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Ten Ways to Turn Your Writing From Normal to Formal

Writing isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. It can be a such a fiddly process, trying to ascertain exactly what to say and how to say it. This is particularly true when it comes to formal writing – perhaps for a job application or an academic essay. Achieving an appropriate tone can be a nightmare, so we’ve taken the time to come up with a list of 10 simple ways to make your writing sound more formal.

1. Eradicate the errors 

Check your grammar and spelling as you go, and check it again when you’ve finished. It sounds obvious, but spelling mistakes detract from even the most well-written piece of writing. Errors of this nature don’t just demonstrate a lack of aptitude, they also point to a lack of effort. We live in an age where we have every resource imaginable available to avoid making any sort of spelling mistake. If you’re not confident in your ability to get everything spot-on, then seek help! Use spell-checking software, hire a proofreader, hire an essay writer – but whatever you do, don’t cut corners. You can’t paint a perfect picture with cheap acrylic.

2. Be concise

Try to get your point across succinctly. Readers want to assimilate all relevant information as quickly as possible, and it’s your job to make that easy. Being brief and to-the-point will give your writing a professional gloss, creating a naturally formal tone. That means avoiding flowery language, keeping sentences short, and not deviating from your message. 

3. Avoid colloquialisms

It probably doesn’t need saying, but we’ll say it anyway – if you want your writing to sound formal, you’re going to need to use formal language. Think about how you’d chat to your best friend over a cup of coffee, and use that as a benchmark for how not to write formally. Avoid words such as “literally”, “basically”, “like”, “nice”, and any others that are either commonly misused or have more impactful alternatives. There are hundreds of words that don’t translate from the spoken word to the written.

Oh, and definitely don’t use slang words or colloquialisms such as “oh”. If in doubt, ask yourself whether you’d expect to see it in a textbook. If you’re still in doubt, then just avoid the word.

4. Don’t use elision

This might go hand-in-hand with number 3, but it still needs saying. Elision is fine for formal speech and informal writing, but if you’re trying to make your writing sound more formal then it’s common practice to avoid contracting your words. When we read something, we speak the words aloud in our head. A sentence containing full, properly-constructed words and phrases reads much more formally and professionally aloud than one chock-full of contractions. 

Of course, avoiding elision has the knock-on effect of harming the brevity of your piece, which contradicts the advice we offered up just a few sentences ago. However, it’s a necessary sacrifice and one that you will need to make. You should instead challenge yourself to be more resourceful with the words that you use. 

6. Maintain your tone

Be consistent in the way that you write. If your tone is super formal 95% of the time but dips into humour for the other 5%, your writing will be construed as insincere, unprofessional and a tad confusing. We recommend you try to achieve a level of formality which allows you to use humour and without coming across as informal.
Maintaining a consistent tone throughout your work also implies that you, the writer, are a consistent and reliable individual.

7. Only use words that you understand

Don’t try to be too clever! There a few things more cringeworthy than seeing someone use a fancy word in completely the wrong context because they found it next to a similar word in a Thesaurus. Stick to what you know. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have the broadest vocabulary, it’s the content – not the complexity - of your writing that will determine whether or not it’s a success. 

8. Avoid clichés

There was an episode of The Apprentice on the BBC a few years ago where an interviewer asked a candidate to describe himself without using a single cliché. The candidate’s response, which ultimately led to him being fired, was “at the end of the day, I do exactly what it says on the tin”.

Clichés do exactly what they say on the tin. They render your writing predictable, average, boring. Furthermore, they are far too casual for use in something such as a CV, academic essay or job application. Avoid avoid avoid. 

9. Avoid repetition

Repeating the same piece of information is a pointless exercise. There’s nothing worse than having to read the exact same thing twice over. Actually, reading the exact same thing thrice over might be worse.
See? Annoying, isn’t it? Repetition can be used to good effect if you’re trying to reinforce a particular point, but it doesn’t look great if you want to portray a formal tone. We refer you to point number 2 – be as concise as possible.

10. Stay on message

Your reader has chosen to read your work for a specific purpose or reason. Make sure that what you have written is in keeping with the promises that you make at the beginning of your prose, or you risk losing their interest or trust. For instance, if you claim to be able to provide them with ten ways to make their writing more formal, you don’t want to end up only giving nine. 

As mentioned in our first point, accuracy is everything. Knowing your message inside-out allows you to fine-tune the words that you use, the order in which you make your points and the tone with which you write. Set yourself some clear objectives from the outset, and use those objectives as a yardstick for every facet of your writing.

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