Nominalization and Clarity: Ensuring the Right Balance in Academic Writing
Though research would immensely benefit from coherent and direct writing, it often becomes crucial to follow a particular writing style, in this scenario, the academic style which warrants a ritualized way of formal writing. Consequently, academic writers frequently write texts that are tricky to navigate and comprehend because of lack of cohesion, logical flow, and focused emphasis. These problems are often caused by the absence of a common conscious objective—to make content coherent.
One writing element that makes academic prose wordy and complex is the overuse of nominalizations. They bring in a high level of abstraction, thus making writing vague and unclear.
What is Nominalization?
Steven Pinker aptly defines nominalization as a process that “takes a perfectly spry verb and embalms it into a lifeless noun by adding a suffix like –ance, –ment, or –ation.”1
Alternatively, when a verb or an adjective is used as a noun, a nominalization is created.
Let’s look at the following sentence:
A comparison was made of the effects of inflation on the stock market by Smith and Jones.
Here the main action of the sentence, to compare, has been expressed as an abstract noun, comparison. While a certain degree of embellishment is necessary in formal writing, it is critical to ensure that the writing is readable and fulfills the main purpose of research—to be practical and pertinent.
Therefore, to ensure clarity, writing experts suggest using the following method:
Whenever possible, use agents as subjects (i.e., the performer of the action in the sentence) and actions as verbs (usually the main action).
Nominalized sentences tend to insert most of their information into the subject position, which hampers readability and makes them difficult to understand. Nominalizations can mask the main verb of a sentence, and thus, we often risk losing useful information.
The university students conducted an investigation of the passive action of the university teaching body.
The sentence above can be made crisper by revealing the verb (investigated) in the nominalization (investigation). Notice how the other words attached to “investigation” are no longer necessary.
The university students investigated the passive action of the university teaching body.
Some routine nominalizations are as follows:
Other types of nominalizations are as follows:
Not all nominalizations are superfluous and contribute to making a sentence complicated; certain nominalizations are necessary. They work to make sentences concise or build cohesion between sentences.
For instance, in the sentence given below, the nominalization (reduction) replaces a wordy phrase (The fact that … was reduced and this…).
The fact that the sample size was reduced and this affected the study outcome was noted by the panelists.
The panelists noted that the reduction in sample size affected the study outcome.
Moreover, certain nominalizations stand for ideas that can only be conveyed as nominalizations: taxation, revolution, hope, freedom, etc.
With good research comes great responsibility. Choose your method of expression wisely!
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