S Formal versus Informal writing

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Defining Formal vs Informal Writing Styles

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Formal writing is written for an audience you do not know on a personal level. It is often the main style in academic writing (unless otherwise noted) and is more complex than informal writing. Formal writing is serious.

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Informal writing consists of short sentences and is used in more personal settings, such as writing a letter to a friend or writing a diary entry. It is much more relaxed than formal writing.


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Which Style is Appropriate?

Knowing the difference between formal and informal writing is only half the battle. The other important aspect is knowing which to use. On the next slides are some examples of when you would use formal vs informal writing.

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Use Formal Writing When:

  • Writing professionally (reaching out to a client or prospect)
  • Academic writings (essays, research papers, etc.)
  • Job applications (resume writing, CVs, and cover letters)
  • Reaching out to someone you do not know

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Use Informal Writing When:

  • Writing to a friend
  • Sharing a story or writing a personal blog
  • Writing creatively
  • Instructed to do so (if in school)
  • Writing dialogue and conversations
  • Writing an outline
-> If you are unsure of whether to use informal or formal writing, it’s generally the rule of thumb to start out writing formally. Then, when you make the connection and you see how the other side responds, you can ease up on the formality.

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Key Features of Formal vs. Informal Writing

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Formal writing tends to include the following:

  • Long and complex sentences: Sentences tend to be compound and contain commas to link two ideas or use transitions like “Furthermore” and “To exemplify,”
  • Does not use contractions: Would use “cannot” instead of “can’t”
  • Objective: Does not offer personal opinions
  • Doesn’t use colloquial language: You won’t see any slang or common everyday vocabulary
  • Diverse vocabulary words: Vocabulary is of a higher level
  • Use of words that are subject-specific: For example, if you are writing about biology, you’d use words like “epithelial cells” instead of “skin cells”
  • Use of third person: Does not use first person pronouns like “I” or “me”

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Informal writing includes the following:

  • Can use first person, second or third: You can use any type of pronouns, including “I”
  • Can use slang: The use of everyday language and slang terms can be used, such as “It was cool that…”
  • Active voice: Sentences tend to be written with a subject acting on the verb, such as “We chilled the drinks and went out to the sea” instead of “The drinks were chilled…”
  • Personal emotional tone can be detected: Since the writing is personal, it can include feelings and the sharing of emotions
  • Contraction and abbreviation: It’s okay to use “can’t” instead of “cannot” or “it’s” instead of “it is”
  • Empathy: You can put yourself in the shoes of your audience and address their problems directly. This shows the author as coming from a place of understanding their situation.

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Study the definitions of the words you did not know 

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