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What does formal writing mean?

Sally looks at the importance of register in IELTS Writing and students discuss some of the features of formal writing.
Understanding the difference between formal and informal language is particularly important when you’re writing in English. It’s not always possible to say something is definitely always formal and something else is always informal, but you need to have a sense of whether something is more or less formal. What is formal English for you? Watch some students give their answers, and then share your ideas in the comments.
I suppose formal English is the language that we use in situations that are serious, or when we don’t know the other person well, or if it’s a business context and we want to come across as professional. That is when we use formal English. Well, everything, actually. You’re going to write very cautious of the tone, the words, and the sentence construction, and the overall sense of what you write. For example, if you’re writing an invitation letter for a ministerial office, then you’re going to have to be really cautious on what you want to say, not be too friendly, not be so stern, not be so– so you’re going to have to really choose the right one to transfer the right message.
I think in formal English, we use less common words, no phrasal verbs. We tend to avoid abbreviation and contractions. We also favour passive voice over active voice. OK, so in formal, for the formal writing, basically, what we are taught is you should use passive voice. It should not be I, we something, but should be they or an object, it, something like that, so it would be more formal and more subjective towards an issue, something like that. And also for the phrasal verb and some collocations, it also helps you to indicate clearer about the message that you want to deliver. There are three things that worry me when I communicate in English, vocabulary, accuracy, and appropriacy.
Of the three things I’ve just mentioned, I think appropriacy is of paramount importance. Because if we use the wrong register, we can give a bad impression.

What is formal English?

Compare these sentences:

  • Not so many people went to watch football in January. Teams made less money. That was because of bad weather.

  • There was a significant drop in attendance at football matches in January as a consequence of poor weather conditions, leading to a decrease in revenue.

You probably noticed that both examples mean exactly the same thing. There is no difference at all in the information they provide. But they are quite different in the way they provide that information. What differences do you notice?

Tell us in the comments what language features makes these examples different. Try to be as specific as possible. Then tell us how you feel about formal writing in English.

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Understanding IELTS: Writing

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