In "Zombie Nouns" in the New York Times, English professor Helen Sword rails against nominalizations (nouns formed from other parts of speech), which she says, "cannibalize active verbs, suck the lifeblood from adjectives and substitute abstract entities for human beings." She offers this as an example of nominalized writing (the nominalizations are in italics):
The proliferation of nominalizations in a discursive formation may be an indication of a tendency toward pomposity and abstraction.
Lawyers, she says, as well as academics, bureaucrats, and business writers, love nominalizations. Think that doesn't apply to you? She points us to her own fun online tool to check the health of your writing, according to her standards. The Writer's Diet Test scores your writing for flabbiness or fitness. Just for fun, we ran Chief Justice Young's and Justice Markman's statements from the recent order on the challenge to the Emergency Manager law referendum through the test. Both statements rated "flabby," but for different reasons. The chief justice's nouns put his statement in "heart attack" territory, while Justice Markman's verbs were the culprit. Those results whetted our appetite -- could we find any legal writing that met the fitness test? We turned to the latest Supreme Court opinion and things started looking up immediately. A sample of Justice Mary Beth Kelly's majority opinion rated "needs toning," a distinct improvement, but a sample of Justice Markman's concurrence again fell into heart attack territory, this time for both nouns and verbs, plus an abundance of "waste words." And then finally, a clean bill of health: Justice Cavanagh's dissent rated "fit and healthy."
The prior paragraph, by the way, rated "flabby." It's all about those nouns.
We do not endorse the test as a definitive assessment of good writing, but it is a lot of fun. We recommend combining the pleasure of playing with it with another entertaining distraction, such as watching a TV broadcast of a Tigers game.