Formal and Informal Register
Christopher M.
em 17 de Dezembro de 2019

Business Writing: Formal and Informal Register

Nowadays with so many apps for instant communication both written and face to face through video, the art to writing is becoming lost. However, I certainly do not believe that the written word will ever become obsolete. In fact, strong writing skills and good penmanship can be a differential in your arsenal and knowledge of English or in any language for that matter. Obviously there is a difference between the way we speak and the way in which we write. There is also a big difference in the way we write to different people for different situations. For example, the way in which you would text with a friend, a thank you card to a distant relative for a Christmas gift, an e-mail to a teacher, a message on the intraweb at the company to your co-workers, a resignation letter to your boss or a request letter to stranger are going to be very different in tone, vocabulary and formality. The key considerations of course are who the person is and what is being asked of them.

In business, it is necessary to enter in contact with people with whom we generally do not know or have had any connection with previously. In business, especially big business and international business it is required to ask for information, permission, help, etc. Sometimes business requires an invitation to participate in an event, a negotiation or an interview. Again, we return to the idea of whom the person is and what is being asked. In some cases, you may have a great relationship with your co-workers and even your boss which makes communication less rigid and more informal, but still in business between 9-5 there will still be a minimum standard of semi-formal register when interacting in the business environment.

So, lets consider the following scenario to highlight 4 points to improve formal writing in business. In this scenario, you are asked to contact someone who neither you nor anyone in the company knows to participate as a guest speaker at a conference.

1) Avoid Contractions and Gerunds: In formal writing, avoid using contractions. For example, instead of I'm writing to tell you or I'd like to tell you....' I would like to inform you'. Also instead of using Gerunds (which are not transitive verbs) such as: 'Looking forward' or 'I'm looking forward to hearing from you', a possible change could be 'I look forward'.

2) Vocabulary: Use a higher level or vocabulary to express your ideas, avoid phrasal verbs. Some examples: To inform (Formal) / To tell (Informal), To contact (Formal) / To get in touch with (Informal), To apologize (Formal) / To say sorry for (Informal), To Request (Formal) / To ask for (Informal), To postpone or To delay (Formal) / To put off or to put aside (Informal).

3) Avoid personal pronouns. It is not always possible to avoid personal pronouns. They are acceptable if you are expressing an opinion, inviting someone specific, or speaking on behalf of someone or the company. However there are instances where the personal pronoun can be avoided. For example: 'I'm attaching the letter' or 'Here's your invitation letter'... A possible formal change could be: 'Please find attached the letter of invitation'.

4) Use modals. The use of modals when asking for something can be interpreted as both more formal and more polite. For example: 'Would you mind (if)'...? Instead of 'Can you'....? 'Could you also let me know'...? Instead of 'I'd also like to know'.....or 'Should you need / require.'... instead of 'if you want'.

Some subtle changes to the way in which we write can make a big difference in the way we, the message or the request are received. Obviously, something more formal and polite will have a higher probability to be accepted. In this scenario we want someone unknown to us to do something for us. We want our language to incline the person to want to help. These rules again are not static. Every business and company has a particular culture. When you are writing, again what is important is to keep in mind who we are writing to and what we are saying or asking for and adjust the tone, vocabulary and formality accordingly.

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