Basic Guide about Contractions in Formal Writing

When writing, you might wonder what are contractions in formal writing.

What Does Contraction Mean?

An academic writing question is like deciding whether to use contractions because you should wear a bathing suit for a party. Depending on the type of party, this will vary. Do you want a fancy dinner or a pool party?

Contractions are an informal form of writing. Avoid contractions in scholarly writing, except for the following circumstances:

  • If you reproduce a direct quotation that contains a contraction (e.g. Citation from a research participant), leave the contraction as-is.
  • If an idiom contains a contraction, you will reproduce it. An example would be the phrase “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch”.
  • Leave the contraction; there is no need for further explanation unless needed.

When you are writing a formal paper and want to use contractions, you can use them. Yet, you should understand that your text should still sound formal. You might find this type of exception in a footnote or parenthetical statement.

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Why Do You Have to Avoid Contractions in Writing?

It is common for people to refrain from using contractions in formal writing – such as academic works, resumes, essays, or publications. The reason why is because many people believe contractions weaken a statement or make the writing appear too informal.

People have been using contractions in speech for quite some time, since around the 16th century. Contractions existed with the same reason we use them today — to save time and get ideas out faster. Around the 17th century, when printers had only so many vowels per page of text, they started replacing vowels with apostrophes.

Fast-forward to the late 18th-century, contractions began losing favor in formal writing, though they lasted in speech up to this day.

For formal essays, professional reports, and other scholarly writing, it’s recommended that writers refrain from using contractions. However, there is no hard and fast rule regarding when contractions are allowed. Contractions can be found in pieces of writing throughout history. From classic to contemporary literature, as well as in scholarly articles and professional compositions. Many of these writings are still considered to be professional and formal despite using contractions.

What are Contractions in Formal Writing?

Just as aforementioned, contractions in formal writing has a bad reputation for most writers. Since it seems to show the improper use of the English language and its tendency to make formal writing informal. However, contractions can produce a soft, conversational tone in writing.

There are many people who avoid using contraction syntax in formal writing. The reason why is because they are under the impression that contractions are only appropriate for casual texts and constitute non-standard grammar.

Chicago’s Manual of Style does not explicitly rule out the appropriateness of contractions, but offers many examples. The statement, for instance, says “need you not to go?” sounds more formal than “don’t you need to go?”.

Don’t use contractions in documents that serve formal purposes, such as legal contracts or submissions to publications.

How are Contractions Used When Writing Formally?

Contractions are used to put together two words in order to make them shorter. They can also be used to make your writing appear more conversational and make the reader feel included.

As needed when creating contractions, apostrophes replace letters that are dropped from the second word.

Do not use contractions in any academic writing unless you’re quoting someone or in a passage that contains contractions.

When writing for a group of academic individuals, contractions often diminish the impact of your words and may invalidate your credibility.

To Wrap Up

Using contractions when writing with formal style can be helpful for conveying emotion or for being concise in writing. However, too much contraction in your formal writing might make your sentences sound stilted. Keep your sentences natural and welcoming.

Despite contractions being frowned upon by most formal writers, it does not mean you should never use it in your formal content. In some cases, t’s necessary to do so if you’re addressing people you know.

Pam is an expert grammarian with years of experience teaching English, writing and ESL Grammar courses at the university level. She is enamored with all things language and fascinated with how we use words to shape our world.

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