If you are in the writing business, every once in a while you'd like to know who, if anyone, reads what you write. If you are a federal agency these days, you pretty much have to prove you have an audience or your publication will be cut.

The most recent agency to bite the readership survey bullet is the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, according to the Dec. 14 Federal Register (page 61039).

The commission has asked the Office of Management and Budget, under provisions of the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1980, to approve three surveys as part of an "effort to review and evaluate . . . publications for their impact on the problems addressed."

What's striking about these publications, in part, is the small number of people who receive them. Two of the commission's statutory reports, one on the Voting Rights Act and the other on Indian tribes, were mailed to only 7,000 people. A monthly publication entitled "Update," is sent to 23,201, 6,000 of whom are members of the media.

Some of the questions reflect insecurity ("Some of the information in 'Update' originates from the commission . . . ; some information comes from other sources . . . . How much had you read in other sources before you read 'Update'?"). Other questions seem to be searching for support: "Do you think the information provided in this report will contribute to an increase in public awareness of the civil rights issues affecting Indian tribes?"

Questionnaires will be mailed to 3,100 individuals; if the commission gets 930 back, it will consider the survey "acceptable."