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This Guide was created as a joint project of the Academic Resource Center and the William H. Hannon Library.

Directed Learning: Clarity: Get Rid of Nominalizations

What is a nominalization?

In the simplest of terms, nominalizations are nouns that are formed from verbs:

investigation from investigate, or refusal from refuse.  Nouns like these often end up being used in sentences like this: 

The collection of data by David Foster Wallace led to his book Infinite Jest.  

To be clearer, we would write: 

David Foster Wallace collected data and wrote Infinite Jest. or

David Foster Wallace wrote Infinite Jest with the data he collected.

Collecting data and writing the book contain the action (the power) of this sentence.  We want to keep that action and power in the hands of a verb where it belongs. Turning the verb into a noun loses that power and makes the sentence weak. Nominalizations are often used because they sound formal, but because they are often indirect, you should use an active verb instead. The purpose of this DLA is to walk through some examples of nominalization, like the one used above, and after offer some guided practice. Good luck! 

Examples of Bad Sentences with too many Nominalizations

Bad: Our lack of data prevented evaluation of UN actions in targeting funds to areas most in need of assistance.

Good: Because we LACKED data, we could not EVALUATE whether the UN had TARGETED funds to areas that most NEEDED assistance. 

Bad: There is opposition among many voters to nuclear power plants based on a belief of their threat to human health.

Good: Many voters OPPOSE nuclear power plants because they BELIEVE that such plants THREATEN human health. 

Williams, Joseph M. Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace. 7th ed. New York: Longman, 2003. Print.

Directed Learning Activity: Nominalizations