E-Prime works better than Pepto-Bismol

My stomach hurt last night and chugalugging a bottle of Pepto-Bismol would not have helped. It had nothing to do with what I ate; my pain came from reading what I wrote. I acted quickly by reading a few pages I bookmarked years ago to get a refresh in writing in e-prime.

E-prime removes all forms of “to-be” from the English language. That means producing sentences without the words is, isn’t, am, are, be, been, were or was.

Why would you want to do that? It helps you write clear sentences that reveal your true thoughts. It can also help you write in an active voice.

For example:

“SUVs are stupid.”

versus

“Owning a vehicle designed for off-road driving makes little sense when you drive on city streets and highways 99% of the time.”

Which of the above versions better expresses someone’s thoughts? If the two above versions represented two different people, who would you rather have coffee with?

Once you start thinking in e-prime, you’ll notice that a lot of advertising and business writing uses is, isn’t, am, are, be, been, were or was. People choose these words  in order to present opinions as facts and to downplay the big picture.

Like,

“Frosted Mini Bombs are a good source of whole grains and 12 essential vitamins and minerals.”

Are a good source? If I looked for other sources of whole grains, I could probably find a more nutritious breakfast for my kid than Frosted Mini Bombs. Such a statement also avoids any mention of sugar, preservatives, artificial flavoring or the ratio of whole grains to refined flour. So any claims that Frosted Mini Bombs provides a good source of whole grains or anything else of nutritional value treats the reader as a moron.

Writing in e-prime won’t automatically turn you into a better writer. And e-prime, when carried to the extreme, can sound ridiculous. “My phone number is 555-1234,” while not in e-prime sounds far more preferable than writing, “You can speak with with me on my mobile device by inserting into your telephone the following string of digits: five, five, five, one, two, three, four.” So even e-prime has its limits.

Rather than try to write a comprehensive post on e-prime (something I have no qualifications for), I’ll share with you my links to my favorite e-prime sites. I hope you learn something from them. Please let me know if you do.

E-Prime, a site about nothing Note: ignore the big nav on the left side of the page, use only the text links on the right

The E-Prime Forum Discussions!

The e-Primer A tool that checks your text for e-prime

Working with e-prime: Some practical notes Scholarly piece published by the International Society for General Semantics in 1991

More on e-prime.

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Posted at 1:20 pm on Thurs, Jan 13, 2011

Pepto-Bismal photo: miche11e

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About Robert Moss

I write ads: traditional, non-traditional, interactive, edutainment, story-based, broadcast, and experiential marketing events. Sometimes I write about ads and the business of advertising. Sometimes I write about other stuff. The views expressed here are solely my own and don't reflect the views of my employers. I also published a novel called Descending Memphis that's getting great reviews on Amazon. see http://www.amazon.com/Descending-Memphis-Robert-R-Moss/dp/0692364226
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