Hunt out the zombies in your writing

Helen Sword’s book on academic writing, Stylish Academic Writing (Harvard University Press, 2012), is a go-to book for me.
I particularly like what she has to say on zombie nouns (or nominalisations, to give them their proper name). Simply put, these are nouns that have a much more direct and energetic verb form. For example, discover (not discovery); discuss (not discussion); fail (not failure); notify (not notification); observe (not observation). For more examples, visit Switch these nouns back to their verb form and not only do you create a more energised sentence, but also it’s typically shorter. You can convert: ‘Helen Sword makes an observation that nominalisations decrease clarity’ (9 words) to ‘Helen Sword observes that nominalisations decrease clarity’ (7 words). For more direct, energetic and concise sentences, try a bit of zombie hunting the next time you edit.

Dr Anna Barker
13 December 2017