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 www.andynaselli.com/zombie-nouns 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
Look through your essay and underline your reporting verbs. Then decide whether you have used the most suitable verb in each case.
To raise the quality of your writing, check your verbs. Select verbs that say exactly what you mean and carry the right amount of weight.
Even if you feel safer with the passive voice, consider how you might use the occasional active sentence to liven up your writing.