Monday, November 26, 2012

Grammar for Research Writing: Nouns and Verbs

Possessive Nouns.
Possessive Nouns? (Photo: elvis_payne)
by Susan Carter, Doctoral Writing SIG:

Doctoral theses are long. In the writing of them, you want your reader to persevere and more: you want them to hang in closely, so that they can follow you.

So the writing needs to be clear and not fuzzy, as when, for example, abstract or theoretical terms blur clarity.

Terms may be so vague that readers disengage. ‘Stove’ is concrete and visible; ‘domestic appliance’ is broad, harder to envision other than lined up in a store. Using broad abstracts when there is an exact concrete option will make writing fuzzy.

Generally, the more a reader can see in their mind’s eye what you mean, the more closely they follow you. One route to best possible precision is to think about the function of nouns and the function of verbs. Different grammatical functions mean different implications for verbal and nominal abstract terms.

Nouns are substantive. They have presence. But they can’t do anything without verbs. Grammatically, nouns are static. Verbs lack substance, but they get nouns up and running.

Without nouns, verbs are just an electric current without a light bulb. They exert their own presence only by animating nouns. The verbs drive; they need a noun to do it with.

So is your abstract concept a noun or a verb? When you are in a research topic that is bogged down in abstract terms, you might need to labour at precision. That nouns and verbs have different grammatical functions means that they bring their own influence to your abstract, complex or theoretical ideas.

Theory terms may be verbal as well as nominal. We can ‘other’ the people we don’t quite trust and they will notice our bias. Theories around ‘being’ view identity a little differently than when it is described nominally. Pondering over a troublesome abstraction, you might ask is it substantive or is it a ‘doing or being’ concept?

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