Too Many Nouns (Consider Revising)

Yesterday I picked up our local newspaper and read this sports headline: "Star Times All-Area Fall Prep Teams." I had no idea what it meant. Later I phoned home and asked my daughter to read the headline to me, so I could write about it here. After reading it to me, she asked, "What does it mean?"

Even after reading the story about the best local athletes, I was not sure what the headline was trying to convey. One of its problems is too many nouns: star, times (or is that the verb times?), area, fall, prep, teams.

When you use too many nouns in a row, readers can't be sure how the words relate to one another. Examples:

  1. Liquidation schedule delay determination is one of our priorities.

  2. The training program evaluation review team meets next week.

  3. She will fill the role of process fitness capability change manager.

Guessing what the writers mean, I propose these revisions: 

  1. Determining whether the liquidation schedule should be delayed is one of our priorities.
  2. The team that is reviewing the training program evaluations meets next week.
  3. She will fill the role of manager of . . . . (Actually I can't figure this one out, although it is a real person's title.)

I'll admit that my revisions are longer than the originals, but brevity does not always equal clarity. Adding verbs and little words such as for, of, the, and in can eliminate confusion. 

Microsoft Office will flag noun pileups of more than three nouns, as long as you have checked "Successive nouns (more  than three)" in your grammar and spelling checker. Although Microsoft doesn't offer suggestions, its caution "Too Many Nouns (consider revising)" will help you recognize the noun chains you have created.  

As for the "Star Times . . . " headline that perplexed me, I am experiencing noun headline confusion continuance frustration. What about you?

Lynn
Syntax Training

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Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact. A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors. A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media. Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English. She grew up in suburban Chicago, Illinois.

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