To this day it never ceases to surprise me how some people will insist on editing their work, even when the work needs no editing at all. This happens an awful lot in PR – sometimes I think it’s a case of the client feeling the need to justify the time they’ve given to looking over a piece of writing you’ve produced for them. Often it will be the case that a client will send back their “urgent amends” only to find the amends amount to adding a space where no space is needed, or adjusting all contractions so every “can’t” becomes a “cannot” and every “it’s” becomes an “it is”.
Though to some these changes may seem trivial– and indeed in one sense they are – what many people don’t realise is that changing contractions can in actual fact change the entire tone of the piece.
In the first example if the writer is talking directly to the reader, it can sound quite unnatural to use the word “cannot” when most people nowadays prefer to say “can’t”. In some instances this can make the writer sound quite pompous, and an informal piece can very quickly become formal and cold. You should also remember that grammar, and the formation of words, can be linked to class. A clear lack of contractions across a piece instantly brings about an implicit shift in the tone, raising the writer up a notch on the class spectrum, which in PR especially, can make a world of difference in how the article is received.
While editing in itself is not a problem, editing for editing’s sake is can be a very dangerous game to play. One of the key skills that distinguishes a good writer from a merely average writer, is knowing when to stop. Not only can over-editing sometimes completely change the voice or tone of the piece, editing too much can also introduce further proofing errors as your eyes become too lost in the words.
So, next time you think it can’t make too much difference to change all your contractions think again. Stop, and ask yourself this: are you editing for editing’s sake?