Re: Using Contractions in Software Manuals

Subject: Re: Using Contractions in Software Manuals
From: VSOL - Victor Solano <VSOL -at- SBT -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 11 May 1999 10:33:13 -0700

Woe is I, The Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English, by
Patricia T O'Conner states:

"The contraction-two words combined into one, as in don't and I'm -seldom
gets a fair shake from English teachers. It may be tolerated, but it's
looked down upon as colloquial or, according to one expert, "dialect" (what
a slur!). Yet despite it's esteem problem, the humble contraction is used
every day by virtually everyone, and has been for centuries. Quaint
antiquities like shan't (shall not), 'tis (it is), 'twas (it was), 'twill
(it will), 'twould (it would), and even 'twon't (it will not) are evidence
of the contraction's long history.

Today's contractions always include a verb; the other word is usually a
subject or the word "not."

Isn't it time that we admitted that the contraction has earned it's place in
the sun? It has all the qualities we admire in language: it's handy,
succinct, and economical, and everybody knows what it means. Contractions
are obviously, here to stay, so why not give them a little respect?"

She continues with a long list of Fit to Print and Out of Bounds

I tend to think that contractions are a normal part of language. And I still
don't see why there is such prejudice against them. They are a form of
correct English and will continue to be. The FrameMaker manual uses them.
The RoboHelp manual uses them, and the more manuals I check out at the
bookstore, the more I notice their usage. Their acceptance into the "IN"
club is really quite imminent.

In thinking of my audience, I think of accounting software users who are
thirsty for a friendly voice to trickle from the dry pages of a lot of
boring material. Adding layers of formality can only serve to alienate them
further. Adding layers of friendlines can bring them closer to the material
and make it seem more accessible.

I believe it is our choice as writers where we want to take the language,
not where we want it to take us.

Victor Solano
SBT Accounting Systems
Technical Writer / Technical Publications Dept.
1401 Los Gamos Drive
San Rafael, CA 94903
(415) 444-9807
vsol -at- sbt -dot- com

-----Original Message-----
From: Denise Fritch [mailto:dfritch -at- intellicorp -dot- com]
Sent: Tuesday, May 11, 1999 10:05 AM
To: VSOL - Victor Solano; TECHWR-L -at- LISTSERV -dot- OKSTATE -dot- EDU
Subject: RE: Using Contractions in Software Manuals

Hi Victor,

> I write for a company that produces accounting software. Our
> manager thinks that we should avoid contractions, but the writers beg to

<large snip>

> Any comments, suggestions? What is the general consensus on usage of
> contractions in software manuals?

I don't use contractions in documentation -- paper or WinHelp -- that I
write for release. Why? Well, I view a contraction as, if you will, a
"written slang" of the American version of the English language. I know that
what I write will be translated into German, French, and Spanish. Why would
I wish to make a translator's work more difficult when converting my written
information to another language by using slang?


Denise L. Fritch
Sr. Tech Writer
IntelliCorp, Inc.
Mountain View, CA

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