Style and Register

Once you know what you are going to write and who you are going to write to, you need to be aware of how you are going to write. In academic and technical writing, the style is often fairly formal. This is because it is important in both academic and technical writing to be as precise as possible. This film below discusses issues to do with formality, for example, the difference between formal and informal and how to change from one to the other.

The table below outlines what formal and informal English generally means in practice. However,the table is only a guideline. In the section ”connecting words” for example, it states that ”moreover” is more formal than ”and”. That is not to say though that ”and ” cannot be used as a linking word in a formal document. It would make writing quite difficult if that were the case! However, it would be strange to start a sentence with ”and” in a formal document whereas this would be quite acceptable when writing to a friend.

Table 1: Differences between formal and informal English. 

More formal More informal
More precise numbers / hedging

Many students are challenged by academic writing.

80% of countries experienced urban growth.

Single word verbs – longer verbs (often with Latin origin)






Broader generalisations

Everyone hates academic writing!

Towns are growing everywhere!

Phrasal verbs (verb + preposition) / get

Take part in


Work out

Get in order

Get better

Formal connecting words (often at the beginning of the sentence)

Moreover, furthermore, in addition to



Informal connecting words (at the beginning of a sentence)

And. also

Next, then


Objective constructions (passive voice)

It is said that…..

There is little doubt that…

Active constructions

I say that…

I don’t think

Abstract nouns

Is happiness possible during unemployment?

X carries out error correction by retransmission of A and B.

Modal verbs, adjectives, clauses

Can people be happy when they haven’t got a job?

X corrects errors by retransmitting A and B.

Complex sentences

After placing the chemical in the fluid, it should be left for a short period.

Simple sentences

Place the chemical in the fluid. Leave it for a short period.

No contractions

I will, I would like


I’ll, I’d like

Indirect questions

It is important to estimate the costs..

The question of why this is relevant can be answered…

Direct questions

How much is it?

Why is this a relevant question today?

No colloquialisms / slang

As you might be aware, there are a number of poor children in that area.

Colloquialisms / slang

You know, there are a lot of poor kids in that area

Precise terms e.g. naming the tool

Hammer, telescope, oscillator

Vague collective terms

e.g. the thing, stuff

Some punctuation : ; Some punctuation   !?
Avoiding abbreviations 

For example, Note, and so on

Using abbreviations

e.g., N.B., etc.


  • Find out what style is expected in your discipline area by reading articles. For example, in some disciplines, a personal style is preferred e.g. ”we carried out the experiment” whereas in others, a more impersonal style is preferred e.g. ”the experiment was carried out”.
  • Find a balance between being formal but not communicative. Sometimes, long words can complicate issues rather than clarify. Compare the 2nd example under abstract nouns: ”X carries out error correction by retransmission of A and B” to ”X corrects errors by retransmitting A and B.” The latter is more concise, clearer and generally, easier to read.