Welcome to my first blog = Good Prose! This is an initial installment in the quest to understand the ingredients of and offer recipes for good communication (in English).
Okay, there’s some shameless play involved, too. I admit that I “leveraged” a bit from Alton Brown’s show on the Food Network – ‘Good Eats.’ The search engine blurb
for the show promises to explore “the origin of ingredients, decode culinary customs, and present food and equipment.” Of course, I watch it for all those reasons…but also so that I can catch the latest escapades of the mad French chef.
Prose, Pros and Cons, the last name Kahn – it all works. (Remind me to tell you sometime about the name-the-Kahn-baby contest I was subjected to at a former employer’s.)
So what is “good prose”? Or for that matter, what is prose? Well, it’s generally thought of as anything that isn’t poetry. Surprise! Everyone writes prose everyday. If you regularly write emails, you may genuinely introduce yourself as a “prose writer” the next time you meet someone new. Of course, I’m not promising that will guarantee you a good first impression.
But speaking of good, what do I mean by “good prose”? In their seminal work on writing – The Elements of Style – Strunk and White direct us to “make every word tell” when we write. So that’s a good start, and we can explore more about that on this blog. We can also explore some of the finer points, such as punctuation and emphasis.
One of the overarching principles that draw all of that together, I believe, is a sense of audience:
- To whom is your communication directed?
- What is important to them?
- What questions might they have that you will want to anticipate in your communication?
- Especially for email communications, how much time will they realistically spend reading this communication? How will they read it — in-depth or just with a quick glance?
- Does your audience include non-native speakers of English?
- If it’s a personal communication, what impression of yourself are you conveying to the reader?
For me all of these questions are important to answer when crafting a communication. They will influence the techniques you choose to use, for instance:
- How much information to convey
- What kinds and levels of details to include
- What concepts to emphasize
- How to organize your information
- What words, tone, and style to use to communicate with your audience
Alton Brown (or at least his writers) has a good sense of audience. He knows that stringing together erudite culinary history with “watch-me-cook” renditions of recipes might not be palatable to the wide audience attracted by the Food Network. So he adds the funny characters and visuals – and sometimes even a plot – to keep us watching. And yes, it’s all a bit silly sometimes. But we keep tuning in.
Please keep tuning in here. Let me know your thoughts on how you adjust your prose to specific audiences.