The Difference Between Formal and Informal Writing

The difference between formal and informal writing might seem simple, but like most things the devil is in the details.

Almost everyone understands that there are times where speaking informally is inappropriate, such as during a job interview or business proposal, and will shift to a more formal style of speech.

Writing Shifts that Take Place in Informal Writing

Some things that might happen during this type of shift is that the speaker will use less slang, shift to a less colloquial style of grammar, and demonstrate a more complex vocabulary. The same sort of shift happens in writing and it is vital that any professional, whether they are a contractor preparing a proposal or a writer sending a letter to their publisher, master the difference between the two types of writing.

The most critical areas to look for in informal writing

The most important thing to understand is the different audiences that formal and informal writing can be used to address. Formal writing is professional, academic, and “polite” writing. It can be used in:

Technical manuals:

The tab is inserted into slot “H” and the assemblage is rotated ninety degrees clockwise

Academic papers:

The problem is that a neo-Lacadian view of the novel displaces the meaning found in the material themes of the narrative.

Official communications:

If it pleases the Baron, the company requests a meeting to discuss the possibility of a stay of execution.

Meanwhile, informal writing is more commonly associated with narrative and casual forms of communication, such as:

Prose dialogue:

“That is a killer watch,” the alligator said. “Can I, like, borrow it, bro?”


lol I can’t handle it. Totes adorbs.

Characterizing the Two Type of Informal Writing

And while the line between the two types of writing can be blurry and ill-defined at times, there are a few simple things that characterize the two. Slang and colloquial forms of speech are generally informal and should not be used in formal writing. Formal types of writing should also always have proper punctuation and major grammatical errors should be avoided as much as possible.

Of course, there are quite a few other rules that people may have heard about formal and informal writing. Horrible, awful, mistaken ideas that are passed down by English teachers with a serious lack of critical thought. That’s why next time we’ll be looking at a few of the more common myths about formal writing and why they’re complete nonsense. Until then, stay safe and keep writing.

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