Are contractions sloppy? That question came to me today when a writing class participant told me she would never use a contraction. And here’s the reason she wouldn’t: A teacher had drilled into her head that their use is wrong. In fact, the participant called contractions "sloppy," and a classmate agreed.
I worry about the suggestion that contractions are sloppy. That’s because I rarely write a paragraph without one. Since I began this blog post, I have already used four contractions: here’s, it’s, wouldn’t, and that’s.
I use contractions to communicate a flowing, easy style. As a writer, I want you, the reader, to feel that I am talking with you and that the words come easily. I do not want to communicate formally with you. (In that sentence I used do not rather than don’t for emphasis.)
I decided to consult my reference books for comments on contractions. In most of them, I found support for using contractions to communicate a friendly tone. For example:
- The Gregg Reference Manual: "Contractions of verb phrases are commonly used in business communications where the writer is striving for an easy, colloquial tone. In formal writing, contractions are not used (except for o’clock….)"
- Write Right: A Desktop Digest of Punctuation, Grammar, and Style: "Contractions create a friendly, informal tone that may not be suitable in formal writing."
- The Chicago Manual of Style doesn’t comment on the appropriateness of contractions, but it gives many examples of them. It says, for example, that "Don’t you want more?" sounds more natural than "Do you not want more?"
- The Associated Press Stylebook: "Contractions reflect informal speech and writing. . . . Avoid excessive use of contractions."
From two books, I learned that contractions challenge people who read English as a foreign language:
- Microsoft Manual of Style for Technical Publications: "Avoid contractions. As basic as contractions are to the native reader, they add unnecessary complexity for the non-native reader. For example, contractions that end in ‘s can be mistaken for possessive nouns, and the ‘s can be read as either has or is."
- The Elements of International English Style: A Guide to Writing Correspondence, Reports, Technical Documents, and Internet Pages for a Global Audience: "Avoid abbreviations, contractions, and acronyms" and "Contractions have no place in formal writing."
I live as a writer and writing teacher, and my guiding principle is "Write for the reader." Because many visitors to this blog read English as a foreign language (EFL), I have decided to use fewer contractions–starting right now. I will continue to communicate with a warm, friendly tone, but I am sure I can find a way to do that without using so many contractions.
Although I had "unchecked" the option of checking for contractions in my Microsoft software, I just rechecked it to help me use fewer contractions. Now my grammar and spelling checker will flag contractions for me. After all, I do not want to seem, as the people in class today suggested, "sloppy." And I want my readers from around the globe to have an easier time understanding what I write.
What do you think about contractions in business writing? Are they friendly, informal, convenient, or just plain sloppy?
Other search spellings; cotnaractions, conractions, buisness, wiritng