Usually, big words are bad. They don’t make you seem smart, and they don’t help readers understand your message.

In short, simplicity is harder for writers to achieve but much easier for audiences to follow.

Nominalizations – a big, fancy word to describe big, fancy words you don’t need

by | Sep 14, 2015

Usually, big words are bad. They don’t make you seem smart, and they don’t help readers understand your message.

In short, simplicity is harder for writers to achieve but much easier for audiences to follow. You might think that your idea just can’t be conveyed simply, but that usually just means you haven’t figured out how to convey it.

Nominalizations are one of the most frequent offenders in the big-word world. But thankfully, they’re usually very easy to eliminate.

WHAT IS A NOMINALIZATION?

A nominalization is when you transform a word that isn’t a noun into a noun.

Most commonly, verbs are turned into nominalizations.

Here are some frequent offenders:
Utilization
Optimization
Investigation
Proliferation
Indication
Combination

Don’t just look for the “-tion” ending. (“Nation,” for example, isn’t a nominalization, and “analysis” is.)

Rather, look for verbs lurking within long (usually boring sounding) nouns.

WHAT IS SO AWFUL ABOUT NOMINALIZATIONS?

When you use these guys, you’re choosing to take the action out of your sentence and flatten that action into a long, boring word.

Even worse, nominalizations almost always come saddled with a deadweight “to be” verb. So, if you rid your sentences of nominalizations, you eliminate lots of weight with little work.

SOME REAL WORLD EXAMPLES FROM A CLIENT’S MARKET ANALYSIS:

Original: These practices are in compliance with new EU banking rules.

Revision: These practices comply with new EU banking rules.

This revision generates three wins:
(1)    We eliminate the “to be” verb (“are”)
(2)    The sentence acts instead of describes (“practices comply” instead of “practices are in compliance”)
(3)    We reduce the number of words in the sentence.

Original: The deal was in development for three years.

Revision: The companies developed the deal for three years.

Here, the benefit of the revision is to make the agent (or the entity doing the action) clear.

Original: This could cause a significant disruption in Chinese economic growth.

Revision: This could significantly disrupt Chinese economic growth.

Or, even better: This could significantly slow Chinese economic growth.

THE BENEFITS OF ELIMINATING NOMINALIZATIONS:

  1. Your sentences act, instead of describe
  2. Your word count typically decreases
  3. Your individual words are shorter
  4. You and your audience can identify who is doing what
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