Part of: Grammar points
Last updated: 20 December, 2019
Following this helps people with:
time pressures: when reading quickly it's easy to misunderstand
stress: high anxiety levels make it harder to comprehend things
multi-tasking: when distracted you might misread things
cognitive impairments: spelled out words are less of a strain
Many organisations encourage using contractions, as they make content more conversational. Others are reluctant to because of the informal tone. We're mainly concerned with usability. Some types of contractions cause issues.
Like shouldn't, can’t and don’t. Research shows that many users:
find negative contractions difficult to read
misread them as the opposite of what they say
Like: you'll, we'll, we're, they're, it's, I'll, there'll, there's.
We have not found any existing usability studies that show positive contractions cause or do not cause difficulties for users. We would like to test this with users.
Like "my organisation's ethos", "your cat's tail", "the suitcase's weight".
There's no usability evidence against possessive nouns at the moment. We would like to test this with users.
While we're here, use "its", without an apostrophe, for possessive nouns. For example "its ethos".
And "it's", with an apostrophe, to shorten "it is". For example "it's sunny".
That's not a readability guideline, just a grammar point.
Examples: should've, would've, could've.
People with cognitive challenges or a low literacy level find less often used, complex tense contractions like these hard to recognise and understand.
GOV.UK Writing for web guidance, UK Government website, 2016
GOV.UK 'Writing content for everyone', UK Government website, 2016
GOV.UK Verify and the government Design Standards UK Government website, 2016
Using contractions, US Government website, 2011
Using contractions, US Government website, 2015
'Use contractions', 2018
'Using contractions could be making your writing inaccessible', Joanne Schofield, 2017
'Contractions' Canadian Government website, 2018