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Levels of Formality

Summary:

This handout will cover some of the major issues with appropriate language use: levels of language formality, deceitful language and euphemisms, slang and idiomatic expressions; using group-specific jargon; and biased/stereotypical language.

Contributors:Dana Lynn Driscoll, Allen Brizee
Last Edited: 2010-04-17 05:38:08

The level of formality you write with should be determined by the expectations of your audience and your purpose. For example, if you are writing a cover letter for a job application or a college academic essay, you would write in a formal style. If you are writing a letter to a friend, writing something personal, or even writing something for a humorous or special interest magazine when informal writing is expected, you would use a more informal style. Formality exists on a scale—in the example below, a letter of application to a known colleague can result in a semi-formal style.

Here is an example:

Formal (Written to an unknown audience): I am applying for the receptionist position advertised in the local paper. I am an excellent candidate for the job because of my significant secretarial experience, good language skills, and sense of organization.

Semi-formal (Written to a well-known individual): I am applying for the receptionist position that is currently open in the company. As you are aware, I have worked as a temporary employee with your company in this position before. As such, I not only have experience and knowledge of this position, but also already understand the company's needs and requirements for this job.

Informal (Incorrect): Hi! I read in the paper that ya'll were looking for a receptionist. I think that I am good for that job because I've done stuff like it in the past, am good with words, and am incredibly well organized.

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