Subject Material

Styles of Writing

Published: 25.05.2010, Updated: 03.03.2017
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We often refer to different ways of writing as styles of writing and distinguish between formal, neutral, informal, colloquial and slang. These styles have no clear break-off points, so the best illustration is to think of a continuum, like this:

very formal/formal --- neutral/informal --- informal/colloquial --- colloquial/slang

If a text has many of the typical features of the formal style, it qualifies as formal. Similarly, a text with many informal and colloquial features is informal. We become aware of the formality of a text once we start reading it, and should, when we write ourselves, use the level of formality that the situation requires. Good students are able to do just that.

Spontaneous speech is on the whole informal or colloquial; serious writing, e.g. news reportage and academic articles, has a formal style while most everyday writing is done in the neutral style.

Here are some characteristics of the four styles:


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Lexical Density

Compare these two sentences:

  • The committee’s proposal caused deep resentment.
  • The committee proposed a plan that people didn’t like at all.

They mean pretty much the same thing, but the first is more formal than the second. It is partly because it packs more information into fewer words, six in the first; eleven in the second, partly because the first uses the noun resentment based on the formal verb resent, while the other uses everyday words like didn’t like at all to express the same meaning. The second is denser in terms of lexical words (nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs). We will look at this more closely below.

The Word Level
The Phrase Level
The Clause Level
The Sentence Level
The Text Level 




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