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FORMAL AND INRORMAL ACADEMIC WRITING
When it comes to writing in English, there are two main styles of writing – formal and informal. Consider these two examples:
Example 1: This is to inform you that your book has been rejected by our publishing company as it was not up to the required standard. In case you would like us to reconsider it, we would suggest that you go over it and make some necessary changes.
Example 2: You know that book I wrote? Well, the publishing company rejected it. They thought it was awful. But hey, I did the best I could, and I think it was great. I’m not gonna redo it the way they said I should.
….The difference between the two is obvious. The first one is formal, and the second is informal. But what is it that makes them formal and informal?
It is the style of writing, or the way we use words to say what we want to say. Different situations call for different ways of putting words together. The way we write in academic and scientific settings differs greatly from the way we write to a friend or close one. The tone, vocabulary, and syntax, all change as the occasion changes. This difference in the styles of writing is the difference between formality and informality, or the difference between formal and informal writing.
Here's a list of some of the main differences between informal and formal writing:
Informal: May use colloquial words/expressions (kids, guy, awesome, a lot, etc.).
Formal: Avoid using colloquial words/expressions (substitute with children, man/boy, wonderful, many, etc.)
Informal: May use contractions (can’t, won’t, shouldn’t, etc.).
Formal: Avoid contractions (write out full words – cannot, will not, should not, etc.).
Informal: May use first, second, or third person.
Formal: Write in third person (except in business letters where first person may be used).
Informal: May use clichés (loads of, conspicuous by absence, etc.)
Formal: Avoid clichés (use many, was absent, etc.)
Informal: May address readers using second person pronouns (you, your, etc)
Formal: Avoid addressing readers using second person pronouns (use one, one’s, the reader, the reader’s, etc.)
Formal vs. informal
There is a clear difference in register between 'familiar' and 'ceremonial' styles. However, academic writing may require some cross registering with 'informal' and 'formal' styles; therefore, it is important to understand the differences in the language used and when cross registering is possible.
The following provides comparative examples of the two registers.
Formal language makes use of complex sentence structures
(1) In 2001, the bridge was built. This was good politically. Two countries united. = Informal
(2) The bridge was completed in 2001, which resulted in a positive political move that united two countries. = Formal
Formal language does not use contractions
(3) When considering staffing in hospitals in the future, it's difficult not be concerned. = Informal
(4) When considering staffing in hospitals in the future, it is difficult not be concerned. = Formal
Formal language is objective
(5) I think/believe that the issue of global warming will be the primary concern at the meeting. = Informal
(6) There is little doubt/It is clear that the issue of global warming will be the primary concern at the meeting. =Formal
Formal language does not use colloquialisms (language which is common to spoken English)
(7) Sweden's Prime Minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt, totally flipped out when he read the latest report from the press. = Informal
(8) The Prime Minister of Sweden, Fredrik Reinfeldt, expressed his concern when he viewed the most recent report from the press. = Formal
Formal language focuses more on vocabulary choice
(9) The research assistant checked out the incident and got back to him the next day. = Informal
(10) The research assistant investigated the incident and reported to him the following day. = Formal
Formal language makes use of the discipline specific vocabulary
(11) Germs grow well in dirty and warm temperatures. = Informal