Direct and indirect approaches
If you need to deliver bad news or information that you know will not please the recipient, you have the option of choosing either a direct approach or an indirect approach.
Using the direct approach, you deliver the message straight away after your salutation, whereas a more indirect approach will include some kind of buffer before you deliver your message. Which strategy you choose depends on the situation and the way in which you wish to present your message.
Whereas writers in Swedish tend to use a direct approach, correspondence in English often relies on a more indirect approach to deliver what might be seen as unpleasant information.
Direct or indirect approach?
Using a direct approach means that you get straight to the point after the salutation and a reference to previous contact.
Examples (More formal):
- With reference to your application, I regret to inform you that you have not been selected for interview.
- Thank you for contacting us. All vacancies for PhD positions are advertised on the Lund University website.
Examples (Less formal):
- Thanks for getting in touch. I am afraid we cannot offer an extra exam. The next resit opportunity is 15 May. Please make sure you reregister on the course before that and that you also register for the exam via the Student Portal.
If you use an indirect approach, you add some kind of buffer, or padding, before you deliver your message. Such buffers usually express appreciation or understanding, although they can also present a neutral factual statement.
The following examples deal with ways of telling applicants they have not received funding, although the phrases can be used in other contexts too. After recognising previous correspondence (Thank you for your email / application / etc.], some writers choose to open with a piece of good news before the bad news is delivered.
- We were very pleased to hear about…. However, due to financial constraints, it will not be possible to…
- We received many strong applications this year…Regrettably, however, …