Don't use contractions?

Subject: Don't use contractions?
From: geoff-h -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA
Date: Tue, 27 Aug 1996 13:08:41 -0500

Gina Caldanero wrote that she prefers to avoid contractions
such as "don't" because the contracted (!) "not" is too
important to let readers miss it. I lean fairly strongly in
the opposite direction: when I'm tired or hurried, I often
see the "do" and begin mentally acting on it before I see
the "not" and stop.

I imagine this is even more of a problem in bulleted lists
for which each item takes the imperative voice. Something
like saying "Do not:
- eat
- drink
- or sleep."
In such structures, it's easy to lose the "not" and simply
read "eat, drink or sleep". It's even easier if you've seen
bulleted list structures in (say) a manual, and know that
each one provides a series of steps to follow. In that
case, you're better to word the list items positively
rather than relying on the "not".

"Don't" can't be easily mistaken for "do", and is an easily
understood contraction to anyone who is moderately familiar
with English. Gina's specific example of misleading or
confusing contractions (e.g., I'd = I had, would or could)
is more an example of poor writing and editing than a
condemnation of contractions in general; where such
ambiguities exist, a good editor will reword to clarify the
meaning. In my work with French to English translations
(and vice versa, as editor of the French translations),
contractions are never an issue to our translator because
we edit the texts to be clear from the start.

I'm aware of the general advice that we should avoid
contractions, but to date, I've never seen any compelling
studies that demonstrate this to be important advice. On
the other hand, I've never done a literature search on the
subject. Anyone out there have a good source, pro or con?

--Geoff Hart @8^{)} geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
Disclaimer: Speaking for myself, not FERIC.

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