Formal language is a way of articulating your thoughts, ideas, views and beliefs in a professional sounding manner. Formal language is used to express ideas in the most articulate way possible and as such, does not use slang, colloquialisms, contractions, or jokes.
It is important to recognise that when you speak, or write, you change your writing style depending on who your intended audience is. We change the way we speak, depending on who we are speaking to. For instance, the way you speak to your friends may be completely different to how you address your teachers or your parents.
When writing VCE English and Literature essays, textual analysis and opinion pieces, formal language should be used. This is because it demonstrates your ideas in an articulate, thorough manner. It also shows that you are able to write in a way that demonstrates you have a firm grasp of the rules of English; including spelling, grammar and syntax.
A good exercise for learning how to write formally is to take a piece of informal writing and rewrite it in a formal writing manner. Let’s start with this exercise here, a short movie review:
“Over the weekend my mates and I saw this awesome movie called Rear Window. It’s by some really famous director called Alfred Hitchcock and stars Grace Kelly, who became a real-life Princess. It’s about some guy who is stuck at home with a broken leg, who gets so bored he starts to spy on his neighbours using a telescope, when he notices one of them committing a murder, and then trying to cover it up! The movie is full of suspense, plot twists, and has a wild ending! I would definitely recommend it, I would give it a solid 8/10 score.”
ANALYSIS of the piece:
What we have just read is an informal review of the 1954 Hitchcock movie Rear Window. How do we know it is informal?
- It has lots of colloquial language used throughout the piece. The review starts with “over the weekend my mates and I”, which is an informal, slang way of saying “friends”. Further, as the review is of REAR WINDOW and not the author’s social life, the fact that they saw the movie “over the weekend” with their friends is not relevant to the review. This statement can be left out without changing the meaning of the review.
- The review goes on to state, “it’s by some really famous director called Alfred Hitchcock, and stars Grace Kelly, who became a real-life Princess.” While everything written there is true, one of the key differences between informal and formal language is that informal language is more personal. As, it often provides lots of additional information that is of personal interest to the author. Formal language, in contrast, is concerned with arguing a central point, and works at getting to that point with little delay. A more formal way of expressing the above ideas would be something like “Made by legendary director Alfred Hitchcock, and starring Grace Kelly, the future Princess of Monaco”. This sentence expresses the same ideas as the informal sentence, but in a more straight-forward manner.
- The next part of the review ALSO contains instances of informal language, can you spot them yourself?
- For a writing exercise, please rewrite this informal language movie review into one that employs formal language.
FORMAL LANGUAGE REWRITE OF REAR WINDOW
“This movie review will be analysing the 1954 Hitchcock thriller Rear Window. It stars James Stewart and the future Princess of Monaco, Grace Kelly, as the protagonists of the story, and Raymond Burr as the antagonist. The story is a gripping mystery in which Stewart stars as a homebound photographer recuperating from a broken leg, who finds a novel pastime in the form of spying on his neighbours. This hobby appears to be nothing but an amusing distraction until he notices one of his neighbours behaving in an extremely suspicious manner, and he begins to obsess about what goes on behind closed doors.
This sets the scene for a gripping tale of obsession, voyeurism, and the age-old question of how well we really know our neighbours. It has suspense, plot twists, and an ending that will take you by surprise. Lovers of old-fashioned mysteries should not give this one a miss, as it is a solid 8/10 entry in Hitchcock’s library.”
What did we just do?
We took the informal language review and retained the key formal ideas contained within it. That it is a review of the 1954 Hitchcock movie Rear Window, that is stars Grace Kelly, what the story is about, what the themes of it are, and what sort of score the reviewer would give it.
Then we removed the informal ideas within the review. Including that the reviewer saw it with their mates over the weekend. We also changed the informal language within the piece. Including the description of the protagonist as “some guy”, and that it’s by some “really famous director called Alfred Hitchcock”.
Lastly, we improved and expanded on some of the ideas contained within the informal review. Such as, who the other principal cast members of the piece were and we revised the language used to be more in-line with formal writing pieces. This includes amending “some guy” to “the protagonist”, as the word used to describe the leading character in the story. We also removed all informal references to the first person “I”, and amended them to more general comments about the merits of the film, and its genre.
WHAT WE HAVE LEARNED
In this short article, we have learned the key differences between formal and informal writing. Formal writing is used to express an idea as articulately as possible. While informal writing is simple ideas and thoughts expressed in word form. We looked at some possible strategies to alter an informal writing piece into a more formal style.
For a final exercise, we have a practice task for you. Please edit this informal review of Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet into a formal piece of writing.
“In class today we discussed a play by William Shakespeare called Romeo and Juliet. It’s about these two families, the Montagues and the Capulets, who have had a long-standing feud. This feud has been going on for so long that all Montagues have sworn to hate all Capulets, and vice-versa. This is a huge problem for the two heroes of our story, Romeo and Juliet. When they fall in love, but realise that their family circumstances will prevent them from ever being together. This play has lots of action, a fair bit of romance, and a really sad ending, where they both die. Well, I guess it is kind of happy too, because at least they are together in death, and their families then vow to put an end to their silly dispute.
A lot of people say this play is about true love, but I say that’s ridiculous. It’s about not letting your raging hormones get the better of you, as the two only meet a few times, but suddenly decide they are destined for each other. Talk about placing physical attraction above everything else. All up, it’s a pretty good story, I would rate it a 7/10.”
While this review demonstrates an understanding of some of the central themes of Romeo and Juliet, it is written in an informal tone that is not suitable for essay and analytical writing.
Please rewrite this review, while retaining its central ideas, into a piece of formal writing.
Written by James,
English specialist and tutor.
Evergreen Tutoring Services
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