Re: Dumbing Down (Was: Using Contractions in Software Manuals)

Subject: Re: Dumbing Down (Was: Using Contractions in Software Manuals)
From: Mike Stockman <stockman -at- JAGUNET -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 12 May 1999 15:12:56 -0400

On 5/12/1999 11:07 AM, Brent Jones (bjones -at- CITR -dot- COM) wrote:

>I don't use contractions in technical documents because I think it lends
>an inappropriate tone to the material, weakening the authorial voice and
>perhaps undermining the readers' "faith" in the material.

Not to pick on Brent, here, since I agreed with his "do what communicates
most effectively" response, but has *anybody* done any usability testing
that proves the above statement?

I have only real-world experience to go by, but in the review process,
nobody has ever questioned the use of contractions (except for editors,
who would say "No contractions allowed, and stop asking me for the

When I've been part of usability tests of documentation, nobody has ever
mentioned the presence or absence of contractions.

The only other relevant experience I've had was in teaching computer
classes, which is my usual test of my technical writing skills. (If it
doesn't work in class, it won't work on paper, for the most part. That
rule doesn't apply to formatting or tables, by the way.) Nobody in class
has ever failed to understand what I've said because of the contractions,
and they don't show any additional understanding when I avoid

So, can anybody provide actual experience of contractions making a darn
bit of difference? If not, I suppose we can just move on...


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