Should one avoid using contractions in essays?

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Discus: College Admissions: 2002 - 2003 Archive: August 2003 Archive: Should one avoid using contractions in essays?
By Me1 (Me1) on Wednesday, August 20, 2003 - 06:08 pm: Edit

I am aware that you should avoid contractions in formal essays, but if you are trying to make your essay sound like "you" as opposed to like a parent or professional, sometimes it just seems weird to not use any contractions.

By Drusba (Drusba) on Wednesday, August 20, 2003 - 06:47 pm: Edit

Avoid. Though you may be trying to make the essay sound like you it is a writing and not an oral and informal conversation where contractions are most often used.

By Ariesathena (Ariesathena) on Thursday, August 28, 2003 - 01:50 am: Edit

You should always avoid contractions in formal writing - essays of any sort, reports, memos, cover letters, etc. If it really sounds awkward, try re-wording your essay to avoid the uncontracted phrase - this may also help make your essay more lifelike and reduce some of the word clutter.

By Adxj220 (Adxj220) on Thursday, August 28, 2003 - 10:54 am: Edit

If you're a suffieciently good writer, some contractions, when integrated well into the essay, can work well.

By Sluggbugg (Sluggbugg) on Thursday, August 28, 2003 - 02:11 pm: Edit

Ditto Adxj220's comment. Good writing flows as elegantly as good conversation. Whether or not to use contractions depends on the style of the writer and the effect you want to have on the reader.

Today is the 40th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech, one of the most eloquent and poignant speeches ever written. Not a contraction in it! Breaking out a contraction into two words tends to add strength to writing. If you want to add power and assertion to your writing, avoid the use of contractions, unless it sounds really awkward. If you want to add humor or a natural speaking tone to the piece, contractions are good tools.

Overavoidance of contractions can make a piece too stiff. Too much correctness and formality can strangle good writing. On the other hand, you don't want sloppy syntax, either. Effective use of contractions shows a good command of the language and a certain amount of confidence.

For college application essays, it's best not to use a lot of contractions. Some of these adcom members are English teachers with traditional ideas about writing. My personal feeling, though, is that there is great beauty in writing; writing is an expression of who you are; and it's too easy to get hung up on rigid rules. Be brave enough to bend the traditional rules of writing every now & then, but do it intelligently and with sound ability.

By Ctrain890 (Ctrain890) on Thursday, August 28, 2003 - 02:50 pm: Edit

Your comment about the "I have a dream" is totally irrelevent. Just because Dr. King's speech didn't use contractions, it doesn't mean that a well-written, eloquent peice of writing can't contain contractions.

To the OP: don't over-use them, but it's ok to sprinkle them it. You're trying to sound natural, not formal.

By Sluggbugg (Sluggbugg) on Thursday, August 28, 2003 - 03:13 pm: Edit

Ctrain, exactly where did I say that a "well-written, eloquent piece (check your spelling) of writing can't contain contractions?" My point was that good writing can contain contractions, despite what traditional rules of writing dictate. You completely misinterpreted my post, and you failed to see that we are in agreement.

By Almostdone (Almostdone) on Thursday, August 28, 2003 - 03:53 pm: Edit

I say, if you know the rules, you can break them. If you read the books out there on "successful" college essays (such as the 50 essays that worked by harvard crimson or 100 essays that got into ivy, sth like that), you'll find that many of them use contractions. Also, some have fragments. (i.e, "Red Tulips. There's something about them"...creates a different feeling from "There is something about red tulips", and may fit better in ur writing style). It's all good as long as the reader can tell you are using them for effect and not because you don't know the formal correct way.

By Sluggbugg (Sluggbugg) on Thursday, August 28, 2003 - 04:03 pm: Edit

P.S. As for Dr. King's speech, it is a good example of a powerful speech written without a single contraction. Do you think it was an accident that Dr. King chose to say, " We have come here today...," instead of "We've come here today...?" Or, "...knowing that we will be free one day," instead of "...knowing that we'll be free one day?" Clearly, every word was carefully chosen to create an impactful and lasting message.

It is relevant to the overall discussion of when and when not to use contractions effectively.

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