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Writing Well

We are not offering you a position at this time.
We are raising our rates.
We cannot give you a refund.

If you read these messages at the beginning of an email or document, how would you feel? Would you eagerly read the rest, or might you throw it down in anger or disappointment, and never learn if there was a silver lining to the cloud? Putting the main point first is usually a good idea, but if the main point is negative, it does not belong at the beginning.

When Your Point is Unwelcome
When your point is unwelcome, readers tend to stop reading or stop reading closely. The bad feelings that arise from seeing a negative message make them unreceptive to the rest of the message. If you open with the bad news, you will lose the opportunity to explain yourself. But there is a way to soften the blow. Instead of alienating your reader by hitting her over the head with a negative point, follow this pattern:

1.            Lead with something positive. 
Thank you for applying to our company.
We appreciate your business.
Thank you for purchasing our product. 
2.            Build up to the reasons for the bad news. 
We received many resumes from outstanding candidates to whom we were unable to offer employment.
Our raw materials cost increased 28% last year, and our cost of wages has gone up 21%.
We can only offer refunds if the original product was defective.
3.            Deliver the blow.
We are not offering you a position at this time. 
We’re raising our rates by 20%.
We cannot give you a refund.
4.            End on a positive.
We were so impressed with your resume that we have forwarded it our subsidiary company.
We are adding to our services.
Please accept a $100 credit toward your next purchase.

By opening and closing on a positive note, you sandwich the bad news and make it less painful. Following this organizational structure ensures that your reader gets the extra explanation that you’ve packed into your message, so she will have a much easier time accepting the bad news.

In most cases, it pays to get straight to the point. But if leading with your main point will upset your reader and cause her to stop reading, don't lead with it. Start with something palatable and follow the advice in the old torch song: Break it to me gently.
 ©2017 Elizabeth Danziger All rights reserved

See our recent Writamin on getting to the point.

Read Writamins on these topics:

Emailing Effectively

Writing Well

Choosing the Right Word

Thoughts on Writing

Writing Within Organizations

Teach your staff to simplify!

Dense, roundabout writing turns readers off.
Worktalk trainings, webinars, and coaching sessions enable writers to avoid writing pitfalls and get to the point.
Teach your staff to write clearly, crisply, and concisely.

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Why choose WorkTalk trainings?

  • Taught by a professional writer. +

    These courses are not taught by a general skills trainer who happens to teach writing. Elizabeth Danziger has been published by major publishing houses such as Random House and Harcourt Brace. Her work has appeared in many national magazines. She is an expert writer and editor who brings her knowledge as a resource to participants.
  • Customized. +

    Every Worktalk training is customized to the client's needs. We meet with you, analyze writing samples from your organization, and customize our training to target the specific challenges that employees in your organization face.
  • Energetic and entertaining. +

    With plenty of exercises and opportunities for interaction, the Worktalk trainings move quickly. Subjects that were terrifying in grammar school become fun and interesting in these outstanding programs.
  • Proven results. +

    In trainings all over the country, Ms. Danziger has enabled participants to streamline their organizing process, eliminate persistent errors, and drastically cut their revision time. Clients spend less time on key communications while producing better relationships and results. Sales people get more positive responses from prospects.
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