Nominalisation converts "A large and diverse group of people are drawing and contributing to maps" into "participatory mapping and the democratisation of cartography".

Nominalisation—where we treat processes & qualities, grammatically speaking, as things—is a crucial skill in advanced history and social science writing.

But it's hard to teach! We created a nominalisation lesson years ago, but we've never featured it in the lesson library because we never felt like we nailed it. (You can still see the old version here.)

Finally, we've had a chance to sit down and start again from scratch, and we're pretty happy with the result!

What's the point of nominalisation?

As in our other functional grammar lessons, we focus on the purpose of nominalisation—framing it as a tool that helps you write about complex ideas efficiently and expressively.

We start by introducing scales of history writing, from a low-level narrative recount to a high-level historical description.

A side-by-side of two snippets: A narrative recount from The Ghost Map about John Snow interviewing people and drawing a map of cholera victims, and a description from Women in American Cartography about participatory mapping and the democratisation of cartography.

We show how, as the scope and scale of the content expands, writers need to use more abstract and compressed language.

Making your own nominalisations

We show students how to make nominalisations using nominal suffixes, summary, and coinages or specialised terminology:

A description from Atoms and Ashes about Soviet parades and demonstrations after the Chernobyl disaster, where the author details the parades, then summarises the description with the nominalisation "manifestations".

And we show how the flexible nature of noun groups means you can use all sorts of colourful verbs and adjectives to describe a nominalised process' relationship to the world—and each other:

In Children of Ash and Elm, vivid qualities and verbs are used to describe nominalised events and processes.

Knowing your audience

Because nominalisation can often make a text more challenging to read, so we wrap up by discussing when you might choose to use a nominalised style versus a conversational style. 

We use the example of atmospheric researcher Ilissa Ocko, who presented her research on methane to fellow researchers through a journal publication and to a lay audience through a TED talk.

Left: A screenshot of a paper written by Ilissa Ocko and published in the Environmental Research Journal. Right: Ilissa Ocko on stage at TED.

For such a sophisticated concept, this is actually quite a short lesson, but it's a great starting point, and we hope you and your students find it helpful.

You can explore the new Nominalisation lesson here.

Let us know if you have any feedback!