Formal vs. Informal Writing Styles

Before you start writing any article, one of the first things you need to ask yourself is “Who’s my audience?”

Here’s a quick primer to help you answer that question (which can be quite a complicated one):

    Is there a level of familiarity between you and your audience?
    Are you writing for colleagues or someone else?
    How do they expect to receive this message?
    Are they looking for some level of interaction?
    Are they more interested in being spoken to with direct messages?
    What’s their connection to the topic?
    Is it for their business/livelihood?

Answering each of these questions will put you on course to figuring out how formal (or informal) your writing ought to be.

An informal writing style shows a level of familiarity and personality that sets it apart. Meanwhile, formal writing most often takes place on serious topics in a direct and succinct way.

Each of these styles has their own merits. Their usage depends on the tone you’re trying to set. To get a better understanding of the differences between formal and informal writing, here are some things to consider:


    Colloquial – Informal writing takes on the characteristics of a spoken conversation. Informal writing includes things like slang, figures of speech, broken syntax, etc. It also takes on a personal tone whereby you speak directly to your audience. You can use first OR third person point-of-view, and you’re likely to address the reader using second person pronouns (e.g. you, your).
    Simple – Short sentences are acceptable and sometimes essential to making a point in informal writing. Thus, there may be incomplete sentences or ellipsis to make points. Also, try to save your “five dollar words” for a more formal setting. If you use any industry jargon, explain it.
    Contractions/Abbreviations – Words can be simplified using contractions (e.g. you’re, couldn’t, it’s) and abbreviations (e.g. TV, photos) whenever possible.
    Empathy/Emotion – The author can show empathy toward the reader regarding the complexity of a thought and help them through that complexity.


    Complex – Longer sentences are likely to be more prevalent in formal writing. You need to be as thorough as possible with your approach to each topic when you are using a formal style. Each main point needs to be introduced, elaborated on and concluded.
    Objective – State main points confidently and offer full support arguments. A formal writing style shows a limited range of emotions. It avoids emotive punctuation like exclamation points, ellipsis, etc., unless they are being cited from another source.
    Full Words – No contractions or abbreviations to simplify words.
    Third Person – Not a personal writing style, the formal writer is sort of disconnected from the topic to make observations.

So, which of these labels fits your writing style? Again, there’s no “right” or “wrong” answer, it’s an exercise to get you thinking about your own writing style.

Leave a comment to share your thoughts and where you fall between the formal and informal styles.

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