Eliminating contractions and using apostrophes

Contractions, where an apostrophe is used to contract two words into one by joining parts of them, should not be used in technical writing. Only use them if you are quoting something that contains them. If you avoid contractions, you will discover that your writing becomes more emphatic and leans toward the active voice. Remember: in technical writing, apostrophes contracting two words (such as, “it’s,” “they’ve,” “who’s”) signal that the two words can and should be written out separately. For instance, haven’t should be written as have not, it’s should be written as it is, which will also help you to avoid incorrect usage of its and it's. The correct usage of it's and its is:

It's unfortunate that the laboratory had its computers stolen last night.

Take care with the use of apostrophes demonstrating possession. For example:

Professor Blagg has had two years of experience in dealing with his student’s difficulties.

In the above sentence, student’s implies that the Professor has only dealt with the difficulties of one student. Whereas students’ would imply that he has dealt with the difficulties of more than one student.

Curbing feelings and personification

Use of the word “feelings” or the verb “feel” in technical writing often leads the writer into trouble. “Feel” has emotional connotations, and feelings are not a relevant part of rational conclusions in your writing. Also, use of the term can lend the appearance of uncertainty, especially when applied to quantities or conclusions, for example:

  • I feel that the best answer is 3.2”
  • “we feel that this conclusion is correct”

You should also avoid unintentional personification - assigning human traits to inanimate objects. A sentence such as “Boeing stock enjoyed a 2% increase today” could imply that stocks have emotions. Although such a sentence may appear in a newspaper, its tone would not suit a technical paper.

Creative Commons Licence
SMILE Technical writing by Marion Kelt, GCU, Vince Ricci, CIEE, Joe Schall, PennState University and Glynis Perkin, Loughborough University is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International LicenseDetails on our credits page.