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Nominalisation

Avoiding excessive nominalisation

Avoiding excessive nominalisation means that you should try to reduce the number of abstract nouns (things that are not physical objects), such as ‘investigation’, ‘calculation’, and ‘interpretation’. When appropriate, you should replace these nouns with their verb form. Too many nominalisations result in overuse of the passive (see 4 below). This often produces text which is dull and which contains overlong sentences. Even though it may sometimes be useful to use nouns to express ideas concisely and to link sentences in academic writing, it is better style to avoid excessive use of nouns as this makes the text more difficult for the reader to process.

Example 1 

Example: A recommendation has been made by the Student Union that the grant be accepted.

Change the noun 'recommendation' to the verb 'recommend':

Example: The Student Union has recommended that the grant be accepted.

Example 2

Example: The conclusion that the writing had some connection with the church at Edessa was published by Sellers (1945).

Change the nouns to verbs

Example: Sellers (1945) concluded that the writing was connected with the church at Edessa.

Example 3 

Example: Publication of the recordings selected from the archives is undertaken by the English Folk Dance and Song Society.

Change to:

Example: The English Folk Dance and Song Society publishes the recordings selected from the archives.

Example 4 

Example: Researchers undertaking the analysis of qualitative research data using a computer need to describe what the program does in the analysis process.

Write:

Example: Researchers analysing qualitative research data using a computer need to describe what the program does in the analysis process.

Excessive use of nouns often accompanies overuse of weak, general purpose verbs, such as ‘accomplish’, ‘conduct’, ‘occur’ or ‘perform’. Whenever possible, you should try to avoid general purpose verbs.

Example 5 

Example: The installation of the new NHS computer system will be accomplished in three weeks’ time.

Change to:

Example: The new NHS computer system will be installed in three weeks’ time.

Example 6 

Example: Prior to repeating the survey, it was necessary for us to conduct a check on the availability of all the volunteers.

Change to:

Example: Before we repeated the survey, it was necessary to check the availability of all the volunteers.