What are your feelings about won’t and can’t? Where do you stand on would’ve and should’ve? Have you any strong views on haven’t? Would you go as far as wouldn’t’ve?
We’re talking about contractions here, not the One Born Every Minute kind, but the truncation of words that sometimes proves surprisingly controversial.
When asked about tone of voice, many organisations say they want their websites to sound “conversational”.Contractions are integral to the way we talk to each other, so it follows that if you want your copy to read like a conversation with your reader, you’ll use them rather than writing each word in full. However, we find that many clients balk at this: it’s almost as contentious as the old chestnut of starting sentences with “and” or “but”.
The reasons given for this vary. One client told us customers have actually written to him complaining about the use of contractions! But the main thing is that people feel contractions somehow don’t sound “professional” or “expert” enough, or that they are slang.
However the consequences of not using contractions are far-reaching when it comes to tone of voice. Anyone who’s seen the film True Grit will have noticed how odd the absence of contractions makes spoken language sound. And when it comes to written language, it’s amazing just how formal and stilted a tone the consistent use of cannot, do not, will not etc, rather than the more conversational alternatives, gives to copy.
At Sticky Content, we don’t want messages to be lost in hard-to-read copy, so we recommend a middle way. Avoid double contractions and clumsy sounding constructions like would’ve, but keep things simple and natural with can’t, don’t, won’t, we’ll, you’ll, etc. That way, you keep the flow – and you shouldn’t get too many complaints from irate customers.