Question: How are informal and formal writing different?
Answer: Informal writing is conversational, characterized by the use of contractions; general words like “there,” “get,” “it” and “thing”; needless repetition; demonstrative pronouns (“this,” “that,” “these,” “those”) without clear antecedents; beginning sentences with “And” and “But”; and using the “I” and “you” points of view. Formal written expression uses the third person point of view, eliminates the conversational characteristics and aims to achieve clear and precise meaning.
The following paragraph is an example of informal written expression:
I like informal English. I like not worrying about using precise words. “Get,” “there,” “it” and “thing” are good enough for me, even if I do repeat them more than I should. It’s just like talking naturally. People who write formally are stuffy. They write with their nose in the air. When you write informally, You feel as if you are conversing with your readers and your readers think you are talking directly to them. That’s why I like writing informally. It just feels natural.
Does formal expression communicate more effectively than informal expression? The following paragraph attempts to revise the previous paragraph in order to produce formal expression:
Many people are more comfortable when writing informally. They do not have to struggle to find the exact words. People who use formal expression try to be more precise. Instead of “Get happy!” they say, “Be happy!” They never begin sentences with “There.” For “it,” they use “The Panasonic LCD flat-panel television set”; for “…couldn’t do a thing,” they write “…could not enter the doorway because the house was engulfed in flames.” They try to eliminate needless repetition. People who prefer informal expression feel as if they are conversing with their readers and their readers feel as if the writers are speaking directly to them. That feeling of personal contact makes writing and reading more effective. Writing informally feels natural.
Is formal written expression superior to informal writing? Informal expression has the advantage of what feels like personal contact between reader and writer. Formal expression is more precise, and, at least in this example, produces more words (for “it,” “the Panasonic LCD, flat-panel television set”).
Certain circumstances require formal written expression: term papers and writing assignments in school; reports in business settings; articles in professional journals, etc. On the other hand, depending on the personalities of your boss or your colleagues, informal memos might be more effective than a formal style.
As I said before, most real-world publications are a mixture of both formal and informal styles. Circumstances and requirements will dictate formal and/or informal expression. What is important is knowing which to use and when and how to translate informal expression into formal expression when needed.
Tomorrow, I will discuss individual characteristics of informal expression: “there,” “get,” “it,” “thing” and the use of clear antecedents with “this,” “that,” “these,” and “those.”
All the best. RayS.