Writing Routine and Positive Messages


After studying this chapter, you will be able to

1. Outline an effective strategy for writing routine business requests

2. Describe three common types of routine requests

3. Outline an effective strategy for writing routine replies and positive messages

4. Describe six common types of routine replies and positive messages

Communication Matters . 

“To succeed, I don’t need to be Shakespeare; I must, though, have a sincere desire to inform.”

—Warren Buffett, legendary investor and chairman of Berkshire Hathaway

Warren Buffett’s financial acumen has made him and many of his shareholders wealthy, but he is recognized almost as widely for his communication skills. His letters, essays, and annual reports communicate complex financial topics in simple language his readers can easily understand. His approach is simple: Even for a document that will be read by thousands of people, he visualizes a single person (often one of his sisters) as his audience. He treats this audience member as an intelligent human being, but as someone who doesn’t have the same level of experience with the subject matter he has. From there, he proceeds to organize and write his messages in a way that clarifies all the essential information and doesn’t try to impress or obscure with complicated language. 1  Whether you’re posting a status update on a team blog or producing a report for an audience of thousands, Buffett’s approach is a great example to follow.

Warren Buffett often deals with complex financial issues in his line of business, but he has cultivated the ability to express even complicated subjects in clear, simple language that seeks to inform rather than to impress.

Strategy for Routine Requests

Much of your daily business communication will involve routine and positive messages, including routine requests for information or action, replies on routine business matters, and positive messages such as good-news announcements and goodwill messages, from product operation hints and technical support to refunds and ordering glitches. These messages are the focus of this chapter.  Chapter 8  covers messages in which you convey negative information, and  Chapter 9  addresses persuasive messages.

Making requests is a routine part of business. In most cases, your audience will be prepared to comply, as long as you’re not being unreasonable or asking people to do something they would expect you to do yourself. By applying a clear strategy and tailoring your approach to each situation, you’ll be able to generate effective requests quickly.

For routine requests and positive messages,

· State the request or main idea

· Give necessary details

· Close with a cordial request for specific action

Like all other business messages, routine requests have three parts: an opening, a body, and a close. Using the direct approach, open with your main idea, which is a clear statement of your request. Use the body to give details and justify your request, then close by requesting specific action.

Stating Your Request Up Front

Take care that your direct approach doesn’t come across as abrupt or tactless.

With routine requests, you can make your request at the beginning of the message. Of course, getting right to the point should not be interpreted as license to be abrupt or tactless:

· Pay attention to tone. Instead of demanding action (“Send me the latest version of the budget spreadsheet”), show respect by using words such as please and I would appreciate.

· Assume that your audience will comply. Because the request is routine, you can generally assume that your readers will comply when they clearly understand the reason for your request.

· Be specific. State precisely what you want. For example, if you request the latest market data from your research department, be sure to say whether you want a 1-page summary or 100 pages of raw data.

Explaining and Justifying Your Request

If you have multiple requests or questions, start with the most important one.

Use the body of your message to explain your request, as needed. Make the explanation a smooth and logical outgrowth of your opening remarks. If complying with the request could benefit the reader, be sure to mention that. If you have multiple requests or questions, ask the most important questions first and deal with only one topic per question. If you have an unusual or complex request, break it down into specific, individual questions so that the reader can address each one separately. This consideration not only shows respect for your audience’s time but also gets you a more accurate answer in less time.

Requesting Specific Action in a Courteous Close

Close request messages with

· A request for some specific action

· Information about how you can be reached

· An expression of appreciation

Close your message with three important elements: (1) a specific request that includes any relevant deadlines, (2) information about how you can be reached (if it isn’t obvious), and (3) an expression of appreciation or goodwill; for example: “Please send the figures by April 5 so that I can return first-quarter results to you before the April 15 board meeting. I appreciate your help.” Conclude your message with a sincere thanks. However, don’t thank the reader “in advance” for cooperating; many people find that presumptuous.

8 Writing Negative Messages


After studying this chapter, you will be able to

1. Apply the three-step writing process to negative messages

2. Explain how to use the direct approach effectively when conveying negative news

3. Explain how to use the indirect approach effectively when conveying negative news, and explain how to avoid ethical problems when using this approach

4. Describe successful strategies for sending negative messages on routine business matters

5. Describe successful strategies for sending negative employment-related messages

6. List the important points to consider when conveying negative organizational news

7. Describe an effective strategy for responding to negative information in a social media environment

Communication Matters .

“You know what [consumers] hate most? A cover-up. They understand that we all goof-up now and then, but they expect us to fess-up immediately and do right by those who may have been misled or injured as a result of the error.” 1

—W. T. “Bill” McKibben, senior counsel, The Great Lakes Group

From network hacker attacks to product safety failures, business leaders must sometimes face the need to communicate unwelcome information to consumers and other interested parties. As communication ethics advisor Bill McKibben emphasizes, playing it straight with those who have been affected is essential to repairing business relationships. Sharing unwelcome news is never pleasant, but learning how to do it with sensitivity and honesty will make the task easier for you as a writer and the experience less traumatic for the recipients of your messages.

According to communication ethics specialist Bill McKibben, consumers demand ethical responses from companies that make mistakes, and that commitment to ethics must be reflected in external communication efforts. General Motors (GM), for example, was criticized for not disclosing long-running safety issues with ignition switches until an outsider investigator uncovered the problem.

Linda Parton/Alamy

Using the Three-Step Writing Process for Negative Messages

Five goals of negative messages:

· Give the bad news

· Encourage its acceptance

· Maintain the reader’s goodwill

· Maintain the organization’s good image

· Manage the volume of future correspondence on the matter


Apply the three-step writing process to negative messages.

Delivering negative information is never enjoyable, but with some helpful guidelines, you can craft messages that minimize negative reactions. When you need to deliver bad news, you have five goals: (1) to convey the bad news, (2) to gain acceptance for it, (3) to maintain as much goodwill as possible with your audience, (4) to maintain a good image for your organization, and (5) if appropriate, to reduce or eliminate the need for future correspondence on the matter. Accomplishing all five goals requires careful attention to planning, writing, and completing your message.

Step 1: Planning Negative Messages

Careful planning is necessary to avoid alienating your readers.

When you need to convey negative news, you can’t avoid the fact that your audience does not want to hear what you have to say. To minimize the damage to business relationships and to encourage the acceptance of your message, plan carefully. With a clear purpose and your audience’s needs in mind, gather the information your audience will need in order to understand and accept your message.

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