A contraction is formed when
two words are shortened into one and an apostrophe is added to
replace the omitted letter or letters: are not = aren’t, do
not = don’t (Harbrace College Handbook, 13th
Because Americans’ language
use as a whole has become increasingly informal,
contractions are creeping their way into writing.
Generally, contractions are used in
where informal language is appropriate: think of them as the
jeans and t-shirt of the grammar world. Spelling
out the words, on the other hand, is like a business suit—formal,
with associations of authority.
Contractions should not be
used in formal academic writing, and, in formal business
writing, it may be better to avoid contractions as well. For example,
contractions in research papers, essays, or formal reports
may lessen your authoritative voice because they make you
If the writing situation
allows for a conversational style of writing, contractions
are not a problem. For example, a letter to a friend,
a memo to colleagues in which you want to sound unassuming,
or a handy tip sheet. In these writing situations, the
difference is that your intent is not to have an
authoritative voice, but to sound as if you are having a casual conversation
with the intended audience. Ultimately, you should
consider your audience and situation--are you writing to a
jeans and t-shirt kind of crowd or a business suit bunch?
Here are some examples of the
In this first one, the words
that have the potential to be contracted are bolded.
Ex. It would be very hard to
approach this work in any other manner; at the same time,
both chapters, the second chapter in particular, are highly
quantitative making it somewhat tedious. Further, he
does not always discuss the relevance of all of the
data, just what is needed for his argument.
is from a
book review. It's an academic piece of work. If the highlighted words were contracted, it
would take away from the academic tone of the writing and
possibly be a distraction to the reader.
Consider the difference with
Ex. While it'll be an
inconvenience for a while, the new parking garage will mean
that all employees will have their own assigned parking
space. You won’t have to wonder where you’ll
park every day when you come to work.
This is an example from an
inter-office memo. The writer is trying to soften the blow
of inconveniencing the staff for a few months by using a
conversational rather than formal tone. In this situation
using a contraction is perfectly acceptable.