Last month, I showed the first of two techniques for turning less formal writing into a more academic style. This article looks at another very common feature of academic writing: nominalization. This means that a verb or clause (or, in fact, any word) is turned into a noun phrase. This has two effects: First, it reduces the number of finite (subject + verb) clauses in the sentence, which is typical of academic style. Second, it results in a more dense style of writing, with more content words and fewer function words. For this reason, nominalization should be used carefully so as not to produce writing that is inaccessible.
Another benefit of nominalization is that it can reduce the need to use vague words like people, which is a common problem even with advanced learners.
Students may find a good dictionary useful to check that a noun form exists of the word that they are attempting to change. A broad knowledge of grammatical suffixes is also useful. Abstract nouns are often formed with the endings –tion, -ance, -ence, -ness, –ing and –ity. Some nouns and verbs have the same spelling (e.g. a change / to change).
EVERYDAY I recorded how many calories I consumed during the weekend.
MORE ACADEMIC I recorded my calorie consumption during the weekend.
EVERYDAY After John arrived in Japan, he started to learn the language.
MORE ACADEMIC John’s language education started after his arrival in Japan.
EVERYDAY People who are creative need to be exposed to many different ideas.
MORE ACADEMIC Creativity requires exposure to many different ideas.
Notice that the more academic sentences are shorter and grammatically less complex than the less formal or spoken sentences.
For more practice with nominalization, please see the downloadable activity.