Using contractions could be making your writing inaccessible

  • decreased understanding
  • misinterpretation of meaning
  • an increase in the mental effort required to read them

Writing for all

I’ve previously worked as a content designer in government, mainly on digital services for people with disabilities and health conditions. So, the majority of research we did was with people with disabilities or health conditions, or with people who supported them.

Sacrificing understanding for style?

One of our research sessions was with people with learning disabilities. There are approximately 1.4 million people with a learning disability in the UK (source: Mencap).

“Use ‘do not’, ‘can not’, ‘would not’ and so on instead of ‘don’t’, ‘can’t’ and ‘wouldn’t’ because some people rely on reading the ‘not’ to understand what is being said.”

And the Department of Health’s publication, ‘Making written information easier to understand for people with learning disabilities’:

“Do not use contractions and avoid apostrophes, except where they indicate possession.”

It’s a problem for other users too

I shared this insight with other teams in government.

Using negative contractions can decrease understanding

Although some people may understand and use contractions in their everyday speech, they can take time to recognise them in writing.

Design for users

Content design is not about satisfying our own personal preferences and habits. It’s not about the brand personality that a company wants to portray. Content design is about focusing on the needs of those who will use the service.

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Content designer at Co-op Digital

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