Dressy or casual? How to write in a conversational tone
One of the questions I get asked a lot is whether it’s OK to use contractions. See what I did there? I used one!
So yes, unless you are writing in a very formal style, such as the style you would use for an academic journal article or many textbooks, it is perfectly acceptable to use contractions. I just broke another “rule” there by starting a sentence with a conjunction. That’s OK too.
Finally, I’m speaking about myself using I. The first person singular is not only legal but preferable in most circumstances in which you’re talking about yourself.
Our grade school teachers may have taught us that using contractions; starting sentences with And, But, and So; and writing in the first person are wrong. They had good reasons for teaching us those rules when we were little kids. First, we learn about grammar in school, which is an academic environment, and formal writing is appropriate there.
Second, just as children should not use profanity because they lack the experience and judgment to use it sparingly and appropriately, children should avoid these constructions. For example, kids may use contractions whenever possible because doing so seems easier than writing out the full words. The overuse of contractions will make prose feel “messy.” Also, they may start every sentence with a conjunction because that’s how they (and adults for that matter) tend to talk, resulting in a long string of “And then I did this… So then I did that… But then this happened…” That style of narration becomes tiresome. In addition, they (and adults) are prone to prefacing their ideas with the entirely unnecessary “I think that…” “I believe that…” or “I feel that…” Remember that if you write it, you obviously think it. Thus, if you believe that families should have regular conversations about their household budget, write: “
I believe that fFamilies should have regular conversations about their household budget.”
We are adults, and we’re allowed to choose the style of expression that works for our purpose and audience. When we want to reach out to our readers with a conversational tone—when we want our readers to feel we’re sitting at the kitchen table chatting with them, giving them good advice or telling them a story as a trusted friend—we need to sound as though we’re having a conversation. This means not using formal academic English because that’s not how we talk. Instead, occasional contractions, sentence-starting conjunctions, and first-person pronouns give our writing exactly the effect we want it to have.