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Have the rules of formal writing changed?

Posted by Manjusha Filed in Business English

People speak and write in different ways on different occasions. Some words and structures are only used in formal situations. There are also some words and structures that are mostly used in informal situations. Generally speaking, writing is more formal and speech is more informal. However, in recent years, the rules of formality and politeness have changed.

Many structures that were once considered inappropriate in formal and business writing are now becoming more acceptable. In this article we will take a look at some of the ‘informal’ structures that have now become acceptable in formal writing.

Use of personal pronouns

We can personalize a message by using the pronouns ‘I’ and ‘we’. Many writers used to avoid them in business letters because they wanted to give a message that was more impersonal in nature. However, this attitude has changed now. Personal pronouns are now commonly used in formal and business letters. Business letters should use the pronoun ‘I’ to indicate a willingness to accept responsibility. The pronoun ‘we’ can be used to refer to the organization.

Split infinitive

Many writers still avoid them, but they are also becoming more acceptable. A split infinitive is a construction in which an adverb comes between the particle ‘to’ and a verb. Consider the sentence ‘She decided to never call him again’. Here the sequence ‘to never call’ is an example of what is called a split infinitive. People who use the term believe that there is something wrong with separating the particle ‘to’ from the following infinitive. However, this belief is quite wrong. The infinitive is a single word and the particle ‘to’ is not a part of the infinitive at all.

Beginning a sentence with and or but

Many people still believe that a sentence cannot begin with the conjunction ‘and’ or ‘but’. However, this prohibition has been ignored by standard authors since Anglo-Saxon times. That said, before beginning a sentence with a conjunction, you must ask yourself whether it is possible to connect the sentence in question to the previous sentence.


These are constructions like ‘can’t’ and ‘won’t’. They save space. They are still avoided in academic writing. However, contractions are now perfectly acceptable in emails and semi-formal business correspondence.

Direct questions

We do not normally use direct questions in academic writing. However, they can be used in sales letters and other persuasive marketing articles. The best thing about direct questions is that they make an impact on the reader by forcing him or her to think about what the writer is saying.

See Also
Business letter writing tips
How to Write an Apology Letter
Business Apology Letter Sample I
Personal Apology Letter Sample I
Email writing tips
Resume writing
How to write a cover letter
How to write a letter of enquiry
Standard phrases used in formal letters


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