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Manual of Style: Use of contractions

From: Michiel Bijl (list) <michiel.list@moiety.me>
Date: Sat, 12 Nov 2016 10:50:13 +0000
Message-Id: <1612A0F5-2D86-4FBA-A951-869403A6B826@moiety.me>
To: spec-prod <spec-prod@w3.org>
Dear spec-prod,

Yesterday I changed the ARIA Authoring Practices Guide to use contractions where applicable. I soon reverted this change because James Nurthen pointed me to the Manual of Style §11.2 Grammar <https://www.w3.org/2001/06/manual/#Grammar>§11.2 G <https://www.w3.org/2001/06/manual/#Grammar>rammar which states:

> Eliminate contractions (e.g., "don't" should read "do not")?


I for one think that’s strange advice. The use of contractions is widely accepted in style guides and research has shown that contractions improve readability. The Chicago Manual of Style says in §5.103 <http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/16/ch05/ch05_sec103.html>:

> Most types of writing benefit from the use of contractions. If used thoughtfully, contractions in prose sound natural and relaxed and make reading more enjoyable.

Contractions make the text sound more human, to quote Ashley Bischoff:

> They do that [remove contractions from dialog] because screenwriters know that the easiest way to make anyone sound like a robot is to take away all their contractions.
> 
> And while that may sound like cheap trick, it works every time.

Who goes on to say:

> So the next time you’re writing something [RED], ask yourself this:
> 
> Do I want to sound like an automaton?
> Or do I want to sound like a person?

I therefore propose to change the line to something that would fit both W3C specs and humans:

> Use contractions thoughtfully
> Avoid contractions when you need to use RFC 2119 terms.

While RFC 2119 <http://www.ietf.org/rfc/rfc2119.txt> doesn’t actually state that you shouldn’t use contractions, I feel it’s generally interpreted that way. Please correct me on that if I’m wrong.

I hope we can change this piece of advise so we can make our specs more human.

Cheers.
—Michiel
Received on Saturday, 12 November 2016 10:50:44 UTC

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