E-Prime is Good: How to Make Your Copywriting Strong

by Lou

If you’ve studied the “rules” of writing tight ad copy, you have undoubtedly run across this rule: “Don’t use the passive voice. Use the active voice instead.” In other words, you would change a sentence like this:

The copy was written by me.” (PASSIVE VOICE)
TO
I wrote the copy.” (ACTIVE VOICE)
Doing this gives the sentence more power, making it clear and easier to act upon.

Governments like to use the passive voice to divert blame from themselves. When using the passive voice they can leave out the “doer” of the action (called “the agent” in linguistics). For example,

Many mistakes were made.” (PASSIVE)
FROM THIS:
The Bush Administration made many mistakes.” (ACTIVE)

So, if you want to make your ads sound like a politician’s vapid speech, by all means, use the passive voice. However, if you want to give your copywriting clarity, strength, and power the active voice should be used. (;-)

Now, let’s take this power copywriting a step further. . .

To do this, you’ll use an NLP technique called Writing in E-Prime. (from Korzybski‘s General Semantics) With this technique, you scan your copy for all uses of the verb “to be.” (is, are, was, were, am, been, being, be) and replace them with active verbs. Not only does this strengthen your copywriting, making it more forceful and easier to read; it also removes what Korzybski called the “unsanity” of these two problems: the ‘is of identity’ and the ‘is of prediction’ which can lead to all sorts of limitations.

Use E-Prime to make your writing more specific. Instead of saying something like “We are the fastest!” Tell your prospect how, specifically, fast you work. “We will finish the job in less than 8 hours!” Apply the Meta-Model to your copy. Search for violations. Zap the Verb to Be.

Don’t knock yourself out to do this though. For example, which would you rather use, “She is a bank manager,” or “She works in the bank in the capacity of manager”? Use E-Prime to add power and clarity to your writing. But don’t torture yourself if you cannot squeeze all the verbs to-be out of your ad. It’s impossible.

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