More red flags

A couple months ago, I posted about unnecessary nominalizations in scientific writing and shared some search strings that you can use to ferret out and revise such constructions.  Since then, I’ve been compiling a list of some additional red-flag phrases that tend to signal nominalizations. Here are some of the frequently encountered phrases on my list:

(1) Is/are/was/were different. These phrases often signal a noun+adjective combination that can be revised to a more concise verb+adverb combination, as in the first example below:

The behaviors [noun] of the bacteriophages were different [adjective].
The bacteriophages behaved [verb] differently [adverb].

The redox properties of CeO2 are different from those of Pr6O11.
The redox properties of CeO2 differ from those of Pr6O11.

(2) Effective for. Again, this phrase sometimes marks an adjective+noun combination that can be replaced with the corresponding verb+adverb combination:

The process was effective [adjective] for the removal [noun] of both viruses.
The process effectively [adverb] removed [verb] both viruses.

The aluminum species was effective for charge neutralization.
The aluminum species effectively neutralized the charge.

(3) Is/are/was/were observed. These phrases are often completely unnecessary:

High electron-injection efficiency was observed in all films.
Electron-injection efficiency was high in all films.

The formation of epoxide was observed at 323 K.
Epoxide formed at 323 K.

No removal of either virus by the coagulant was observed.
Neither virus was removed by the coagulant.

(4) Showed/shows. Forms of the verb “to show” often herald a noun or noun phrase that can be replaced with the corresponding verb or verb phrase:

The calculation showed a systematic overestimation of the true value.
The calculation systematically overestimated the true value.

The cells showed no change in morphology.
The cell morphology did not change.

Some dye cations show strong absorption in this region.
Some dye cations absorb strongly in this region.

As I wrote in my earlier post, nominalizations are not grammatically wrong, so you don’t need to stamp them out ruthlessly. But if you want your writing to be concise and forceful, favor verbs over nouns where you can.

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