Contractions In Business Writing? And Other Marketing “Faux Pas”

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Why Breaking Writing Rules Can Grow Your Business

Today I had a client, a professional writer, ask me about using contractions. Should she use contractions in her brand story document. It sparked thoughts about other technical writing faux pas. Don’t we professionals regularly use them in marketing? (Gasp!) What’s right and what’s wrong? And how do we know it’s okay to break the rules without sounding uneducated?


Whoops! I just started a sentence with a conjunction, didn’t I? Is that okay?


Here was my response.
I’m talking contractions, ending in a preposition, starting with conjunctions and more. Give me your thoughts in the comments!


Contractions

This one is near and dear to my heart. I was always taught leaving contractions out of the mix made my writing “correct.” For many years, I fought younger marketers over prepositions. Ending a sentence in a preposition equals nail on a chalkboard to me. (This one still makes me cringe, even though they’re right. See the next paragraph.)


But…(and never start a sentence with a conjunction) things are changing. That means in business writing too.


Imagine a pithy slogan that says, “For What Are You Waiting?” Now that’s awkward…

Writing Best Practice

Let’s talk about engagement and conversion. After all, isn’t that what we’re working to achieve. We want people to read our content, and then we want them to act on our content. Whether that’s an email or a blog post, we need to keep it understandable for our IDEAL audience. Basically, talk like they talk.


So, we always encourage you to do the following:


a) keep your writing conversational, and


 

b) break it up into digestible pieces.

See what I did there? 😉


And when I say digestible…
I mean, aim to keep marketing pieces below a grade 7 reading level (grade 4 is preferable). (Use the Hemmingway App to check. This post is a grade 6 reading level. No matter how hard I tried, I could not get it lower and feel good about the writing.)


Note: That last parenthetical expression was from my original writing of this article in 2018. As of this 2023 update, the article now reaches a 5th grade reading level. Cheers to progress over the years. 🥂


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Let’s talk about what that means in a practical sense…


Using contractions can make things sound more conversational. Starting sentences with a conjunction can allow us to break complex ideas into digestible pieces. This is especially important visually.


The more breaks you allow between ideas, the more people can grasp what is being communicated. And even more important in marketing, what you want them to do. (The brain is a funny thing!)


Keep in mind, the most “readable” articles keep sentences under 10 words. Most “readable” paragraphs contain less than 100 words. What?!?!?!


My love of complex literature cringes at the lack of reader staying power. Think Dostoyevsky, Flaubert, and my favorite Louisa May Alcott.


If I’m honest, in regular conversation, I’m mostly a stream of consciousness kind of gal. Where every thought leads directly into another thought in rapid succession. I bet I could opine for 10 minutes straight in one, lovely (but overwhelming) run-on sentence.


If you think that’s daunting in person (and many do), it’s unreadable on a screen.


If you’re ever wondering if your sentence is too long…chop it up! You can’t go wrong with making things more simple. Every. Single. Time.
(Demonstration for your benefit. 😃)


Be Personal

Being personal in marketing produces the best results. As a matter of fact, Think with Google give us interesting data. They say consumers are demanding personal interactions. Or they’re leaving us behind.


Keeping your communications conversational is one way to keep it personal.


So, if contractions break your heart. And I mean as much as ending a sentence in a preposition does mine. Then, axe them on internal documents.


But be willing to break some rules on your website.


I would highly encourage contractions for your marketing/nurturing emails. People want to feel like they’re hanging out with you. Not listening to your college dissertation.


They want you to see them as an individual. They want you to speak to them personally. Like you would with your best friend. (Yes, I know that’s a fragment. And now you get what I mean.)


What Does the Science Say?

Studies show using contractions make our stories more believable. As a matter of fact, the data says something really cool about contractions. People use contractions more often when they’re telling the truth.


Remember, “I did not have sex with that woman, Monica Lewinsky.”


Uh oh. That’s when we all knew. Even if it was just subconsciously.


Contractions make your stories more believable. And that’s because people who are telling the truth use contractions…and prepositions. And our brains know it instinctually.


You don’t have to believe me. Just read The Secret Life of Pronouns by James W Pennebaker.


The Contracted Conclusion

Here’s the deal. It’s about the relationship. Always has been. Always will be.

 

Theodore Roosevelt said, “People don’t care about how much you know until they know how much you care.”

 

This applies to marketing your products and services.


Facts and grammatically correct documents will not win the hearts of your ideal audience. A connection will.


Contractions, shorter sentences, ending in prepositions even, make it easier to connect with you. The more you connect with people emotionally, the better your business will do.


Not convinced? Lemme know in the comments below. Your feedback helps me grow!


If you’re not using contractions, you’re probably wasting money on your email marketing. But you don’t have to. We can help. Contact us to get personal with your audience, so you can stop wasting money on marketing and start getting results.