Sunday, July 29, 2012

Weekend Writing: Stop the Zombie Nouns!

If the reader can't figure out what action is taking place, then the writer has fallen into a pit. Always. So following Helen Sword's advice in this New York Times article can greatly improve our writing.

Do you have trouble spotting zombie nouns? Just look for those ending in "tion." Or look for weak linking verbs ("be," "is," "was," "are," "were" when used without other verbs), and rewrite the sentence using real active verbs. The act of doing so forces us to understand the reality, just as having to cite our sources forces us to understand them. (Linking verbs do have their place -- in this sentence and the next, for instance -- but it is not all over every page of our writing.)

Sword refers back to George Orwell, one of the very best 20th-century writers, showing that, like other kinds of zombies, this problem has proven very difficult to kill.

Hat tip to 3 Quarks Daily.

ADDED 6 PM CST SUNDAY: If you're interested, I'll be leading an APG online discussion on writing Tuesday at 9 PM EDT, 8 PM CDT. BYOQ (Bring Your Own Questions). First come, first served, limit 25:, access code 128-858-424.

Helen Sword, "Zombie Nouns," Opinionator, New York Times ( : accessed 25 July 2012).

Harold Henderson, "Weekend Writing: Stop the Zombie Nouns!," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 29 July 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

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