Some contractions can be harder to read: Writing for international readers

Some contractions can be harder to read: Writing for international readers

Do you use contractions (like “it’s” and “don’t”) in your writing? I do! But some kinds of contractions may make it harder for readers to follow.

Do you use contractions? Contractions are when you shorten and combine two words into one, usually with an apostrophe. For example:

  • we will –> we’ll
  • do not –> don’t
  • should have –> should’ve

I use them often to be conversational but is that making readers work harder?

The Elements of International English Style (by Edmond H. Weiss) and other articles say yes. Contractions are harder to understand for many, including people with lower English proficiency levels and people with learning disabilities.

But it also depends on the type of contraction. So here are the contractions you could use and those you should spell out.

OK TO USE

  • Simple positive contractions (for example: you’ll, we’ll, we’re).
  • (Also, possessive nouns can be read like contractions, like “the organization’s brand,” and “his dog’s name”)

AVOID

  • Negative contractions (for example: don’t, can’t, shouldn’t)
  • Conditional contractions (for example: should’ve, would’ve, could’ve)

I love and marvel that there are people researching such details and we can learn from them.

Thanks to Sarah Black for asking me this question!

Resource

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