Everyone knows that you should write your final papers differently than your Facebook posts, and your journal submissions should be written differently than newspaper columns. What exactly are the differences between informal and academic writing? Between formal and informal writing?

The biggest difference

The most important difference between informal writing and academic writing is style. That is, informal writing does not require you to adhere to any published style guide. Academic writing, or any formal writing for that matter, requires that you adhere to a style guide. Some schools and teachers will go so far as to specify which style guide to use.

What is a style guide?

A style guide is a manual or document that specifies a set of rules and standards, followed by the editors to facilitate clear communication. The EzineArticles.com guide is a web page that indicates how to write articles to be included in the EzineArticles directory, for example. Each school and corporation can have its own personalized style guide.

However, there are main style guides.

1. The Chicago Manual of Style it was one of the first style guides published in the United States. Currently (as of 2010) in its 16th edition, this style guide was first published in 1906. People often refer to “Chicago style”, but people also refer to it as CMS or CMOS.

2. The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association It is in its sixth edition (as of 2010). This style guide was developed to make it easier for teachers and students to read articles, increasing understanding. The APA style requires only two fonts in a document, and the body of the document must be written in 12-point Times New Roman. In some places, underlining, bold, and italics are allowed.

3. The elements of style It was written to help people write clearly. While the book has its critics, it is one of the shortest style guides.

4. The MLA Manual of Style, Third Edition, is the Modern Language Association’s style guide. First published in 1985, this manual is used by many universities, colleges, and students.

5. Microsoft wrote The Style Manual for Technical Publication, and this document is used for internal and external Microsoft documentation.

Common style guide conventions vs. informal writing


Generally, it’s okay to use contractions (as if they were) in informal writing. Academic writing requires writing both words.

Technical terms

If you are writing informally to a group of people in the same field, you may use technical terms frequently and never explain them. If you are writing to a group of people who have nothing to do with your industry, try cutting out technical words entirely. If you are writing academically, you must explain the term the first time you use it.

Active passive

This is no different between informal and academic writing. Most of the time, active prayers are better. Both the APA and the Chicago style guides agree with this.

Grammatical person

The grammatical person is the point of view, or you may have heard it expressed as first person, second person, third person, and fourth person. The first person perspective contains many “I” or “we” statements such as “I fed the dog.” The first person is the perspective of the writer. The second person is you, the person the writer is writing to. The third person is associated with pronouns like he, she, that, and them. The third person is not me (the writer) nor you (the reader). Sometimes academics use fourth person sentences like, “One should always behave when in public.”

Informal and casual writing uses the point of view of the first, second, and third person, as appropriate. While scholars often write in the fourth person, I have yet to find a basis for that writing style in style guides. Style guides make it easy to write clear and fourth person, single statements are anything but clear.

The grammatical person needed for a sentence often depends on whether the sentence is active or passive.


Academic writing requires citations. If it says “X is true”, you must cite where you found that statement. If you created that statement, your words should show it clearly.

Sentence length

Informal writing tends to have short sentences. (Bad informal writing has extended sentences.) Formal and academic writing uses longer sentences. But be careful. The goal of any writing is to convey a point, and if your sentence is too long, it will defeat that purpose.

Colloquial expressions and cliches

While “awesome”, “da bomb”, “bees’ knees”, “kids”, “nose to grindstone” and “friend” permeate Facebook, these words and phrases are not used in academic writing.


All your friends may know what LOL (and in the case of the ferret community, DOL), but whenever you use an abbreviation in an academic article, you must first type it and connect it to the abbreviation so that people will know what you are. talking about.

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