain the WHY before you deliver the bad news. For many readers, once they see the NO they don't pay attention to the WHY.

  • Remember that a major goal is to maintain a positive relationship with the reader. Do whatever you can to help the reader understand and accept your message.

  • When you are through writing the letter, make sure the message that you cannot grant the request is clear.

"Bad News" Letter Format  (usually three or four paragraphs)
  1. Opening paragraph:  show appreciation for the reader, but don't deliver the "bad news" here.  This is your buffer paragraph.
  2. Middle:  give the reasons why you cannot grant the request--then deliver the bad news.  This is the hard part of the letter to write. Remember that your goal is to help the reader understand and accept your decision. Try to state the refusal in a positive way. Sometimes you can soften the blow by inferring the bad news and still leave a clear understanding with the reader.
  3. Closing paragraph. If at all possible, state something you CAN do for the reader in the closing. In any case, provide the reader with a suggested action to remedy the situation. Close with a positive statement.
Example of a "bad news" letter