The only purpose of business writing is to create a change in the reader. Create the change and you succeed; fail to make the change and you’ve wasted your time. Before you spend hours on a piece of writing, spend 15 minutes on the one tool that will make it most likely to be effective. Learn about ROAM analysis.
ROAM stands for Readers, Objective, Action, iMpression. (Yes, I tweaked the acronym to make it easier to remember.) It may be the most useful thing I have created since I started writing about writing. It has become central to the work I do with writers and the advice in my book. That’s because it’s high-leverage: it requires a small amount of effort, but makes a dramatic difference in what you create and your state of mind. The more confusion or anxiety you feel at the start of a project, the more ROAM can create clarity. So let’s get into it.
The four questions that power ROAM analysis
I’ll use the example of a manager’s email to her staff about a new strategy, but ROAM analysis applies in the same way for any piece of writing, from a book to a report to a blog post. You start by asking four questions:
- Readers: Who is the audience? You cannot create change unless you know who you are writing for. In the case of the manager, for example, her audience is her staff. The audience informs your decisions about what to include, what to leave out, and what tone to use. Here’s a trick: put a photo representing your audience (a group of your workers, or a typical customer, for example) where you can see it when you write. When you have a writing decision to make, look at the photo.
- Objective: How will you change the reader? You cannot create change effectively unless you know what the change is. The change is a state of mind. In the case of the manager, she wants her staff to know about, understand, and embrace the new strategy. Once you know the change you want to make, you can focus, cutting out anything that does not support the change. And if you don’t know your objective, your writing will meander ineffectively. Here’s a trick: imagine that the piece succeeds; what will be different in the readers’ minds? That’s your objective.
- Action: What do you want the reader to do? The change you create is useless unless it leads to action. Action is subtly different from objective, because it’s visible and measurable. For example, the manager may want her staff to abandon projects that were off-strategy and shift resources to projects in line with the new strategy. Sometimes the action is completely different from the objective; in content marketing, for example, the objective is to educate or entertain, but the action is to get people to share content or become a lead. Here’s a trick: ask how you’d measure the success of what you wrote. That tells you what your desired action is.
- iMpression: What will the reader think of you? We often forget that every piece of writing creates a relationship between the reader and the writer. If you do it right, they admire you; if you do it wrong, you look like an idiot. The manager in my example wants her email to demonstrate that she is a good and trustworthy leader. Your desired impression should drive you to focus on brevity, clarity, and saving readers time. Here’s a trick: ask how you want your readers to feel about you, and use that to make writing decisions.
Use ROAM to create a target sentence
You can assemble the answers you’ve created into a single sentence that looks like this;
After reading this piece, [readers] will realize [objective], so they will [desired action] and think of me/us as [desired impression].
In the case I describe above for the manager’s email, the target sentence is:
After reading this email, my staff will understand and embrace the new strategy, change their priorities accordingly, and believe that I am an effective leader.
You can post the target sentence near your computer (along with the picture of the reader) to inspire you and help you make good decisions as you write.
To help you remember all this, I’ve created the infographic below. If you want more detail, my book includes a detailed description of ROAM analysis and examples of how to use ROAM for content marketing, emails, social media posts, press releases, and reports.