The course: Introduction to Business Writing
One of the most important strategies I learned in this class was the direct/indirect approach. The direct approach works well for positive or neutral messages. It gets to the point right away, and then provides evidence and details. It’s a particularly useful strategy when you are writing for an audience that may not have the time to read your whole document.
The indirect approach can be helpful when delivering bad news or when rejecting a claim or proposal. With this approach, the writer provides the evidence and background information first. This eases the reader into the bad news, and also ensures the reader is aware of the reason why the claim was denied or the bad news was delivered. If a letter opens with bad news, a reader may stop reading immediately and miss out on crucial information.
We were asked to write a letter denying the claim of Mr. Yee, a customer who wanted to return opened merchandise. For the assignment, we were asked to assume the store policy did not allow returns on opened media products because of copyright concerns.
Delivering bad news is always a challenge, and this assignment was no exception. I needed a way to reject Mr. Yee’s request while maintaining our business relationship. If Mr. Yee responded poorly to my rejection, it would mean a loss of not only his business, but the business of any other potential customers he shared his story with.
To make delivering bad news easier, I relied on the indirect approach. I presented my evidence first, and stated the real message near the end of the letter.
I began with a buffer. In my first draft, I opened with a neutral buffer, stating the company’s reputation for good service. My revised version went further. I thanked Mr. Yee for bringing his concerns to our attention. Customers like to know that their opinions are taken seriously. Then, I mentioned that I wanted to explain our return policy, which allowed a smooth transition to the next paragraph.
I then politely but firmly explained the return policy before denying the claim. Explaining store policies can be tricky. It’s important to explain why the policy is fair, or the customer may believe your decision was either arbitrary or deliberately rude. I emphasized the legal concerns around copying media to ensure Mr. Yee understood why I couldn’t grant his claim.
As a goodwill gesture, I offered Mr. Yee a coupon for his next purchase. While it was not what he was hoping for, I wanted to show that we took his concerns seriously and wanted to keep him as a customer.
During revisions, I replaced some of the language in my original draft to make it simpler and less wordy. “Amended” became “updated” and “became aware” changed to “learned.” It’s important for business communication to be easy to understand for a diverse group of customers. Convoluted language or industry-specific jargon alienates your readers and makes it more difficult for them to understand your message.