Where to Hide Bad News in Your Emails (Or: Why the S**t Sandwich Works)

You’ve probably been told the best way to deliver bad news is via the formula: good news, the bad news, some more good news. Or to give it its common name, the ‘S**t Sandwich’ approach. Maybe you’ve even been handed one or two sandwiches like this in your time.

But why does this work? And more importantly, what can we learn from this that helps our writing?

It turns out that when we deliver bad news in this way we’re tapping into a couple of truths about how we best remember written information. Namely, we remember the last 20% to 30% of any information we read the best. The first 20 to 30% second best. And whatever remains in between these bookends the least well.

This is true at paragraph level, sentence level and even for lists.

So if you have to, for example, concede a flaw in one of your arguments, or admit a mistake at work, you are more likely to get away with it if you bury it somewhere in the middle of a sentence that’s neatly tucked somewhere within a paragraph’s middle ground.

Handy, eh?

How to be Remembered

But this fact becomes really useful if we turn the original question on its head. Instead of looking at how to conceal bad news, we can also use this rule to make sure the information we think is important gets across.

As I’ve talked about before, one of the keys to good writing is to remember that reading is hard work. These days, when we’re all expected to imbibe so much information, so often, it’s important to help your readers out as much as you can. Use their natural cognitive preference for the end of sentences to help them decipher what’s really important.

In any email, report or document you write, try to place the point you want to get across in the last quarter to third of your sentences. And place the most important paragraph in the last 25 – 30% of the document.

Your readers will thank you for it. And you won’t find yourself having to explain again information you were sure you’d explained last week.


Are poorly written emails, unclear memos and impenatrable reports costing your organisation time and money? I can help. Get in Touch to ask about my Writing for Clarity workshops. Simple tips and tools that will make your written communications more effective.

Word Butler is really just Ben Martin, a copywriter based in Swansea, South Wales. If you’re a business with purpose and passion, and need a bit of help putting it all into words, let’s talk.