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My last article – “Are You Guilty Of These 7 Sins In Business Writing” – which was published earlier this month received an overwhelming response and some of you requested for more writing tips.

So, I have partnered up with Neue to work on a weekly ‘mini-series’ where I will share tips on how to improve your writing. I will also cover some do’s and don’ts when it comes to business writing. I hope these articles will help improve your business writing skills and help you to succeed in your workplace.

This week I will share with you the difference between formal vs informal writing, as I am asked this question very often.

Writing is one of the most important forms of communication. In a workplace setting, writing is to communicate. When we write effectively, people will understand what we have to say. We also prevent unnecessary confusion and misunderstanding. In short, effective writing is essential when:

  • You want to share information
  • You would want someone to make a decision
  • You would want to convince someone / to act

Difference between formal writing and informal writing

Let me start by giving you an example of both these styles of writing:

Example 1: This is to inform you that your application has been rejected by our company as the documents required are incomplete. If you would like to resubmit your application, we would suggest for you to go over the checklist file and send us all the necessary documents required.

Example 2: You know that application I sent? Well, they rejected it. They thought it was dreadful and didn’t meet their “required standard”. But hey, I did the best I could. I think it was great. I’m not gonna redo it the way they said I should.

From the above, it is easy to see which example is formal and which is informal. So, what makes formal writing formal and informal writing informal? Clearly it is the style of writing as different situations call for different ways of putting words together.

The way we write an academic or scientific paper would greatly differ from the way we write to friends. The choice of words (vocabulary), tone, and style, change in different settings. This difference in the style of writing determines if it’s formal or informal writing. 

During my workshops, I often tell my participants not to use informal writing in business and to reserve that style for their friends. Then again, I also tell them not to use “formal” writing. Confused? Allow me to explain. The formal writing that I’m referring to is when I see letters or emails with the following phrases:

  • Please be informed that…
  • With reference to above mentioned subject…
  • With regards to the above matter…
  • As per our tele-communication earlier today…
  • The above matter refers…
  • We refer to your email dated…
  • Enclosed / Attached herewith please find…
  • Kindly be advised..
  • Please note that…
  • … for your kind perusal

(Source: GIPHY)

Does any of these phrase sound familiar? Are you guilty of using them sometimes? While using these phrases is not completely wrong, it does at times sound like we are using a template language that is outdated or as some may say, language that is “so yesterday”. I call this the “Queen’s English” – do remember that the actual meaning of Queen’s English may differ from what I am suggesting here. I am only using this phrase so you know I am referring to a style of English that was written / spoken a very long time ago.

My advice to overcome this “outdated” style is to write the way you would speak, minus the slang of course. The key is to write in a natural way, like you would when you speak to someone.

For example, would you verbally say “Attached herewith is the conference agenda for your kind perusal. Kindly inform me of your availability at your soonest.”? If your answer is ‘No’, then don’t write it.

(Source: GIPHY)

Remember, make it conversational. This is what I would say instead: “The agenda is attached. Please let me know if you are free to join us”.

Back to the two examples above: formal writing can be, in this case, conversational writing. Try to avoid sounding too old-fashioned. To communicate effectively, it is crucial that we write with plain English, and not “Queen’s English”.

The point of words is to convey meaning effectively. If a perfectly average person has trouble understanding you, it means you’re not doing that. Nobody appreciates a poorly written document or email – it will get pushed to the bottom of the pile or in worse cases, ignored.

We are constantly flooded with things to read daily, both online and offline. If you want to write effectively, you must ensure that the readers can easily understand your message. Remember, they want to read and understand messages that are simple and clear, so they know exactly how to reply.

Quoting Professor Robert Eagleson, “Plain English is clear, straightforward expression, using only as many words as are necessary. Writers of plain English let their audience concentrate on the message instead of being distracted by complicated language. They make sure that their audience understand the message easily”.

Next week, we will talk more about ‘Plain English and keeping things concise’.

Meanwhile, drop me a note or comment on this post to let me know what annoys you the most about other people’s writing and I will try to address them in the upcoming articles. If you have a question, “please do not hesitate to contact the undersigned” for advice. I’ll do my best to answer it.

Connect With Neue

Do you need help for your department or organisation? Give yourself an edge by writing more effectively. For more information, get in touch with Neue’s Digital Editor, Lance Thoo, via e-mail ([email protected]) or WhatsApp (+6738124126).

Click on the photo to check out Davidson’s past article – “Are You Guilty Of These 7 Sins In Business Writing?”