The Utilization of Nominalization Contributes to Wordiness
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Words of Wisdom

When talented people write badly, it’s generally for one of two reasons: Either they’re blinded by an idea they feel compelled to prove of they’re driven by an emotion they must express. When talented people write well, it is generally for this reason: They’re moved by a desire to touch the audience.

— Robert McKee

In the last few posts, I have been discussing how to teach students to write more concise and direct—and less wordy—prose. One of my favored strategies is to teach them to recognize and reconsider nominalizations. Nominalization. That's one of the best words in English because it embodies its own definition. Nominalization is the process of turning a verb or an adverb into a noun.

Common endings for nominalization are –tion, –ment, or –ness.  Following are some examples. Notice that the pair should really have parallel meanings, so found (as in “she founded the business” does not pair with foundation, though they share etymology.

Verb Noun Adverb Noun
choose choice wordy wordiness
combine combination noisy noisiness
establish establishment dizzy dizziness
use, utilize utilization difficult difficulty

Like all the strategies I have mentioned, you don’t want to promote deleting nominalizations as a panacea—ridding prose of all nominalizations would be inconvenient and probably lead to some rather silly locutions.  Instead, teach students to find and revise nominalizations into verbs or adverbs and then to choose (or, in nominalized form “to make a choice about”) the best option.

So let’s look at how this works in just two examples from student prose (which I have, as before, disguised to protect identity).

Example 1. Effective writing is achieved through the pure reduction of thought into perfectly chosen words.

Revision. Effective writing reduces thought to perfectly chosen words.

Example 2. Having this privacy, however, also means that the consultation takes place in complete isolation and without the possibility of collaboration with other physicians.

Revision. Having this privacy, however, also means that physician and patient consult in complete isolation and without the possibility of collaborating with other physicians.

Notice that trying to get rid of possibility just becomes impossible if we are to preserve the meaning. Also, in Example 2 the revision is not less wordy that the original, but it is more direct in that the actors are named.

I hold a special place on my wall of shame for utilize/utilization, but this brings us to a somewhat different matter than nominalization. Although use and utilize mean the same thing denotatively, they carry different connotations, all due to utilize having a more Latinate form. Latin provides scholarly credentials—and thus many people associate it with more “refined” or “academic” language.  I, however, associate it with pretension. So while it is certainly correct to utilize the word, I’d much rather use it.