Following this helps:

  • people in a hurry – if you read something quickly you can get it wrong if it's not clear
  • people who are stressed – if you're anxious it's hard to comprehend things
  • people who are multi-tasking – if you're distracted it's easier to misread something
  • cognitive impairments – spelled out words take less mental effort to understand


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.

1. Avoid negative contractions.

2. Simple positive contractions may be fine.

3. Possessive nouns may be fine.

4. Avoid conditional contractions.

Usability evidence: contractions

1. Avoid negative contractions.

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

2. Simple positive contractions may be fine.

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

3. Possessive nouns may be fine.

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, small grammar point: you use an apostrophe on "it is" as a contraction, for example "it's sunny" but you do not when "it" is part of a possessive noun, so "its ethos". 

4. Avoid conditional contractions.

Like should've, would've, could've.

For people with cognitive challenges these less often used, complex tense contractions are hard to recognise and understand.

Usability evidence: contractions

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

'Why contractions are perfect for web writing', 2015

'How to make information accessible', 2016

'Use contractions', 2018

'Contractions', 2017

'Using contractions could be making your writing inaccessible', Joanne Schofield, 2017

'Contractions' Canadian Government website, 2018


Created by Lizzie Bruce on 2019/03/06 20:16