Writing a business letter is like any other type of technical communication. First you have to analyze your audience and determine your purpose. The typical audience is other professionals.
However, you might also write business letters to your co-workers. These audiences generally require you provide a detailed background about your purpose.
As a student, you may have to write business letters to your instructor or classmates. When composing academic business letters, consider what this audience already knows about the subject.
If you are writing a business letter to accompany a paper, does your audience already know what the paper is about? What further information do they require? What do you require from them as a result?
Because a business letter is a communication from one person to another, a letter must convey a courteous, positive tone.
Look at the situation from your reader’s point of view and adjust the content and tone to meet the audience’s needs.
An audience is a group of readers who reads a particular piece of writing. As a writer, one should anticipate the needs or expectations of your audience in order to convey information or argue for a particular claim.
Your audience might be your instructor, classmates, the president of an organization, the staff of a management company, or any other number of possibilities. You need to know your audience before you start writing.
Determining your Audience Type
Writers determine their audience types by considering:
- Who they are (age, sex, education, economic status, political/ social/religious beliefs);
- What Level of Information they have about the subject (novice, general reader, specialist or expert);
- The Context in which they will be reading a piece of writing (in a
newspaper, textbook, popular magazine, specialized journal, on the
Internet, and so forth).
You’ll need to analyze your audience in order to write effectively.
Three Categories of Audience
Three categories of audience are the “lay” audience, the “managerial” audience, and the “experts.” The “lay” audience has no special or expert knowledge.
They connect with the human-interest aspect of articles. They usually need background information; they expect more definition and description; and they may want attractive graphics or visuals.
The managerial audience may or may have more knowledge than the lay audience about the subject, but they need knowledge so they can make a decision about the issue.
Any background information, facts, statistics needed to make a decision should be highlighted.
The “experts” may be the most demanding audience in terms of knowledge, presentation, and graphics or visuals.
Experts are often “theorists” or “practitioners.” For the “expert” audience, document formats are often elaborate and technical, style and vocabulary may be specialized or technical, source citations are reliable and up-to-date, and documentation is accurate.
Assuming you are writing a paper for a class, ask yourself who is the reader?
The most important reader is probably the instructor, even if a grader will look at the paper first. Ask yourself what you know about your teacher and his or her approach to the discipline.
Do you know, for example, if this teacher always expects papers to be carefully argued? Has this teacher emphasized the importance of summarizing cases accurately before referring to them?
Will this professor be looking for an “argument synthesis,” showing how the cases all support one point or will this professor be more interested in seeing how the cases complicate one another?
In other words, take the time to brainstorm about what you’ve learned about the teacher to help you meet his or her expectations for this paper.
You probably know more about the teacher than you think, and asking questions about how the teacher treats this material in class will help you remember those details to help you shape your paper.
Nonacademic audiences read your writing for reasons other than to grade you. (Some teachers assign papers specifically asking students to write for nonacademic audiences).
They will gain information from your writing. Think about writing a newsletter or a resume: an audience read these for information, only how they use the information varies.
A nonacademic audience involves more than writing. Consider the following:
- You’ll have to determine who the audience is.
- You’ll have to think about what is an appropriate format to use.
- You’ll have to consider what is and is not an appropriate topic for your audience. (If you don’t have one already.)
- You’ll have to determine how your topic will fit the format.