Cannot we find a better way?

That’s a weird headline, right?

It’s technically correct, but it’s not nice to read. At any rate, I’m hoping it caught your attention, because it proves a point about copywriting – and that’s the power of a good contraction.

In speech, contractions come naturally. In writing, many of us steer away from using them – even when it would drastically improve the flow of the copy. (I think we can all agree that ‘Can’t we find a better way?’ would be a much better headline. Albeit a bit dramatic.)

And this urge is even stronger in the world of B2B copywriting, where the pull of formality is strong. Formality lends us gravitas. It makes us sound impressive, and like we know what we’re talking about. It gives us the confidence to march up to the inbox of a CTO and demand they take notice of our product…

Or at least we think it does. Sometimes, it just makes us sound clunky and old-fashioned.

So why is this habit so pervasive? Some people stick with it because it’s what was learnt at school. And others stand by it because, when you’re addressing senior people, you have to use a formal tone. 

But do we? Even when addressing the c-suite, they’re still just… people. People that like to read informative, interesting, and easy-to-read content. People that are short on time and happy for us to get to the point quickly.

It’s not an advert, but just consider this little snippet of copy from Microsoft, one of the world’s most authoritative brands.

Microsoft error message

 

 

 

 

Imagine it without the contractions: ‘Your PC ran into a problem and needs to restart. We are just collecting some error info, and then we will restart it for you.’ It’s a miniscule change, but one that has a tangible, detrimental impact on tone.

There’s a sliding scale; I’m not suggesting we start dropping LinkedIn social cards with ‘Do ya’ll wanna nail digital transformation?’ scrawled across them. And if you’re writing directly to the CTO of a major corporation, a few formalities may not go amiss.

But in general, let’s embrace contractions where we can. The world of B2B copywriting would be all the better for it.