Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Writing Tip of the Week: Avoid Nominalizations

One of the best ways to improve your writing is to use active verbs instead of nominalizations. A nominalization is a verb that has been turned into a noun. For example, as nominalizations, the verbs “state” and “assume” become the nouns “statement” and assumption.” Words that end in -ment, -ion, -ence, -ance, -ity, -ent, -ant, and -ancy are often nominalizations.  

Nominalizations lead to wordiness. When you turn a verb into a noun, the sentence then requires additional verbs, prepositions and articles.  Nominalizations also tend to lead to passive voice and weaker verb choice. 
·     Nominalization:  The usage of the property by the defendants was for the storage of firewood and building materials.  (17 words; passive voice; weak verb)

·     Better:  The defendants stored firewood and building materials on the property.  (10 words; active voice; stronger verb—“stored” instead of “was”)

·     Nominalization: An agreement was made by the parties to reach a decision by Friday. (13 words; passive voice; weak verb)

·     Better: The parties agreed to decide by Friday. (7 words; active voice; stronger verbs—“agreed” and “decide”)

·     Nominalization:  The intention of Congress was for the interpretation of the statute to be made broadly by the courts. (18 words; passive voice; weak verbs)

·     Better:  Congress intended the courts to interpret the statute broadly. (9 words; active voice; stronger verbs--“intended” and  “interpret”)
For more information on nominalizations, see Anne Enquist & Laurel Currie Oates, Just Writing 74-77, 113-14 (3d ed. 2009); Laurel Currie Oates & Anne Enquist, The Legal Writing Handbook 178-79, 521, 556-58 (5th ed. 2010); and C. Edward Good, Legal Writing & Its Cure ch. 3  (reprinted in Lawmanac—Clickable Help for Legal Writers 2009).