When we talk we naturally use contractions in our speech. We do this without thinking, and we modulate their use without thinking, either. In other words, depending on the moment, the conversation, the sentence construction, the topic, the context, and even the person with whom we’re speaking, we use or don’t use contractions. It’s as if we hear what we’re saying before we say it – and we get it right every time.
But for some reason when we write we often go deaf; we stop “hearing” – we forgo contractions, which results in stilted and sometimes stultifying writing.
Good writing is about rhythm as much as anything – word choice and their inflection, where words are placed in a sentence or phrase, the pauses and stops created by punctuation, the varied time it takes to read short words versus long words, the smooth transitions from one word to the next, and a mix of short and long sentences and paragraphs.
Contractions are essential to creating the right rhythm. Don’t get caught up thinking it’s more “appropriate” or businessy or, God forbid, mature, to abstain from using contractions. Just as you use contractions when you speak because it’s naturally what your brain leads you to do, using contractions when you write will endow your words with a natural – and compelling – sense of rhythm. Who could ask for anything more?
Note: It’s true that some clients prohibit the use of contractions, but that’s about their quaint view that contractions are somehow wrong or too colloquial to use in a business setting. They're plain wrong. (Some contractions, like "gonna” and “wanna,” take no apostrophe; these really are too colloquial to use in most circumstances.)
Anyhow, I’ll leave the final word to Bill Walsh, copy chief on the national desk of The Washington Post, who notes that unless you “want to communicate the idea that you’re very, very constipated, don’t strain to avoid contractions.” I couldn’t have said it better myself (actually, I’m too uptight to have said it at all.)