Avoid Colloquial Informal Writing

Avoid Colloquial Informal Writing
Colloquial, or informal, language is common when we speak to friends and family. However, it isn’t always appropriate in writing. When you’re writing an essay for school, a cover letter, or a scientific article, your language and tone should be formal. There are many ways to convert informal writing into formal prose. Build your vocabulary and choose more precise words over generalized phrases. Present a formal tone by avoiding emotional writing and exuding confidence to your readers. Finally, structure and organize your writing to convey a clear and coherent thesis.

Method 1 of 3:Choosing Formal Words

1. Improve your vocabulary

Improve your vocabulary to find better word choices. The best starting point for writing more formally is building a larger vocabulary. If you learn more words, you can replace nondescript words like “good” and “bad” with more formal alternatives like “negative.” This avoids repetition and makes formalizing your writing much easier.

Reading widely is a great way to improve your vocabulary. Look for upper-level publications like The Atlantic or Foreign Affairs for articles with more advanced language. College-level books also have a wide selection of potential new words for you to learn.
Consider signing up for a “word of the day” app or website. These resources help you learn at least 1 new word every day.

2. Spell out words instead of using contractions

Spell out words instead of using contractions. Contractions are combinations of 2 words. For example, “don’t” is a combination of “do not.” People use contractions when they speak all the time because it’s faster, but formal writing should have few or no contractions. Whenever you write, proofread to find any places where you used contractions and convert them to use the full words.
Some other common contractions are “can’t,” “won’t,” “isn’t,” and “aren’t.” Replace these words with “cannot,” “will not,” “is not,” and “are not.”

3. Avoid nondescript filler words

Avoid nondescript filler words. Formal writing is concise and clear. Extra filler words make your tone sound less professional and precise. Go through your writing and find any broad or general words. Either replace them with more exact words or eliminate them altogether.

Some imprecise words or phrases are “a lot,” “very,” or “totally.” Replace “a lot” with a more precise figure, like “12%.” “Very” and “totally,” in most cases, can be eliminated entirely.
Adverbs like “really” or “clearly” are usually filler words that don’t add much detail to your writing. Reduce your use of adverbs to eliminate unnecessary words.

4. Replace phrasal verbs with more precise words

Replace phrasal verbs with more precise words. A phrasal verb is a combination of a verb and a preposition that creates a phrase with a different meaning. These phrases are usually less formal than other words, so replace them with other words that convey the same message more specifically.

For example, in the sentence “John put down the conclusions in last month’s study,” the phrasal verb “put down” makes the sentence sound informal. Writing “John dismissed the conclusions in last month’s study” instead makes the sentence more formal.
This is a case where building your vocabulary is very helpful. With a larger vocabulary, you can quickly replace phrasal verbs with more formal alternatives.
Use a thesaurus or dictionary if you need help coming up with different words to replace phrasal verbs.

5. Write in the third person

Write in the third person in most situations. Generally, formal writing doesn’t use “I,” or “We.” Rather, write in the third person. This means avoiding terms like “I” or “We.” Instead, refer to “the team” or “this company.” This language keeps your writing fact-based and doesn’t make it seem like you’re inserting your opinions into it.
One exception to this rule is in a cover letter or personal statement. In these documents, you should be writing about yourself specifically.

6. Avoid using slang words and phrases

Avoid using slang words and phrases. Slang refers to very informal language that people commonly use around their friends. While it’s fine to use in conversations, do not use any slang language in formal writing. Words like “cool,” “chill out,” or “hyped” don’t belong in your writing. Replace them with more professional substitutes. Never use “textspeak” like “lol” or “omg.”

If you aren’t sure about using a particular phrase, consider if it’s something you often say when hanging out with your friends. If it is, then it’s probably an informal slang term. Replace it, just to be safe.
For example, if you were writing a professional review of an amusement park, don’t use slang language like, “Everyone had a really cool time.” Instead, say “The group had an enjoyable experience at the park.”
There are many more slang terms and phrases, and the list grows every year. Try searching for a phrase you’re considering using to see if it’s been added to a list of slang terms.

Method 2 of 3:Using Formal Language

1. Write in a confident tone

Write in a confident tone. All formal writing should have a confident, authoritative tone. Establish yourself as someone who knows what they’re talking about and command your readers’ respect. Using clear language, facts, and statistics helps to establish a confident tone. Also remove any words or phrases that make you sound unsure or nervous. Don’t write, “It’s a possibility that we could conclude…” Instead, say, “We can firmly conclude that…” Make sure all your writing conveys this tone.

