Re: Using Contractions in Software Manuals

Subject: Re: Using Contractions in Software Manuals
From: "Bell, John" <JBell -at- PARAGREN -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 12 May 1999 10:16:41 -0400

Victor Solano asked:
> What is the general consensus on usage of contractions
> in software manuals?

The style guide you quoted seemed more concerned with
formality vs. informality. I've always seen it as an
issue of readability. For the products I'm documenting,
the majority of the readers are native English speakers,
but we also have a substantial amount of readers for whom
English is a second language. For that reason I err on the
side of being easier to read and understand. Here's what
is in my style manual on contractions.

Do not use contractions. Contractions are common in spoken
English because they shorten the time it takes to say a word.
In written English contractions do not offer much of an
advantage. They do not shorten reading time, and worse, they
can lengthen comprehension time.
Compare "don't" with "do not". The apostrophe takes the place
of the letter "o". The only savings is the removal of one
space between the words. Readability experts say that for
native English speakers, contractions take a little extra
time to decode. For non-native English speakers, contractions
can be troublesome, especially when confronted with "it's".
Because "it's" can be either "it is" or "it has", readers
must rely on context to determine the proper tense.

--- John Bell
jbell -at- paragren -dot- com

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