E-Prime is a modification to the English language in which the verb “to be” is not allowed. I first learned of it via Catallaxy (disclaimer: I occasionally post on Catallaxy), where Cato links to this article.
I love the idea of E-Prime. A few attempts to speak or write in it convinced me that it makes it difficult to hide assumptions. E-Prime is therefore very appropriate for scientific writing, in which it is important to clarify what assumptions were made. Unfortunately, removal of the verb “to be” causes awkward and sometimes repetitive writing, particularly in “Methods” writing. It gets rid of the passive voice, oh-so-beloved pseudo-humble writing style of many a scientist.
The model was paced eight times at a basic cycle length (BCL) of 300 ms. A shock was then applied with a field perpendicular to the direction of propagation over a range of coupling intervals (CIs) following the last paced beat. Once reentry was initiated, the model was allowed to run until action potential duration (APD) stabilized to a variation of less than 1 ms per beat.
We paced the model eight times at a basic cycle length (BCL) of 300 ms. We then applied a shock with a field perpendicular to the direction of propagation over a range of coupling intervals (CIs) following the last paced beat. Once we initiated reentry, we allowed the model to run until action potential duration (APD) stabilized to a variaition of less than 1ms per beat.
Not too awkward there, but to be is replaced by we (verb)ed, resulting in gratuitous use of the Royal We. Zeus forbid we use the first person pronoun “I” in a scientific paper. Imagine several more paragraphs of this, though — it can get annoyingly repetitive quickly.
Perhaps it is more important to focus on the use of E-Prime in results. After all, one of the best examples I’ve seen of the utility of E-Prime is in describing elementary particles (as done in the linked article):
A proton appears to behave like a particle when observed by instrument 1. A proton appears to behave like a wave when observed by instrument 2.
A proton is a particle. A proton is wave.
Even for people who are well-versed in the mathematics and various experiments used to generate the statements above, one is clearer than the other. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the E-Prime version (first one) is a set of observations, while the “to be”-inclusive version (second) is a set of (contradictory) conclusions.
Now, assuming that I want to write my papers in E-Prime, how do I buck the system in which people are used to passive voice and still get published?
Disclaimer: I did not attempt to make this post E-Prime-compliant, though this disclaimer follows the rules of E-Prime.
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