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Friday, January 20, 2012

Improve your Writing: Add Some Action

Put some action into your sentences
English is a verbing language. We like to put action into our sentences, and to say things as clearly and directly as we can. As a result we use use a lot of verbs to get our message across. 

If you want to improve your writing, stop using all those abstract nouns in your writing and replace them with the real verbs they often come from.  
Abstract nouns are words for things you can't touch or see such as discovery, agreement, observation, and development. They  come from verbs such as discover, agree, observe, and develop. When  you turn a verb into a noun, you nominalize it, creating nominalizations.

When you nominalize the action of a sentence, you reduce the clarity of the sentence because  hide the action in a noun instead of letting the action of the sentence remain in the verb.This creates sentences with a lot of unnecessary words. Most readers find it easier to understand clear sentences in which the subject is the "doer", and the verb conveys the action. They don't want to have to read the sentence several times in order to get the point.  

Consider these examples:  
 1  Little Red Riding Hood’s suggestion was that the wood chopper complete the killing 
     of the wolf with quickness.    
     Little Red Riding Hood suggested that wood chopper quickly kill the wolf.
 2.   We had a discussion on disciplinary actions parents should take on their children. 
       We discussed how parents should discipline their children.   

3.   There was agreement in our group.
      Our group agreed. 
Do you notice how in each example, the second sentence is much clearer and direct than the first? . 

Five Types of Nominalizations
Here are some ways in which nouns are overused. You may think you sound  more "academic." Unfortunately, the result is the opposite. You simply sound pompous  and wordy - without clearly communicating your meaning.  

1.   Nominalization follows verb 
      The police conducted an investigation into the matter.
     The police investigated the matter. 

2.  Nominalization follows "there is", "there are"
    There was  erosion of the land from the floods.  
    The floods eroded the land. 

3  Nominalization is the subject of empty verb 
     Our discussion concerned a tax cut. 
     We discussed a tax cut.                                                                                                               
4.  Consecutive Nominalizations 
      There was a review of the growth of the women's movement. 
       We reviewed how  the women's movement grew.

5.   Linked nominalizations 
      The cessation of hostilities was because of their personnel losses.   
      They ceased hostilities because they lost personnel.  

 Correcting and Improving 

Iimproving your sentences is not difficult. Put the action back into your sentences. Here are two specific methods you can use. 
  • Go  back to your writing. look for obvious nouns such as recommendation, observation, consultation, improvement, developmentt, and turn them into verbs. Then , find a real subject and rewrite the sentence with some action in it.
  • Whenever you see general purpose verbs such as carry out, have, undertake, conduct, there is, there are " look for the noun that names the action. Then, turn the noun into an active verb and make the sentence more direct and easier to read  (Christopher Turk and Alfred John Kirkman, Effective Writing: Improving Scientific, Technical, and Business Communication, 2nd ed. Chapman & Hall, 1989)
More examples: 
Here are a few more examples of how you can turn abstract nouns into real action verbs, which will strengthen your writing and make it more readable.

 Too many nouns 

There was a  recommendation to change.
There is an improvement in your work.
There is rapid development in my city.
My parents made a suggestion. 
The government  made an announcement.
Our group made a report.
There has been a suggestion.  
Overuse of the land has caused destruction.  

 Change the nouns to verbs

We recommended a change.
Your work is improving.
My city is rapidly developing.
My parents suggested....
The government announced....
Our group reported...
The boss suggested.....
Overused of the land has destroyed it.

What do you think about this?  Let me know.


  1. That was an informative ,something new to learn..thanks i have learned a lot.


  2. This is a problem I have in my writing.It is not easy for me to change it,but I am trying to use more verbs in writing.

    1. Renee,

      Being aware of the problem will help you a lot because now you know that you should try to use active verbs. If you put some real effort into it, you will improve.


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