Writing Tip: Use Dense Words

A dense word is a word that crowds a lot of meaning into a small space. The fewer words you use to express an idea, the more impact that idea will have. When you revise, look for opportunities to cross out several words and insert one. Once a month is monthly; something new is novel; people they didn’t know are strangers; and something impossible to imagine is inconceivable.

Taken from “100 Ways To Improve Your Writing” by Gary Provost ISBN 978-0-451-62721-6

Writing Tip: How To Detect And Correct Nominalizations

A nominalization is a noun you’ve created from a verb or adjective.

Nominalization: The screeching unnerved the rookie.

Screeching is a noun form of the verb to screech. This sentence is weak because readers don’t know who is screeching. When you use the verb to screech you giver yourself room to identify the noisemaker.

Better: The uncooperative suspect screeched, unnerving the rookie.

Nominalizations contain up to three elements. Sometimes you see only one or two of them; other times, all three appear.

  1. A word such as a, an, the, his, her, these, or several.
  2. A noun such as utilization, sadness or taking. This is the only element that always appears in nominalizations.
  3. The word of.

Nominalization: The last step was the collection of the victim’s dust bunnies.

Here the verb to collect has become the noun collection. This sentence is vague because it doesn’t specify who is collecting the evidence. All becomes clear when you use the verb to collect as well as a specific subject.

Better: The forensics team collected the victim’s dust bunnies just before leaving the scene.

Now let’s do an examination of–oops, I mean let’s examine–a nominalization with two elements.

Nominalization: The senior citizen responded to the would-be robber with an exclamation: “Get your hands off my dentures!”

Here the verb to exclaim has become the noun exclamation. Let’s improve the sentence.

Better: The senior citizen exclaimed to the would-be robber, “Get your hands off my dentures!”

Finally, here’s a nominalization with just one element.

Nominalization: Happiness was evident after the clown was arrested.

The sentence is poor because it fails to mention who is happy.

Better: The detective was happy after she arrested the clown.

Nouns that end in -tion and -ing are often nominalizations. Even the word nominalization is a nominalization (it comes from the verb to nominalize).

WHY SHOULD YOU AVOID NOMINALIZATIONS

  1. Nominalizations allow you to omit the subject. When you don’t say who is doing the action, your sentences become vague.
  2. Nominalizations often force you to use weak verbs. Vague subjects go hand in hand with weak verbs such as to be and to do. Although these verbs are integral parts of English, your writing can get rather monotonous if every sentence contains a was or were.
  3. Nominalizations are often wordy. When you reword nominalizations, your sentences usually become more concise.

WHEN IT’S OKAY TO USE NOMINALIZATIONS

You should use a specific subject in most cases. However, a nominalization is acceptable if you don’t know who is doing the action, or if the subject is unimportant.

The disappearance of every rat in town puzzled the police.

Paraphrased from The Curious Case Of The Misplaced Modifier by Bonnie Trenga ISBN: 978-1-58297-561-2