Descriptions of good technical writing often mention the virtue of ‘clarity’ while, ironically, themselves lacking clarity about what it means or where you get it. This talk introduces E-Prime as a simple constraint that results in clearer, more direct writing.
E-Prime constrains the English language by forbidding all forms of the verb ‘to be’. D David Bourland Jr came up with the idea in 1949 and used E-Prime to improve the quality of his academic writing. Bourland published his first paper recommending E-Prime in 1965. It never caught on.
The first time you try to use E-Prime, you get stuck. You discover the difficulty of constantly searching for an alternative verb, and even worry about what other people might think. Bourland himself wrote, ‘Between 1949 and 1964 I used E-Prime in several papers, but did not discuss this matter lest I become regarded as some kind of nut.’ Despite these setbacks, E-Prime has the capacity to intrigue.
In this talk, Peter Hilton describes how his initial curiosity and getting hooked on the challenge led to rewriting a software user manual in E-Prime and a new perspective on all kinds of writing. He explains what writing E-Prime feels like, what it does, why it works, where it has value, when it just wastes time and when you will sneakily use it anyway.
- Eramsmus MC, Rotterdam - 16 March 2017