Delivering Bad News via Digital Channels

Let’s look at a couple examples of delivering bad news via digital channels (combining the topics of EBC Chapters 7 and 9).

First, a pretty formal announcement about some unexpected bad news in higher education. A few years ago, Centre College announced they had received a “record-breaking gift” of 250 million dollars. The story was covered in various news outlets (see here for one example that also links to other stories) when the gift was announced in July. However, in September, the A. Eugene Brockman Charitable Trust determined they would not give Centre this gift after all. So, after months of broadcasting exciting news, Centre College now needed to announce some bad news. Here is their delivery of this news via an online press announcement:

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Next, let’s look at a less serious, more playful example of bad news delivery. This is an email Dr. Tompkins received to let him know the monthly subscription box of hiring gear he was waiting on would be delayed:

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As EBC Chapter 9 indicates, you will have to think carefully about the best way to respond when you need to deliver bad news (e.g., direct or indirect approach? more or less formal? apologize?). As you can see from these examples, there is no one right way to deliver bad news, but as the examples from our book show, there are certainly ways not to do it.

Punctuation saves lives (or, money)!

We might be able to imagine a situation where a comma could save someone’s life; for instance, if it affected the meaning in a procedure described in a document about how to properly do the heimlich maneuver. But maybe that seems far-fetched.

We know for sure, though, that punctuation can cost a company a lot of money. In an Inc. article, Jeff Haden describes how Oakhurst Dairy ended up owing their truck drivers $5 million due to confusion caused by the lack of an Oxford comma in a document explaining Maine’s labor laws!

Moral of the story, of course: pay close attention to punctuation in any document you create, especially if you can imagine legal ramifications for you or the company or organization you are writing on behalf of.

Readability Measures

As Chapter 6 of our textbook discusses, there are numerous tools that have been created to help readers assess how “readable” their texts are. Our authors mention the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level and Flesch-Kincaid Ease scores (both of which can be assessed in a Word doc if you have elected to have your spelling check show you those statistics).

Various workplaces or organizations may offer suggestions for how to assess the readability of documents. For instance, you can see some guidelines from the Department of Health and Human Services here. However, HHS also recognizes that tests such as Flesch-Kincaid don’t fully measure how readable a document is, as they explain here. As they note, the tests might be a good starting place for assessing how well written your document is, but you will also want to be sure to proofread carefully and be familiar with best practices for good writing (as discussed in chapters 5 and 6 in our textbook), which you should use to edit your texts so they best fit the needs of your audience.

Something important to consider when assessing the readability of your document is sentence length and variation. We’ll do some in-class practice with these sentences:

  • Enrollment in the university has been dropping in recent years. Its facilities have been lacking proper maintenance.
  • Viktor had prepared and practiced for the presentation thoroughly. The projector died. The presentation was not successful.
  • Use of Facebook is banned. It’s banned during regular working hours. Facebook has been shown to make employees less productive. Facebook has also been shown to cause legal problems for companies. Facebook causes distractions in the workplace. We are going to implement a policy about Facebook.
  • He settled on the West Coast. He played in clubs and bars. Eventually, he played on his own radio show. He played with a trio of piano, guitar, and bass. His trio featured a beautifully blended sound.

Storytelling in Business Writing

One of the many things chapter 4 of Excellence in Business Communication discusses is storytelling, specifically how to use storytelling techniques to appeal to and connect with audiences. Here are a few key passages/points from that section:

  • “It’s hard to imagine your career going anywhere if you can’t tell a story” (119)
  • Stories “put knowledge into a framework that is more lifelike, more true to your day-to-day existence” (119), which is why they stick
  • Storytelling strategies can help you demonstrate cause-and-effect relationships in a compelling fashion
  • Stories have a classic 3-part structure: 1) introduce a relatable/likable character, 2) build audience interest by creating tension, 3) answer questions and offer lesson
  • The stories must seem real, so part of the challenge is being able to see stories in what’s happening or what could happen in addition to being able to tell stories
  • You might especially consider storytelling when your purpose is to inspire, persuade, teach, or warn

And here are two examples of companies that have used storytelling, conveyed in video form, to get audiences interested in their services:

  1. Epuron video: pay attention to the way the storyteller uses mystery to draw audiences in
  2. Google Search video: pay attention to the three-part structure of the story and how emotional appeals are emphasized over the many instances of product placement

Diversity, Culture, Language, and Business Writing: Part Two

Small Group Discussion

  1. Pick a passage you felt was important but didn’t completely understand. Reread it, negotiate, and discuss it together to come up with what you think it means and why you think it’s important.
  2. Synthesize texts, talk about what you wrote in your blogs and synthesize those ideas. Be sure to work to make connections between your blogs, your small group conversations, Lu and Horner, and “Talk American.”

