Levels of Formality in Writing: Everything You Need to Know
The language that is completely acceptable in one context can be deemed inappropriate in another.
14:51 24 March 2021
For example, a talk with your friend would be quite different from a conversation with your boss or giving a speech at a scientific conference. It is the purpose of your message and your relationship with the audience that help to determine the right communication strategy. This decision affects your tone, style, choice of words, and the use of specific grammar structures. The combination of these elements will lead you to one of the following levels of formality.
A formal style is the vital feature of technical, legal, business, and academic writing. Its main purpose is to inform the audience using precise and well-structured language. In technical and legal fields, this is done with the help of standardized templates. Business communication also has its own guidelines for formal writing. They encompass some common openings and closings used for different situations, from purchasing and booking to apologizing and demanding payment.
A formal style is the best choice for practical writing, such as job applications, cover letters, presentations, and scholarly papers. This style demands to outline the main points and provide a full range of supportive arguments to each of them. The writer needs to introduce, elaborate on, and conclude every topic they are bringing up in their work.
Formal writing is impersonal and shows a limited range of emotional reactions. Emotive punctuation like exclamation points, ellipsis, etc., is only applied when citing information from another source. For any quotes of five lines or more, it's better to use block quotes Chicago style to highlight their inconsistency with the rest of the text.
Formality in writing implies that the author follows the rules of Standard English. Thus, the text should be clear, coherent, and well-planned. All contracted forms need to be written out. There is also no place for colloquial words, slang expressions, or phrasal verbs in formal writing. It is better to opt for more suitable alternatives, which can be found in the academic vocabulary selected from a broad range of scholarly literature.
Consultative, or semi-formal style, is used to approach strangers or someone who is your superior. This tone of communication usually governs the conversations between employees and employers, youngers and seniors, students and professors, and coworkers or neighbors who are on not more than nodding terms with each other. This style is also suitable for informational blogs. Some magazines and online platforms that are aimed at a general but thoughtful audience may use semi-formal language as well.
Writers use a consultative style when they don't know the members of their audience. They may have an overall picture of who their readers are and what they do, but they are rarely familiar with their life experiences. To form a connection with their audience, authors have to provide enough background information about themselves and their expertise. This helps to establish the writer's credibility, authenticity, and authority.
Semi-formal writing is suitable for expressing ideas of general interest. When writers use a consultative style, they follow the rules of Standard English. Contractions and slang are generally avoided, though common idioms are still accepted. The limited use of the first and second person is allowed to clarify the meaning.
The casual style is used in communication between people who aren't really close but are still equals. This category can include acquaintances, classmates, coworkers, or social groups.
The purpose of casual writing is to express ideas of personal nature, so this style is perfect for online blogging and personal essays. The text structure may not always adhere to the conventions of standard written English, but it generally uses complete and correct sentences. Contractions and some vernacular language are acceptable, but slang and jargon expressions are not. The first and second-person pronouns can be used for rhetorical effect.
Colloquial language is informal and conversational. It is best suited for immediate communication with close friends and family or the people you know very well. This type of language is mostly used for spoken conversations rather than in writing. However, the development of digital technologies has brought the elements of colloquial speech into whole new environments. Text messages, personal emails, tweets, and comments on social media networks are currently vital forms of everyday communication.
Colloquial writing allows the use of a familiar, informal, and friendly tone. The writer knows their readers on a personal level, so they are free to discuss the shared experience, inside jokes, or personal information. It is likely they will address the recipient using second-person pronouns or even intimate pet names. The text usually comprises short sentences, content fragments, or ellipses to emphasize an idea and catch a reader's attention. Slang, idioms, emojis, contractions, and texting abbreviations are all acceptable.
The writers often don't follow the rules of Standard English. Thus, their writing may have a loose sentence structure, misspellings, and punctuation errors. This, however, doesn't pose an obstacle to understanding. The readers won't judge the author for the mistakes as long as the message conveys the meaning.
Before starting any conversation and typing a text, it is important to understand what you are trying to say. The second point to consider who your primary audience is. Knowing the answer to these two questions will help you pick the appropriate level of formality for any situation.