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Use contractions

While many legal authorities say that contractions don’t belong in legal writing, Bryan Garner, a leading authority on legal writing, advocates their use as a way to make legal writing, including opinions and rules, less stuffy and more natural. Contractions make your writing more accessible to the user. Research shows that that they also enhance readability (Danielson and Larosa, 1989).

Write like you talk is a common rule of writing readably, and the best way to do that is to use contractions. People are accustomed to hearing contractions in spoken English, and using them in your writing helps people relate to the information.

Use contractions with discretion. Just as you shouldn’t bullet everything on a page, you shouldn’t make a contraction out of every possible word. Don’t use them wherever possible, but wherever they sound natural.

Don’t say Say
No pilot in command of a civil aircraft may allow any object to be dropped from that aircraft in flight that creates a hazard to persons or property. If you are a pilot in command of a civil aircraft, don’t allow any object that creates a hazard to persons or property to be dropped from that aircraft during flight.

Sources

  • Danielson, Wayne A. and Dominic L. Larosa, A New Readability Formula Based on the Stylistic Age of Novels, 33, 1989, Journal of Reading, pp. 194, 196..
  • Garner, Bryan A., Legal Writing in Plain English, 2001, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, pp. 49-50.
  • Garner, Bryan A., The Elements of Legal Style, 2002, Oxford Univ. Press, Oxford and New York, pp. 81-2.