Another aspect of writing that has the dubious honour of being included in my own personal list of pet peeves is the use of contractions.
Remember that when writing an academic essay, thesis, article, or book, your audience will be an academic one. Academics are peculiar people whose personal quirks and idiosyncrasies should be understood if you want to excel at university. They are also highly literate people who have spent a great deal of time reading the works of experts in their field and who in turn have produced extremely precise and articulate publications of their own. Because of this, academics tend to have very high standards when it comes to the use and precision of language.
While most profs do not expect undergraduate students to produce publishable essays, although it is wonderful when that happens, you must once again remember the golden rule of academic writing: do not annoy the person marking your essay. If your audience, ie. your prof, is expecting precise, correct, and formal use of language, you should strive to provide her or him with just that: precise, correct and formal language.
One of the many ways to do this is to avoid the use of contractions.
What are contractions? A contraction is simply a shortened form of one or more words. Some examples of contractions are:
- aren’t = are not
- didn’t = did not
- I’m = I am
- goin’ = going
- it’s = it is [note: its, and not it's, is the possessive form of "it"]
Contractions are a common feature of modern English. Why, then, should they be avoided in academic writing?
Contractions are informal. Academic writing is formal. Using contractions will detract from the impression of precise, correct and formal language that you should be trying to convey with your essay. Writin’ sentences that don’t live up to the high standards set by your prof ain’t gonna impress anyone. However, writing sentences that do not fail to live up to the high standards set by your prof are not going to fail to impress anyone.
Most importantly, your reader will be expecting your essay to be written using formal expressions. In the interest of keeping your prof happy, you should strive to use correct, precise and formal language. A simple way to contribute to this goal is to eliminate contractions from your essays.