How to write a formal essay: definitions and forms

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Speaking about formal style in writing we commonly mean advanced vocabulary, sophisticated sentences, scientific tone and other major league aspects. We know that formal writing is required for such official occasions as academic papers, speeches, lectures, reports or ceremonial events.

But do we know all the specifics about this kind of writing? Can we perform brilliant formal papers that impress one and all? Have we any ideas how to write a formal essay? Can we express the viewpoints accordingly? If you have more NO-answers, this guideline is right up your alley! Let’s get started!

A formal essay serves two main goals: to inform or persuade the audience about the argument you have drawn while researching the topic.

Essentials for formal papers

To follow academic writing standard means to write using formal, impersonal language and avoid colloquial vocabulary and referencing to feelings and personalities. But this is only the top of the iceberg. Assuming that you have fairly good skills for writing in a formal style, they may seem insufficient for producing first-rate academic papers.

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That is because you need to have a better command in three more aspects:

  • Style. Despite the difference in vocabulary, each academic discipline requires the peculiar manner of writing. For instance, Science essays work better if written in short paragraphs filled in with factual information. Paragraphs in such kinds of essays may not include a topic sentence. Most Humanities disciplines expect students to write longer paragraphs with a topic sentence. The majority of the university subjects do not accept the first-person narrative, while a few disciplines allow some personalized writing.
  • Technical vocabulary. Your language directly depends on the concepts that are specific to your study area. Whether it is linguistics, economics, history or physics, the vocabulary cannot be the same. Therefore, you should acquire a good stock of technical words for adequate writing within your academic discipline.
  • Structure. If you think that all academic subjects require using a common essay structure, you are far from the truth. There are many other genres which you need to compose your paper, for example, you may be asked to write a report, a proof, a case study, a review, etc.

How to sound formal

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Every educated person is expected to be able to use a formal style for reports, official papers and letters, scholarly articles, presentations, etc. It will be easy to cope with a variety of official writing challenges if you know these essentials:

  • Writing in the third person. First-person narration, as well as second-person writing, is acceptable for informal papers. All formal styles expect you to write in third-person as it actually makes the paper sound formal and serious. Keep in mind that formal style allows facts rather than emotions and opinions. When saying “I think”, you express your personal view while a professor wants you to build your arguments on the researched facts.
  • Full words instead of contractions (for example, it will – it’ll, they are – they’re, cannot - can't).
  • Keep your writing as plain as possible. Long vague statements can mislead the reader off your point. Do you need a bored and tired reader who is losing the interest in your topic with every wordy sentence?
  • A topic sentence in each body paragraph
  • No clichés. What is fine for everyday conversation should be avoided in formal writing. Figures of speech, idioms and proverbs seem to sound powerful but not in formal essays. Most of them can do a disservice to your paper as the readers may fail to understand them. Their meaning is not immediately obvious and often can be confusing for them. Filling your writing with such idioms as “fall on deaf ears”, “by hook or crook” or “bitter end”, you should think carefully what their purpose is. To add more colour? To make the statement more impressive? To deepen the feeling? All of these aims are beyond the focus of the formal paper. Official style supposes using evidential facts and other reliable data rather than pompous phrases to produce an impression on the reader.
  • No slang and humour.
  • More passive constructions than in informal writing but not too many.
  • Observe grammar rules. This is a must for every style. However, formal papers are thoroughly examined for such inappropriateness. That is why you have to proofread your paper until it has no grammar mistakes, lapses or typos. For this, use online grammar and spelling checkers. However, it is better to hire a professional editor or ask your English teacher to review the paper.
  • Proper citation and referencing. Do this according to the format of your paper (more info about citation styles is at essay writing tips section).

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Formal vocabulary vs informal vocabulary

Students willing to learn how to write a formal essay should pay attention to the language they use.

Your paper will meet academic requirements if your evaluations are more cautious and less emotional. Thus, such strong adjectives as splendid, useless, horrible should be replaced with moderate words: excellent or well-formed, ineffective or unproductive, problematic or appalling. It is not good if your statements sound absolutely positive or categorically negative. For example, the word “wrong” has more graded equivalents such as “less convincing”, “ungenuine” or “inaccurate”.

The following list will help you distinguish between official and colloquial terms:

  • Somewhat – a little
  • Insufficient – not enough
  • Baby – offspring
  • Men – male
  • Try – endeavour
  • End- terminate
  • Stuff – items
  • Rude – abusive
  • Friendly – sociable
  • Rich – wealthy
  • Childish - Immature
  • Bad – unacceptable
  • Elderly people – retirees
  • Great – preferable
  • Need – require
  • Ask – request
  • Lab – laboratory
  • Put up with – tolerate
  • Also- moreover
  • Funny - amusing
  • Better - improved
  • Worse - Inferior
  • Whole – entire
  • Think about – consider
  • Really – extremely
  • A lot – a great deal
  • Call off – cancel
  • So – as a consequence
  • Go down – decrease
  • Speak to – address
  • Really big – considerable
  • Talk about – discuss
  • Think of – conceive
  • Lively – energetic
  • Break down – collapse
  • Let - permit
  • Handy – convenient

Best strategies for shining papers

  • Planning matters
  • Any serious paper requires in-depth insight into the issue. Although some students skip this stage especially when the deadline is approaching, it is crucial to find time for brainstorming. Think twice while choosing a topic and designing appropriate arguments. Be careful when deciding on what sources to use for your research. And try to make a clear, step-by-step outline for your first draft. How does it help? It simply makes your paper look solid, well-structured, well-connected and elaborate.
  • The focus on variety
  • A hallmark of the effective academic writing is diverse language and sentences. Thus, try not to repeat a word or phrase twice and use the different types of sentences and sentence patterns in your paper. However, overusing vague scientific terms is not good either; just add a little variety to your language with the help of synonyms and antonyms and your ideas will get brighter.
  • Practice makes perfect
  • Perhaps your first essay will be far from perfect. But the method of trials and errors is actually more efficient than any other theory regardless how solid it is. You may read numerous instructions and watch loads of videos about skating but you will never know how it works until you put on the skates and step onto the rink. The same is with writing academic papers. You will unlikely learn how to write a formal essay unless you grab your pen and conquer this paper on your own. The more writing experience you gain, the stronger skills you acquire. The more skillfully you write, the bigger chances for A-graded essays you have!

Who can observe all formalities?

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When you have to attend some official occasion, you carefully choose the outfit often seeking advice from your parents, friends or other people whose opinion is important to you. You want to look smart and correspond to the dress code invented for this or that event. It could be quite challenging to find appropriate clothes for those who used to dress casually.

The same thing is with the formal papers. Without experience and more or less good writing skills, it is impossible to produce a decent formal essay. If you still have no idea about the level of formality to use in your academic essay, you will find a helping hand on this website.

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