Re: Using Contractions in Software Manuals

Subject: Re: Using Contractions in Software Manuals
From: Bob Gembey <bob -at- SUPERNOVA -dot- NL>
Date: Wed, 12 May 1999 09:47:52 +0200

There's a time and a place for everything, including contractions. To say
that they are never appropriate in software manuals is like saying that it
is never appropriate to go to a restaurant without a tie on (for a man, at
least). It depends on the restaurant, the manual, the product and the
audience. To make a very broad generalization, Americans tend to accept a
looser, more informal style, than the British. The style of writing
employed in Dutch, German or Russian documents is even much more formal
than that employed by the British, and is much further removed from the
spoken language. So, perhaps when the audience is a non-English audience
reading in English, then all the comments about avoiding contractions
apply. Let's let reason and common sense prevail on this one. A good
technical writer can probably feel intuitively when or when not to do so,
but in any case, to his own heart he should be true. He will function best
using his own voice, and if he had a strict 7th grade teacher, his voice
will be more formal than if he didn't. But if the company standard demands
another style, I would recommend following it unless you can convince them
to change it.

From: Peter Martin[SMTP:peterm -at- FOXBORO -dot- COM -dot- AU]
Reply To: peterm -at- FOXBORO -dot- COM -dot- AU
Sent: Wednesday, May 12, 1999 6:49 AM
Subject: Re: Using Contractions in Software Manuals

At 13:16 11/05/99 -0400, Howard Peirce wrote:
>jgilger_it -at- NV -dot- DOE -dot- GOV wrote:
>> Contractions cause problems with internationalization and translations.
>Not so. We provide localized documents in about 8 languages, included
>Japanese, and Korean. Contractions are used consistently throughout.
>research and contact with our translators went into this decision, and
>exception the translators for both Western and Asian languages prefer to
>contractions. They seemed a bit insulted that we thought they might have
>trouble with it.
>I'm no linguist, but some Western languages are inconcievable without
>contractions (imagine replacing every "zum" in a German text with "zu
>English uses contractions like any other Western language, yet
>English-speaking people still cling to an artificial standard for writing.
>on't, I say.
>IMNSHO, the prohibition of contractions is just another example of phoney,
>19th-century latinate prescriptivism. If I had my way, they'd be
>part and parcel of speaking and writing English.

Yeaay! Of course they are ! And there's an end to't...! (W.S.)

Reason and perspective at last ! As far as I'm concerned,
I'd call the prescribers uppitty would-be language wowsers...

If the issue is, as it should be, comprehension first,
pomposity second, why should the language of

a) Shakespeare; and
b) world-wide television, film and radio etc.

be considered as "unsuitable" as English language commmunication ?

Just who are these Johnny-Come-Latelies ( Wills Of The Wisp ?)

1. Pause and consider where contractions come from: the idiomatic
spoken language.

2. Ask how any of us learn a language (excluding obvious cases
like the deaf etc..). Do you find many who learn to read before they
talk ?

3. Listen to non-native speakers talking in English ... in some cases,
hear more contractions than amongst native speakers. [And some unusual
ones -- many of which will in time contribute to refinement of the

4. Listen to the "Accountants" and other prescribers talking, and
wonder why, if they can understand spoken words, they can't
understand them written. Do Accountants really avoid TV, or never
read Shakespear(e) ?

Which part of the sentences above, or more particularly, their
don't you understand ?

If you really want to confuse people, teach them one language as a spoken
language, and then turn around and tell them if it's written down, it
has a different grammar.

Peter Martin, Contract Tech. Writer peterm -at- foxboro -dot- com -dot- au
+61 2 9818 5094 (home) 0408 249 113 (mobile) peterm -at- zeta -dot- org -dot- au

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