My teenager and I are always debating about whether it’s okay for her to use contractions in her academic writing. What do you think?
I think that writing that does not have any contractions is not free to sound as if it is conversational (didn’t that sentence sound stiff?). This is a very common question, and I’ve addressed it in our Exam Slam Blog for Students as well. This is a “right tool for the job” issue. There will be instances when a contraction will sound too informal, but I think there are even more situations when avoidance of contractions makes writing sound stiff. Writing conventions (and the nutty English language, in general) can be confusing to kids because so many “rules” seem to be flexible and/or arbitrary. But the more we read good writing and practice our own writing, the more confidence we build in our decisions about things like contractions, word choice, voice, etc. To help clear up the contraction conundrum, I’ll refer you to the explanation offered by the wonderful Grammar Girl — Quick and Dirty Tips, a great resource for many grammar and writing issues.