Diversity, Culture, Language, and Business Writing: Part One

As our textbook states, “diversity is simply a fact of life for all companies. Thill and Boveé go on to note that “Caucasian Americans make up less than half the population in a growing number of cities and counties and in two or three decades will make up less than half of the overall U.S. population. In fact, white folks are predicted to be the minority by 2045. However, as this article from the Brookings Institution shows, those numbers are a little different if you look at them by age group in that younger populations will see the “minority white tipping point” sooner. These shifts in U.S. population will undoubtedly shape the way you experience the workplaces you become part of.

Additionally, many of you may end up working outside of the U.S., and even if you do not live or work abroad, you will undoubtedly work with folks from various countries as you navigate our globalized world. In chapter three, Thill and Boveé discuss cultural competency, which they define as the “appreciation for cultural differences that affect communication and the ability to adjust one’s communication style to ensure that efforts to send and receive messages across cultural boundaries are successful” (71). They describe this as “a combination of attitude, knowledge and skills” (71). The information they share about contextual differences (such as high-context and low-context cultures), legal and ethical differences, social differences, nonverbal differences, age differences, gender differences, religious differences, and ability differences are all part of the knowledge you can carry with you when engaging with folks from cultures different from your own. Hofstede Insights also provides a tool you can use to compare privileged cultural values in different countries.

Let’s Talk about Tweets, Baby

Thick vs. Thin Tweets: Some people use Twitter to tell people about their lunch (“Lunch was good!”). However, that’s not how businesses are going to use Twitter. If you are representing a business or organization, you want to think about the value you are adding for your readers. And you want to include language and images that are engaging and perhaps even useful. David Silver writes a blog post to explain the difference between thick and thin tweets. Keep in mind that you should be aiming for thick tweets.

Tips for Twitter Newbies: Wired offers some “Critical Tips for New Users,” including useful information about knowing the lingo, FOMO, and privacy. And really, there’s no shortage of “how to use Twitter” articles out there, but another good one comes from SproutSocial, a company that seeks to help businesses and individuals use social media better. Hootsuite also offers some useful information about Twitter lingo in their “18 Practical Twitter Tips for Beginners.” And whether you’re new to Twitter or use it often, you might want to check out Hootsuite’s “The Do’s and Don’ts of How to Use Hashtags.”

URL Shortening: Before Twitter automatically shortened your links for you, people used sites like tinyurl and bitly to shorten the link themselves. This was, of course, a way to save some of those 140 characters for what you wanted to say and not waste them on excessively long URLs. Here’s an interesting article from CosSchedule’s Blog from 2014 about the pros and cons of URL shorteners. And here, written more recently, is Twitter’s explanation of their link shortening services.


Hello and welcome, members of WRC 2214: Business Writing. We have an exciting semester ahead of us full of reading about, researching, and practicing what it means to be a writer in the businessworld. We’ll grapple with some often-cited concerns about effective business writing, such as how to make writing short yet still complete, and we’ll create several documents business professionals use/create on a regular basis. We’ll also with the Community Action Council (CAC) to create a Millennial Engagement Campaign meant to encourage a younger audience to care about and engage with the anti-poverty work the CAC does.

This website will serve as our shared space this semester. This is where you will find the syllabus, the daily schedule, assignment sheets, occasional updates, links to each other’s blogs, additional readings, and more. I recommend you bookmark this page.

I have prepared a list of readings and designed what I hope will be meaningful and engaging projects for us. However, I also look forward to you all bringing your unique interests, passions, and curiosities to bear on all of the work we do, and I hope that will include your suggestions about ways we might alter and improve these proposed readings and activities. No doubt, throughout this semester, you all will be reading and discussing interesting, relevant topics and texts in other classes and on your own; share those with the rest of us! I’d like for us all to support one another and play a part in creating a classroom environment that is characterized by rigorous, creative intellectual pursuits.