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Styles of Writing

We often refer to different ways of writing as styles of writing and distinguish between formal, neutral, informal, colloquial and slang.

Nærbilde av en som skriver på tastatur. Foto.

The styles of writing: formal, neutral, informal, colloquial and slang, 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:

Very formal/formalNeutral/informalInformal/colloquialColloquial/slang

Many learned words,

e.g. substitutabiliti encounter, postpone.

More everyday words,

e.g. phrasal verbs meet, put off.

Mosly everydaywords, phrasal verbs and idioms

put off, it sucks.

Learned words avoided, in-groups words and taboo words used.

Impersonal language,

1) I/we and you avoided;

2) passive verb forms;

3) actions turned into nouns -nominal style

e.g. The committiees proposal caused deep resentement.

More subjective and personal language,

e.g. I/we and you; a verbal style: actions expressed in verbs: The committee proposed a plan that people didn't like at all.

A personal style with subjective language forms; inserts like,

I mean, you know, etc. common; more forms like sort of, kind of, etc. in order not to sound too categorical.

Direct and personal evaluations, many swear words and taboo words

e.g. bloody nuisance.

Lexically rich: i.e. many lexical words in relation to the number of words in a text: the committee's proposal caused deep resentment.Less lexically rich: the committee proposes a plan that people didn't like.Few lexical words in relation to the total number of words in the text.Low lexikacal density.
Declarative sentences the rule: complete sentences the rule.Some interactive sentences (interrogatives and imperatives); some fragments.More interactive sentences types; more fragments.Many fragments, sometimes verbs left out e.g they just idoits.
Contracted forms like didn't, you'll avoided.Some contracted forms.More contracted formsContractions the rule: double negatives common: You ain't seen nothing yet.

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

Tasks and Activities


Sist faglig oppdatert 02.05.2018
Skrevet av Per Lysvåg


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