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A personal frustration of mine is when I see a cluster of nouns sitting together in a sentence. I usually see these in highly technical emails, but not exclusively.

Here is a particularly bad example I received this morning:

The Web Product Provider search print Individual Provider Map does not print the listing originally found [...]

What are some good strategies for breaking up these nouns while still keeping the language specific and concise?

Edit: I should add a little context here as well. This statement isn't supposed to cover a complex topic. It's nothing more complicated than the following:

  1. User enters a search term
  2. User clicks map button on the list of results
  3. User prints the list of results

The issue I am trying to tackle is that the user who experienced this problem needs to report enough specifics to be complete, but at the same time, do so in a manner that is easily parsed. There is a trend of using clusters of nouns instead of simple English.

(P.S. I'm asking this so that I can become a better writer, not as ammunition — just in case you were thinking it.)

Edit #2: I thought of a few more examples that might paint a better picture of the problem.

  1. The operations review evaluation task force is responsible for this task.

  2. He doesn't know how to read the aperture adjustment calibration manual.

  3. She started the 12-week half-marathon training regimen for beginners.

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I should add, to be fair, the capitalization is loose. It has unofficially become parlance granting it the usage of such caps. And seriously this took me a few minutes to parse and I know the terms. – Garrett Bluma Feb 5 '11 at 2:07
It's really vague, maybe adding a fake company name or something like that could be good... – alexy13 Apr 4 '11 at 1:05
up vote 2 down vote accepted

The first one was more a problem of rewording - I couldn't figure out how the sentence worked until I looked at the other examples. Quotes on the search string are also necessary - otherwise the active verb is hard to tease out. Rearranged, but just as brief: The Web Product Provider does not print the listing originally found for "print Individual Provider Map".

You might just try to eliminate an unnecessary noun or two, where context is sufficient: Operations review is responsible for this task. He doesn't know how to read the aperture adjustment manual. (Or: he doesn't know how to adjust the aperture.)

The last one was trickier: I split up the nouns into two groups instead, although it does require an extra phrase: She started the half-marathon training regimen. It ran for 12 weeks and was aimed at beginners.

Personally, I find acronyms just as distracting as noun clusters, as you call them - wherever possible, I'd prefer to abbreviate in some other fashion.

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Two common strategies are:

  • Rearrange words
  • Change nouns to verbs if possible

Instead of Web Product Provider:
Provider of the web product
The web product provides ...

Yes, I've shorten your example sentence, because I do not understand it ;)

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Technically "Web Product Provider" may be a technical term, in which case you have killed it's meaning and probably confused the reader at the other side. Also, the way you changed it, if I were the one reading, I would have guessed you passed it though google translate... – srcspider Feb 4 '11 at 17:14
@srcspider: Your guess is wrong and I've written, that I did not understand his example sentence and therefore changed it. I just demonstrated the techniques. – John Smithers Feb 4 '11 at 21:03
you misread. What I meant was that your reformulated sentence looks similar to google translate sentences, not that you've used google translate there. It is toooo similar ;) gives a very bad impression to the reader. Terminology like that mustn't be altered! – srcspider Feb 4 '11 at 21:13
@srcspider: Well, again: I did not understand the sentence. And still don't do. I do not know which terminology is used. I just picked the first three words as an example. – John Smithers Feb 4 '11 at 21:23
when first letter is capitalized, no re-phrasing should happen. This is like "National Aeronautics and Space Administration", you take it as-is. Should you re-phrase it people may not realize you're talking about NASA anymore. ;) – srcspider Feb 4 '11 at 23:52

I think part of the difficulty with the sentence can be corrected by emphasizing the problem being reported:

Using the print functionality after doing a search in the Web Product Provider (specifically, attempting to print the Individual Provider Map) results in the wrong listing being printed.

Parenthetical statements are not considered ideal; when they can reduce clutter in the core of the sentence, I find them useful.

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Actually I appreciate your revision more for its usage of verbs ("Using the", "Doing a", "Attempting to") than for the parentheticals. Including parentheticals, though, does improve things. – Garrett Bluma Feb 5 '11 at 2:42

Focus on the verbs (action), not the nouns. Your example:

The Web Product Provider search print Individual Provider Map does not print the listing originally found [...]


Printing an Individual Provider Map from a Web Product Provider search result list does not print the selected map.

You get better mileage using print as a verb instead of a noun.

Couple this with the use of abbreviations, and you can shorten this even more to:

Printing an IPM from a WPP search result list does not print the selected map.

One thing to keep in mind when using abbreviations is to make sure you use the full term followed by the abbreviation in parenthesis on first usage. In your example:

We're experiencing a problem with the print Individual Provider Map (IMP) function. Printing an IMP from a Web Product Provider (WPP) search result list does not print the selected map.

When you see a cluster of nouns, ask yourself which one should become a verb. And, abbreviate jargon when you can.

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To me, it seems that your examples don't include a sequence of nouns, but nouns that are more than one word.

Here are your examples, with added quotes to delimit the nouns:

  1. The "Web Product Provider" search "print Individual Provider Map" does not print the listing originally found

  2. The "operations review evaluation task force" is responsible for this task.

  3. He doesn't know how to read the "aperture adjustment calibration manual".

  4. She started the "12-week half-marathon training regimen for beginners".

Perhaps I'm missing something (perhaps I'm part of the problem!) but multi-word nouns are nothing new to the English language:

  • time series
  • curriculum vitae
  • remote control
  • Cameron's room
  • toenail clippers

I'm not arguing that your original example is well written - since it didn't communicate clearly, it wasn't.

Assuming that my parsing of the phrase is correct, I'd rewite it this way:

The product provider search on the website does not print the listing originally found when I search for "print Individual Provider Map"

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The Web Product Provider's search result, "Individual Provider Map," does not...

If I in fact understood that chunk of jargon correctly.

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Quotes do help distinguish separation of the nouns, but I believe it still requires too much expertise to understand that "X doesn't print." – Garrett Bluma Feb 5 '11 at 2:10
The Web Product Provider search print Individual Provider Map does not 
print the listing originally found [...]

The problem here is not the big words, but rather the sentence itself. Consider if those noun clusters as you call them were abbreviations:

The WPP search print IPM does not print the listing originally found [...]

It looks less convoluted but the first part still doesn't make much sense. Considering some simple restructuring.

If the problem persists however you have the option of using tags such as <abbr> or <acronym> like so:

The <acronym title="Web Product Provider">WPP</acronym> search print [...]

Similarly you can make the words easier visualization as a single entity, since that's the core of the problem:

The Web Product Provider search print Individual Provider Map does not print the listing originally found [...]

If dealing with plaintext only, something like this works and is a fairly simple and intuitive:

The [Web Product Provider] search print [Individual Provider Map] does not 
print the listing originally found [...]

Depending on situation you could just use some form of quotes.

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