Formal X Informal Writing Styles

Most everyday written communication in English uses a semi-formal style, where the tone is quite friendly, but some more formal expressions are used. However, we use a more formal style when we’re writing for professional reasons or to people we don’t know. We use an informal style with people we know well, for example, family members, relatives, friends or colleagues.

There are a number of differences between formal and informal English. For example, sentences are generally longer and more complex in formal writing. Language is often more impersonal, sometimes using passive voice. Vocabulary is often different too, with more words of Latin or French origin and fewer phrasal verbs. We don’t use contractions in formal writing, whereas in informal writing, we use them all the time. Here are some features of both styles of writing:

Formal Informal
Dear Sir or Madam Dear Mala / Hi Mala beginning
I am writing with regard to… I’m writing about… purpose
I would like to invite you… Why don’t you come to … inviting
I would like to request… Do you have…? requesting
Please deliver the parcel to… It would be great if you could send it to… instruction
I would like to suggest that… I think you should… suggesting
I am / we are / did not I’m / we’re / didn’t contractions
Therefore / However So / Anyway linking
I look forward to hearing from you. Hope to hear from you soon! closing
Yours faithfully Best wishes / See you soon ending

Always begin by deciding who you are writing to. Should it be a formal or informal style? Never mix the two styles.

Here are some tips to approach the task:

Planning and Organising

  • Read the question carefully and underline the key words
  • Decide what structure to use. Most Task 2 questions will ask you to discuss or analyse an issue in terms of advantages/disadvantages and/or take a position by agreeing or disagreeing. This means you can almost always use a four paragraph structure, for example:
  • Advantages/disadvantages question
    – Introduction: paraphrase the question and give a general answer
    that will summarise your opinion
    – Main paragraph 1: what are the advantages
    – Main paragraph 2: what are the disadvantages
    – Conclusion: paraphrase your argument and highlight or restate your personal opinion or position on the issue.
  • Agree / disagree question
    – Introduction: paraphrase the question and give a general answer
    that will summarise your opinion
    – Main paragraph 1: I agree/disagree because … + supporting reasons
    – Main paragraph 2: Another reason I agree / disagree is …
    – Conclusion: paraphrase your argument and sum up.

Make sure you note down examples and supporting details for each paragraph. Your arguments should also clearly link back to the position you stated in the introduction.

  • Spend some time thinking of good vocabulary related to your topic. Note it down.

Writing

  • Start each paragraph with a topic sentence i.e. the general topic of the paragraph.
  • Develop your ideas in each paragraph by giving reasons for your answer and include examples from your own knowledge or experience.
  • Keep your examples fairly short. Don’t go into too much detail; make sure you stay on topic.
  • Try using linking words like ‘firstly, secondly, finally’ to connect your ideas within each of your main paragraphs. This will help your writing to flow.

Is there anything you find difficult about the use of formal and informal language? Share your questions and thoughts in the Comments below.

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