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Growing up, one piece of workplace advice my parents taught me is to never use contractions in any form of professional writing (resumes, cover letters, email correspondence, etc.).

I've been told that instead of using contractions like it's, can't, wouldn't, and shouldn't, I should use it is, can not, would not, and should not.

Is using contractions really discouraged? Are there any scenarios where contractions can be used in professional writing? Or should contractions always be avoided?

closed as off-topic by gnat, Mister Positive, Dmitry Grigoryev, DJClayworth, JasonJ Aug 1 '17 at 20:30

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  • What do you define as professional writing? – thebluefox Aug 1 '17 at 13:33
  • I remember hearing the same thing from my stricter English teachers in school. As far as I can tell it's more about scholars of the English language being pedantic and claiming "contractions aren't real words." My apologies: "are not." ;) – Steve-O Aug 1 '17 at 13:34
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    The English Language & Usage SE might be a better place to find the answer for this, for example; english.stackexchange.com/questions/4871/… – thebluefox Aug 1 '17 at 13:37
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    If you're writing documentation, etc. you probably have a style guide or there can be a guideline of how this should be done. The reason is often "this is how we currently write [whatever], so let's keep it that way for consistency" – Brandin Aug 1 '17 at 14:27
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it's about English language usage, not the workplace. – DJClayworth Aug 1 '17 at 14:38
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This blog cites a load of reasons given by style guides. The conclusion is basically that contractions can carry an informal or friendly tone - which you may or may not want in your professional writing, depending on the professional context. Some guides also say that contractions can make writing harder to read for non-native English speakers (well, readers).

The Associated Press Stylebook: "Contractions reflect informal speech and writing. . . . Avoid excessive use of contractions."

Microsoft Manual of Style for Technical Publications: "Avoid contractions. As basic as contractions are to the native reader, they add unnecessary complexity for the non-native reader. For example, contractions that end in 's can be mistaken for possessive nouns, and the 's can be read as either has or is."

Personally I use contractions all the time in my writing at work (emails, internal reports and documentation), but I might avoid it if I were writing reports that were to be shown to clients or investors, or if I had a more formal or uptight boss.

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Is using contractions really discouraged?

No. In most cases it's not discouraged.

Are there any scenarios where contractions can be used in professional writing?

Much professional writing is done for a less-formal audience to read. They're less likely to object to contractions.

Or should contractions always be avoided?

Contractions shouldn't always be avoided. There are very few things that must always be avoided.

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This is much less of a "thing" than it was say 20 years ago. To someone of my parents' generation for example it was the "txt spk" of their day and would irritate them in much the same way that "txt-spk" irritates someone of mine.

These days it is much more widely accepted and use of contractions in any professional context should be judged primarily on the intended audience of the writing. If it's a formal/legal document such as a contract, specification, tender - or as you specify in your edit CVs/cover letters etc then I'd probably avoid them, in general day-to-day writing like work e-mails then I don't think they are a problem.

PS: Bonus points for using a contraction in the question title!

  • Contractions are not 'txt-spk'. Textspeak is stuff like gr8, b4, cu l8r. If you're typing on a limited text device, maybe it's OK. Otherwise such writing looks sloppy indeed, and often cryptic. – Brandin Aug 1 '17 at 14:24
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    I know that contractions aren't txt speak - I was using it as an example of how different generations view the use of language differently, not implying that they were the same thing and I definitely was not suggesting that it was ok to use "txt spk" in professional communications – motosubatsu Aug 1 '17 at 14:29
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Basically, it's because the use of contractions implies an informal tone in the writing.

For professional/technical documentation, I've always avoided contractions; it just looks more professional that way.

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