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Zombie nouns

Formally called nominalisations, zombie nouns are unnecessarily long, heavy nouns that would work better as verbs1.

Some zombie nouns will be necessary, so you can "ignore" them in the ReallyWrite Editor.

First look carefully

Look carefully at the zombie nouns before "ignoring" them and change as many as possible.

Change zombie nouns to precise verbs

A shows an association with B.

A is associated with B.

But can you tell me how it is associated? What is the precise verb here?

These targeted therapies show inconsistent treatment effects.

These targeted therapies were not consistency effective.

This one was also redundant: therapies and treatment mean the same thing. The zombie noun changed to an adjective here.

Few researchers have concentrated their focus on this area.

Few researchers have focused on this area.

This one was also redundant: concentrate and focus mean the same thing.

...leading to a reduction in the frequency of hospitalizations and fatalities.

...reducing the frequency of hospitalizations and fatalities.

We carried out a comprehensive study on...

We comprehensively studied...

Key Words

You will probably have certain keywords in your text that can remain zombie nouns. Balance them out by removing all the other zombie nouns around them. Leave only the most important zombie nouns standing.

Zombie nouns are usually longer than their corresponding verb form.

VerbZombie Noun
Common zombie noun endings
Watch out!

Zombie nouns are usually hiding next to empty, vague verbs like have, make, show, do, and is. They are often followed by a preposition (often of or in). When you have multiple prepositional phrases in a row, you usually have a zombie noun.

Remove lists of zombie nouns in prepositional phrases

When you link multiple nouns together with prepositions (for, at, by, with, in ...), the reader is not able to see the relationship between them clearly.

rule of thumb

When you have three prepositional phrases in a row, you need to revise; when you have two in a row, you can consider revising.

Find the verb that shows the relationship between two nouns. Put it back into the verb form and put it between the two nouns:

We do not know whether there is an effect of A on B.

We do not know whether A affects B.

In the first sentence, you can't see exactly how A relates to B because the only word that connects them is "on".

In the second sentence, you have a new verb: affects. Once you find the verb, ask yourself if it is the most precise verb to show the relationship.

Ask yourself

How does A affect B? Does it increase B? Does it improve B?

What is wrong with zombie nouns?

Sentences full of zombie nouns can sound fancy 2 but they fail to tell us who is doing what. Change the zombie nouns to active verbs (or remove them completely) and add human or concrete subjects to breathe life back into your text.

action as a verb

Readers expect the action of the sentence to be articulated by the verb. In more complex sentences, there may be multiple actions: each action needs to be a verb.

There is currently no benchmark for EHR-based stroke prevention.

There is currently no benchmark to prevent stroke using EHRs (electronic health records).

This disease can be prevented by early identification of people with increased risk.

This disease can be prevented by identifying people with increased risk early.

Overflow of liquids and other substances is less likely to occur.

Liquids and other substances are less likely to overflow.

Use the Editor!

The ReallyWrite Editor helps you identify potential zombie nouns in your text. Your job is to look at each zombie noun and ask yourself if that zombie noun could actually be a verb (or adjective or adverb) and if so, how?

You won't remove all the zombie nouns in your text, just most of them. You may choose to keep zombie nouns that you use as key words. In this case, just click "Ignore" on the ReallyWrite Editor.

Why does this work?

Removing zombie nouns and changing them back into verbs lightens up the sentence because verbs are usually shorter, more active and easier to read than nouns. It puts the action where readers expect to find it and aligns your text with the readers' expectations, which improves the flow and readability.

How important is it?

On a scale of 1-10, it's a 9: very important! You don't have to remove every zombie noun in your text. Some zombie nouns are necessary and can help you express complex ideas simply. However, you should remove as many zombie nouns as you reasonably can.

Are you having trouble removing zombie nouns in your text? Ask for help!

Reader Expectations


  1. or sometimes adjectives or adverbs

  2. but mostly they sound complex and heavy