A Beginner's Guide to Using Nominalizations in Business Writing
As businesses become more international, so must our writing. Most of the time, good business writing skills transfer very well to global audiences, but there is some confusing vocabulary that global business writers should try to avoid.
Nominalizations are nouns that refer to a process.
As a quick reminder, a noun is a person, place, thing, or idea. Nouns are often found as the
- subject of the sentence: Efficiency is important.
But, they can also be found as:
- the object of a verb: This is my
- or the object of a preposition: Let’s go in the office.
Nominalization itself is an example of a nominalization, but more common examples are words like evaporation, condensation, mechanization, and optimization. As you have probably noticed, they often end in –ation/-tion/-ition. These are the types of words often used in science or in highly specialized fields, and they make it easier for us to talk about our fields of expertise. However, they are often difficult to understand for native speakers outside of that field, never mind non-native speakers!
So how can we avoid them? Since nominalizations are nouns that refer to a process, there is always a verb hidden inside each one. For example:
- evaporation – evaporate
- condensation – condense
- mechanization – mechanize
- optimization – optimize
Heating water to the boiling point causes evaporation.
Heating water to the boiling point will cause it to evaporate.
Even though the second sentence is longer, the use of “to evaporate” is much clearer for non-native and native speakers alike because the nominalization is less commonly used overall, and “to” usually alerts readers to a verb. Let’s look at another example, this time with a more involved rewrite:
Optimization of our work force is a key goal of our company.
Our company wants to optimize our work force.
In the first sentence, the actual agent (actor) is unclear – optimization is the subject of the sentence, but optimization doesn’t actually do anything. Our company will be doing the actual action. The revision in the second sentence is much clearer for two reasons: (1) the subject, our company, is the actual agent, and (2) the use of the verb, to optimize, is much easier to identify.
As you can see, using nominalizations can lead to more complex writing and can be difficult to understand if the reader is outside the area of expertise. Using the verb hidden inside each nominalization will force you to write more clearly and be more direct.
(In case you wondering what the verb hidden in nominalization is, it’s “nominalize” which means “to make into a noun.” Unfortunately, even this isn’t very clear, either!)
Writing for a global audience is not so different from good business writing. Short, clear, direct sentences help your reader to respond in a timely manner.
If you are looking to improve your writing, see our full list of business writing tips. Instructional Solutions offers Non-Native Business Writing Writing Classes for participants for whom English is not a first language that will help you write better at work.
About the author
Katie Almeida Spencer
Katie is an experienced Business Writing and English as a Second Language instructor, business writing coach, and teacher trainer. She taught Business and Academic Writing at the University of Massachusetts Boston. She holds a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Rhode Island and an M.A. in Applied Linguistics from the University of Massachusetts Boston.