Subject, Audience and Purpose analysis is a process that quickly enables you to pin down the content and organization of your letter.
The process requires you to ask and answer three questions:
• What is the subject (topic) of your letter?
• Who is your audience? (Who will be receiving your letter?)
• What is the purpose of your letter?
What is the subject (topic) of the letter? Make it as narrow and specific as possible.
For instance, “marketing product X” is too broad for a letter; you’ll need a report or other longer document to cover it. But “approving copy for product X in our next catalog” is narrow and specific; there’s room in a letter to cover it.
Who is your reader? Well, you know who your reader is, but do you know what he or she thinks, likes, and worries about? Or what he or she wants, hopes, dreams, and desires? Most of us spend too much time thinking about what we want, and not enough time thinking about what the reader wants. Written communications are most effective when they are personal. Your writing should be built around the needs, interests, desires, and profit of the reader. The better you understand the other person, the more effectively you can communicate with him or her.
Crafting a letter that fits the reader is relatively easy when you are writing a personal letter to a friend or relative you know well. In the case of a business letter, it makes sense to ask yourself, “Who is my reader? What does he or she know about this subject?
What is my relationship with the reader — subordinate, superior, colleague, or
customer? How can I get the message across so that the reader will understand and agree?” When writing business letters, here are some things you want to know about your reader:
• Job title. Mechanics are interested in your compressor’s reliability and
serviceability, while the purchasing agent is more concerned with cost. A
person’s job colors his perspective of your product, service, or idea. Are you
writing for plant engineers? Office managers? CEOs? Shop foremen? Make the
tone and content of your writing compatible with the professional interests of
• Education. Is your reader a PhD or a high-school dropout? Is he a chemical
engineer? A doctor? A carpenter? A senior citizen? Write simply enough so that
the least technical and educated of your readers can understand you completely.
When in doubt, err on the side of simplicity. You will never have a recipient of
your letter complain to you that it was too easy to read.
• Industry. When chemical producers buy a reverse-osmosis water-purification
system for a chemical plant, they want to know every technical detail down to
the last pipe, pump, fan, and filter. Marine buyers, on the other hand, have only
two basic questions: What does it cost? How reliable is it? The weight and size
are also important, since the system must be carried onto and bolted onto the
floor of a boat.
• Level of interest. A prospect who has responded to your ad is more likely to
be receptive to a salesman’s call than someone who the salesman calls on
“cold turkey.” Is your reader interested or disinterested? Friendly or hostile?
Receptive or resistant? Understanding the reader’s state of mind helps you
tailor your message to meet his needs.
Often, however, when writing business letters and longer documents—articles, papers, manuals, reports, and brochures — you are writing for many readers, not an individual.
Even though you may not know the names of your readers, you still need to
develop a picture of who they are — their job titles, education, industry, and interests.
What is the purpose of your letter? You might be tempted to say, “to transmit information.” Sometimes merely transmitting information is the letter’s sole purpose, but often it is more than that. Is there a request you want the reader to comply with, or a favor you are hoping they will grant? Keep your goal in mind as you write, so that you may persuade the reader to agree with your point of view.