Four Common Formal Writing Mistakes
  • 3-minute read
  • 1st April 2022

Four Common Formal Writing Mistakes

There’s quite a difference between the casual way you might write to a friend and the business-like, persuasive tone that your professional writing requires. While it can be daunting to keep track of the rules and etiquette of formal writing, we’ve rounded up some of the most common mistakes you should avoid. Check out our guide below to learn more.

1. Words & Phrases

To avoid crossing the line into using too much conversational and informal language, there are several types of words and phrases that you shouldn’t use in formal writing:

  • Technical jargon and buzzwords: Whether these have a place in your text depends mainly on your audience. It’s important not to use language that your readers don’t understand. It’s also important that you fully understand the terms you’re using to ensure that they’re used correctly.
  • Cliches: Phrases like at the end of the day, in a nutshell, and bring to the table are more of a distraction and won’t add significant meaning to your writing.
  • Slang: Words like awesome, stuff, and like lack specificity and professionalism.
  • Exaggerations: To maintain objectivity, avoid superlatives (e.g., best and worst), frequency adverbs (e.g., always and never), and intensifiers (e.g., extremely and really). Instead, consider using alternatives like ideal, frequently, and important.
  • Outdated: While we’ve mentioned words and phrases that are too informal, it’s also possible to write too formally. As language has evolved, there are some words that are now too stiff and formal, like whilst, amongst, and amidst.

2. Salutations & Sign-Offs

You should also avoid outdated and overly formal language when writing emails. This includes salutations, like to whom it may concern, dear sir or madam, and valedictions, like most sincerely.

3. Wordiness

Cutting out unnecessary words will also make your writing easier to read and understand. Concise writing can be achieved by avoiding some of the above words and phrases but also by making small refinements and adjustments:

  This report serves to explain… → This report explains…

4. Grammar & Punctuation

It’s not only important to choose the right words in formal writing, but also to follow proper grammar and punctuation.

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Contractions should generally be avoided in most formal writing, as they can be perceived as giving the writing a more relaxed tone. Homophonic contractions (i.e., it’s/its, their/there/they’re, and your/you’re) are very often confused and result in errors.

Excessive punctuation, especially exclamation marks, should be avoided because they’re emotionally charged, and formal writing requires a neutral tone.

Instead, find an adjective that has the same meaning while also ensuring a professional tone:

They were told that they must attend the meeting! → They were told that their attendance at the meeting was required.

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