Formal Writing: Definition, Rules & Examples

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  • 0:00 How Formal Writing Is Defined
  • 0:33 Audience and Purpose
  • 1:13 The Rules of Formal Writing
  • 2:05 Informal Vs. Formal…
  • 2:55 Informal Vs. Formal…
  • 3:48 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Diedra Taylor

Diedra has taught college English and worked as a university writing center consultant. She has a master's degree in English.

This lesson discusses what formal writing is and when it is used. The lesson provides examples of how to apply formal writing rules such as stating a specific thesis, providing credible support, and writing with standard spelling and punctuation.

How Formal Writing is Defined

Writing can be divided into all kinds of different categories. One of the main divides is between informal and formal writing. Formal writing includes business writing, formal letters, and academic writing. Although business writing and academic writing, for instance, have some differences, all formal writing shares certain features.

This lesson will help you to understand writing rules needed to succeed at writing for school, for work, or for other situations where a more formal style is appropriate.

Audience and Purpose

The first thing to understand is that informal writing is not 'wrong,' nor is formal writing 'right.' Each is simply appropriate for certain circumstances, just as it's perfectly acceptable to go out in jeans and a t-shirt, but that may not be the best choice for a job interview.

When deciding whether your piece should be written formally, consider who will be reading this and why. If your audience is just your friends and the purpose of your piece is to let them know about your garage sale, you probably don't need to use the rules of formal writing. However, if you are presenting a proposal to your boss or writing a research paper for a teacher, formal rules of writing typically apply.

The Rules of Formal Writing

  • Most sentences should be complex and add specific meaning to the writing.
  • You should use a sophisticated vocabulary with terms that are accepted in the topic's field.
  • Keep a serious tone with literal meanings. Formal writing should not be filled with clichés and metaphors, like phrases such as 'hard as nails.'
  • The piece should have a specifically-stated purpose, called the thesis in academic writing.
  • Avoid contractions.
  • The piece will usually be written in the third-person perspective, which means you will not use 'I' or 'you'.
  • Use standard spelling (no texting-style words like 'LOL').
  • Use standard punctuation.
  • References must be properly cited for academic or published writing.
  • You should organize the writing into paragraphs that fit together.

Informal vs. Formal Writing: Example 1

Here's an example of informal writing:

Here are some reasons why I should get a break at work: get tired, will be more productive, refocused energy.

And here's a formal example that deals with the same subject:

Full-time employees work better when they receive a short afternoon break in addition to their lunch break. Many people tend to experience a lack of energy in the afternoon. During this time, a quick walk or snack can boost employees' energy levels. The break allows employees to refocus their energy back to the work at hand and increases their afternoon productivity.

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