Writing Public Prose

  • Robert M. Knight
  • Marion Street Press
  • 92 pp.

In this concise handbook, a journalist and teacher reduces writing to the essentials for any form of communication.

With pride and sadness, we present our review of Writing Public Prose, the most recent book by Bob Knight, who died on June 5. Bob was one of the original Independents. He was at our first organizational meeting, in the fall of 2010, and contributed significantly after that, both as a reviewer and an editor. He was a cheerful, generous and talented colleague who brought a wealth of experience as a journalist in New Mexico, Chicago (where he was an editor with the fabled City News Bureau) and Washington, D.C. He also taught journalism and English at Northwestern University and Gettysburg College.  There’s more about Bob here. We invite you to join us in raising your coffee, tea, diet cola or filtered water in honor of Bob Knight.

We miss him.

Reviewed by Y.S. Fing

Although Bob Knight has written a utilitarian text, his prose is relaxed and encouraging. He’s not preaching from on high about the rules of writing. He’s sharing the basics from his experience. He starts his instruction with the introduction, but spends more time discussing the writer’s job to be a “communicator” and to “establish a dialogue with the reader.”

He quotes from Strunk and White, and he introduces an effective concept from journalism, the lede, which is a microcosmic example of a person in action that draws the reader from the specific individual to the general thesis. The power of this technique can’t be overstated. It helps writers outline their text, and establishes a narrative for readers to follow.

Once through this structural concept, Knight turns his attention to crafting sentences. He suggests ways to use direct language, with strong subjects and action verbs. After detailing several grammatical restrictions, he says, “Few of these seemingly arcane rules are so absolute that they cannot be ignored or broken … professional writers … know the rules well enough to know when to break them.”

There are sections on editing and clichés, red flags and no-nos. He finishes by touching on the differences between the various media, broadcast news versus journalism, speech writing and public relations. These various forms of public prose require subtle shifts that Knight identifies concisely. The style guide at the end is a fine capper to a lovely little handbook that any student or writer would find useful.

Y.S. Fing, an instructor of English at a community college in the Washington, D.C., area, is the author of such unpublished works as “Socialize Yourself: A Teacher’s and Student’s Guide to College-Level Composition” and “Event Horizons: Aphorisms on the Life of D. Selby Fing” (www.dselbyfing.com).

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