Writing Letters with Good and Bad News

note pad with a pen

The “Good News/Bad News” letter is one of the most effective letters you can write. This letter is appropriate when you have a justified complaint and want resolution. For example, the hotel where you stayed had no hot water, and you had to shower in cold water before your business meeting. You feel you should not have to pay the full amount for the room, and you would like compensation.

The important elements of the good news/bad news letter are structure and tone.


Structure of the letter

The structure has four parts:
(1) an opening paragraph of good news
(2) the bad news
(3) a solution
(4) an expression of goodwill

The opening paragraph should prepare your reader by reinforcing with good news. Try to say something positive about your past experience with the company, individual or product. Good news sets the stage and puts the reader on your side.

The body of the letter should explain the bad news. Be clear about the problem. Give as much detail as the reader needs, but don’t tell the reader anything she doesn’t care about or need to know.

Paragraph three should offer a solution to the problem. Do you want a refund, an exchange, a credit to your charge account? When you offer a solution, you save the reader time. She doesn’t have to call you to find out how you would like the problem settled.

End the letter with an expression of confidence in the problem being solved. Remember that the person to whom you are writing is not responsible for creating the problem. She didn’t design, manufacture, package, ship or deliver your purchase.


Tone of the letter

The tone of the letter is important. Sound objective. Explain the facts without being judgmental. Don’t blame the reader for the problem. Avoid the personal pronoun “you.” Use passive voice rather than active voice.

Instead of saying “You sent me the wrong part,” try “The wrong part was sent to me,” or “I received the wrong part.” The tone should focus on the problem, not who was responsible for the error.

Be tactful and diplomatic. If you sound angry or rude, you will not encourage the reader to solve your problem quickly.


Here’s an example of the good news/bad news letter.

Dear Sir or Madam

I have stayed at your hotel many times during business engagements, and I have always been satisfied with the service and accommodation.

Unfortunately, during my recent visit on (date), there was no hot water available, and I had to shower in cold water before a business meeting.

I’m sure you will agree that the charge of $xxxx for a room with no hot water is unreasonable. I would appreciate some kind of partial refund on my Visa account number xxxx xxxx xxxx xxxx, expiration date mm/yy.

Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to being a guest at your hotel again.

Yours faithfully

Contributed by Workplace English Training E-Platform