Koen Brummelhuis

Customer Success Manager
July 7, 2023

View all blogs


Formal or informal language: which do you choose?

It’s a question we all ask ourselves when writing an article. Should the tone of voice be formal or informal? Or, in other words. Should you use longer and more complex sentences, third-person pronouns, and academic vocabulary? These things all characterize formal language. Or should you use short and simple sentences, personal and direct language, and first- and second-person pronouns? All things that characterize informal language.

The choice you make depends on several factors. For example, research shows that informal language works well for a well-known brand. An unknown brand, however, is better off using formal language if they want to gain a customer’s trust.

There are more points you should consider when you need to decide between formal and informal language. Read on to find out what they are.


How do you decide between formal or informal language?

In the past, formal language was widely used in written communication. In recent years, there has been a shift towards more informal language. Because it’s so common now, you might be tempted to assume that informal language is always the best choice. While it often will be, there are still plenty of situations where formal language is preferred.

But how do you know if ‘We regret to inform you that the delivery will be delayed’ (formal) is a better choice than ’Sorry, but the delivery will be late’ (informal)? By asking yourself the following questions.

  1. Who is your reader?
    Who are you writing for? How well does your target group know you? Addressing a reader that doesn’t know you yet requires a more formal tone of voice. Age also matters here. Youngsters are used to being addressed by informal language, while people aged 50 and older generally prefer a more formal tone of voice.
  2. What do you want to achieve with your content?
    What kind of content are you writing? A manual with instructions on how to use your product? In that case, it’s best to use more formal language. Since the reader just wants to know what he or she needs to do. The purpose of the content is purely informative. A job description, however, has a very different purpose. You want to persuade your target group to apply. The use of more informal language can help you achieve that.
  3. How informal are you?
    Or: how informal is the company you’re writing for? The language you use in your written content should reflect the personality of your brand. When formal language conflicts with the brand personality, you shouldn’t use it in written communication.
  4. Where do you publish your content?
    LinkedIn users expect to read content with a more formal tone of voice than users of Facebook do. And when you send a message by email, you might use more informal language, while a letter in the mail usually has a more formal purpose and thus requires the use of more formal language.


How to get the tone of voice right

Once you’ve made a decision, you’ll need to make sure that what you write is formal or informal enough. That’s not always as easy as it might seem.

You can use Textmetrics to optimize the content you write. It’s a simple approach to a complicated task. The text optimizer on our platform for text improvement gives you suggestions for improving the quality of your content. Does what you write reflect your brand’s personality? Or does it need to be more formal or informal? By implementing the suggested changes, you’ll end up with high-quality content with just the right tone of voice to appeal to your entire target group.

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