In a job cover letter, for example, phrases like “I think I am qualified” are not appropriate. Instead, convey confidence by saying “I am qualified for this position.”
Don’t present yourself as arrogant, however. Saying “You have no choice but to agree with my conclusions” is inappropriate. Instead, write “I am confident in my conclusions.” This shows your authority without seeming arrogant.

2. Use specific statements rather than general expressions

Use specific statements rather than general expressions. Broad generalizations are not professional or formal. In a formal essay, qualify all of your statements. Tell your readers the point you’re making right away and what evidence you’re using to support it.

As an added bonus, using specific information helps you sound more confident.
Whenever possible, use figures, statistics, and evidence to support your point.
For example, writing that “Kids today spend too much time on the phone” is too general and doesn’t give your reader any evidence or statistics. Writing “In 2017, kids spent an average of 7 hours per day on their phones. The American Medical Association says that is an excessive amount,” provides a clear, precise statement that makes your point.

3. Write in the active voice for most situations

Write in the active voice for most situations. The active voice is when the subject of the sentences is doing the action. In the passive voice, the subject receives the action. Both have their role, but use the active voice for formal writing as much as possible. The active voice is clearer, more concise, and sounds more professional than the passive voice.

Determine if a sentence is in the active or passive voice by asking yourself, “Who or what is doing the action?”
In, “The door was opened by Mike,” Mike is doing the action but the door is the subject. Switch it to, “Mike opened the door” to convert the sentence to the active voice.

4. Remove clichés from your writing

Remove clichés from your writing. Clichés are statements that have been overused. They are usually too general and imprecise for a formal piece of writing. Replace any cliched statements with specific figures and information.
Some common clichés are “raining cats and dogs,” “as strong as an ox,” “open the floodgates,” or “delicate as a rose.” Avoid using statements like these. Proofread your writing and remove any cliches.

5. Avoid discriminatory language

Avoid discriminatory language. Never assume anyone’s gender, race, orientation, or other personal details while you’re writing. Use non-gendered and other generalized language when referring to people.

“Their” is now accepted for singular use to avoid assuming gender. Rather than writing “The student handed his test to the teacher,” it is correct to write “The student handed their test to the teacher.”
In a cover letter, don’t write “Dear Sir.” Instead, write “To Whom It May Concern,” or “Dear Hiring Manager.”

6. Keep emotion out of your writing

Keep emotion out of your writing. Generally, formal writing should be informative rather than emotional. As the author, present a more detached tone and don’t appeal to readers’ emotions.

For example, “It was a heartbreaking scene” is an emotional phrase. Replace it with a more detached, informative statement.
Note that this doesn’t mean you aren’t allowed to express opinions in formal writing. But do it with factual statements and figures rather than emotional phrases.

7. Use proper punctuation for a professional tone

Use proper punctuation for a professional tone. Stick with simple punctuation marks. End your sentences with periods and join sentence sections together with commas. Only use question marks when you’re asking a specific question, like in a letter. Use other punctuation marks like dashes and semicolons sparingly.

As a general rule, never use exclamation points in formal writing. It looks unprofessional.
Only use a colon if you are introducing a list. For example, “I will explain 3 issues with our current policy: … ”

Method 3 of 3:Professionalizing Your Presentation

1. State a clear thesis if you’re writing an essay

State a clear thesis if you’re writing an essay. In contrast to a creative or informal piece of writing, formal writing should convey a clear point. Tell your readers the point you want to get across and organize your essay so that point is clear. Make sure each paragraph of your essay supports the main point.

Start off with a clear thesis statement within the first paragraph. Tell readers the point of the piece and the idea you want to get across.

Make sure every paragraph after the introduction supports the thesis. Eliminate any information that is unrelated.
Restate the thesis and wrap up the piece with a concise conclusion.

2. Vary your sentence length

Vary your sentence length. There is no set rule on how long your sentences should be, but don’t write sentences that are all the same length. An essay made up of all short sentences sounds too simplistic, while an essay of all long sentences seems wordy and confusing. Alter your sentence construction to come up with sentences of varying length throughout the essay.

Check your writing and see if there are sections where you use several short or long sentences in a row. Break up these sections by altering the length on 1 or 2 of these sentences.
Consider shortening long sentences by breaking them into 2 or even 3 separate sentences. Join 2 short sentences with a comma. However, make sure these 2 sentences are not both independent clauses or you might have a run-on sentence.

3. when you’re finished

Proofread your writing when you’re finished. Nothing looks less formal than typos, spelling errors, and grammar mistakes. Always proofread your work before submitting it. Look for informal passages, general statements, contractions, and any other issues that make your writing look less formal. Fix these before submitting the work.
Try letting someone else read the essay as well. Sometimes you miss your own mistakes when you’ve been working on a piece for hours, and a fresh set of eyes sees things that you didn’t.