A correspont writes to say he is having trouble with nominalisations. He cites a style guide which advises its readers to shun them, turn them into verbs, and find an appropriate subject for the sentence. He comments: 'In my view, however, this is easier said than done. And to make matters worse, there seems to be instances where nominalisations are useful, particularly in academic writing.'
Nominalisation is the result of forming a noun from a word belonging to another word-class, e.g. writing from write. It's been a feature of English from its very beginning, in Anglo-Saxon times, so any general rule about 'shunning' nominalizations has to be absurd. What the style guides are usually getting at is the overuse of two processes: (a) long words formed with a suffix such as -ation - as in nominalisation, indeed, from nominalise; and (b) sentences where a noun phrase derives from a finite clause, as in the rejection of the proposal, instead of X rejected the proposal.
Nominalisations allow us the option of being more abstract and impersonal, which is why they are useful in academic writing. Note the problem in (b) above: we have to choose a subject for the clause, and it isn't obvious which subject to go for. Who actually rejected the proposal? And, in any case, is it relevant to know who rejected it? The important point is that it was rejected. The nominalisation allows this focus on the result without distraction.
The antipathy to abstract words is a feature of 20th-century style pundits. George Orwell inveighed against them (despite using them all over the place). So did Ernest Gowers. In a section (in Plain Words) called 'the lure of the abstract word' he comments that avoiding nominalisations 'is more important than any other single thing if you would convert a flabby style into a crisp one'. And certainly, the overuse of such forms can be turgid, as his examples show: 'The actualisation of the emotivation of the forces...', 'a mutuality of capability...', and so on.
But overuse is not the same as use. And no-one can avoid using nominalisations. A few lines before the above, Gowers himself writes about 'an excessive reliance on the noun at the expense of the verb', and there are dozens of nominalisations in his pages. The crucial word is 'excessive'. Excessive use of anything is always stylistically dangerous.
Style guides always simplify, often to the point of pastiche, and that is what has happened here. An originally sensible point - the need to avoid unnecessary abstraction, which often hides unclear thinking - has been generalised into an outright ban. I can't give a guide about when to use or not use nominalisations in a blog (as my correspondent also asks) - that would be a huge task. But I can draw attention to the gradience that exists between nouns and verbs - or, more precisely, between deverbal nouns via verbal nouns to participles - where it's fascinating to see the range of nuances of expression which English provides. It is one of the hidden gems in the big Quirk grammar (§17.54), and it goes like this, with glosses given underneath each sentence:
(1) some paintings of Brown's
(a) 'some paintings that Brown owns'
(b) 'some paintings painted by Brown'
(2) Brown's paintings of his daughter
(a) 'paintings depicting his daughter and painted by him'
(b) 'paintings depicting his daughter and painted by someone else but owned by him'
(3) The painting of Brown is as skilful as that of Gainsborough
(a) 'Brown's mode of painting'
(b) 'Brown's action of painting'
(4) Brown's deft painting of his daughter is a delight to watch
'It is a delight to watch while Brown deftly paints his daughter'
(5) Brown's deftly painting his daughter is a delight to watch
= 3a or 4
(6) I dislike Brown's painting his daughter
'I dislike the fact that Brown does it'
'I dislike the way that Brown does it'
(7) I dislike Brown painting his daughter (when she ought to be at school)
(8) I watched Brown painting his daughter
'I watched Brown as he painted his daughter'
'I watched the process of Brown painting his daughter'
(9) Brown deftly painting his daughter is a delight to watch
= 3b or 4
(10) Painting his daughter, Brown noticed that his hand was shaking
'While he was painting his daughter...'
(11) Brown painting his daughter that day, I decided to go for a walk
'Since Brown was painting ...'
(12) The man paintng the girl is Brown
'The man who is painting...'
(13) The silently painting man is Brown
'The man who is silently painting'
(14) Brown is painting his daughter
Style guides should be explaining to people what English allows us to say and write, and pointing out the strengths and weaknesses of different usages in different contexts. Blanket bans are a nonsense.