Subject: Contractions
From: Tara Barber <tara -at- BARBER -dot- CTEXT -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 7 Mar 1996 10:25:37 EST

Michal Lastman asked:

> What are the reasons for and against using contractions in technical
> writing?

Well, as with most things, it depends on your writing style and your audience.
But the bottom line is the same as for most things in technical writing. Use
it if it adds to comprehension and "flow", and don't if it doesn't.

In my department, we are primarily writing for people working at newspapers.
Education levels vary widely in our audience, and given the nature of their
business a stiff, formal style wouldn't be appropriate. So our writing style
is "loose but not floppy," as one of my writers put it. If using a
contraction helps with that style, fine.

In practical terms, however, not all contractions are created equal. We're
much more likely to use some contractions (can't, won't, shouldn't, it's) then
others (you'll, you've, should've, etc.) Hummm. Seems like we use more
negative contractions than positive. Something Freudian, perhaps?

This is also assisted by the fact that we are not "passive voice Nazis" around
this shop. Contractions frequently (not always, but frequently) involve
passive voice. I don't want too much passive voice in our docs, and if I see
one of my writers getting real sloppy about it, I'll call them on it. But I
also don't want to see someone spending half a day and risking brain-rupture to
eliminate an example of passive voice that doesn't have an easy alternative
... and that may actually interfere with comprehension. (Oh, I'm gonna catch
it about this one, I just know it...)

For what it's worth... I hope this helps.

Tara Barber
Documentation Manager
CText, Inc.

Since my opinions belong to me, anyone stealing them deserves what they get.

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