Using Contractions in Business Communication
May 27, 2011 Leave a comment
There’s an ongoing debate on when to use contractions in business communication. I have a business client who will not approve any marketing materials I write if I use contractions – and that is OK… it represents their brand. On the other hand many industry tests demonstrate contractions often increases response rates for individual giving fundraising letters.
Oh, the quick and easy example of a contraction is when you put two words together. Instead of that is… a contraction is that’s.
When many of the Baby Boomer generation were young they were taught grammar rules that said never to use contractions in formal writing – but they weren’t often told why.
There are good reasons to use – and not use contractions, so my advice is to use them when appropriate for your audience and your objective… and here’s why.
Why Are Contractions Appropriate In Business Communication?
Contractions make paper based copy easy to read
Contractions will make your copy flow and easy to read; especially if you have lots to say. Contractions help the mind absorb what you’re saying partially because you’re saying something with one word vs. two so people will read faster. So especially if you’re trying to get people wrapped up in an emotion, contractions help.
The exception to this is when you’re writing to an audience to whom English is not their mother language. In this case contractions can be unfamiliar and therefore make it difficult for them to absorb your message.
Contractions make web-based or email copy easy to read
If you’re writing online copy I recommend contractions. Most of the time reading an email, web or blog copy is harder than reading a paper based copy. High resolution 21 inch computer monitors are making online reading easier – but the reasons discussed above for paper based copy are even more true for online copy.
Contractions add a friendly non-confrontational tone
Contractions are more like the way we speak and most of our speech is warm, informal and in a friendly tone. This is especially helpful with online writing as non-verbal communication is void of almost all tone.
Great professional writers like Margaret Atwood, C.S. Lewis or Charles Dickens make writing look easy, but writing routinely lacks tone and context.
Lack of tone in business communication often develops unintended conflict between people because their messages are misinterpreted (I spoke of this on Canada AM). A challenge is that many people have never been trained how to purposely avoid miscommunication and conflict within business communication. And, since as much as 90% of our communication is via email – the problem is escalating and impacting individual and corporate brand reputation. Here’s an example:
- I don’t agree. Suggests you’re open for discussion and interested in others opinion.
- I do not agree. Suggests you’ve made the decision and discussion isn’t an option.
If you want to write a formal business letter contractions are likely not appropriate. Also, if you want to sound authoritative or even angry (yikes), then leave contractions out of your writing.
Be careful about sounding too formal – especially online, it may sound angry instead.
Now, go write something great.
Happy communication and email writing.
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