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English: skills for learning
English: skills for learning

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3.2 Identifying specific features of academic style

The next activity follows on from your work in Activity 6. You will look at the two lists of phrases in your table and identify specific features of academic and formal style.

Activity 7

Timing: Allow approximately 15 minutes

Looking at your table from Activity 6, compare the formal and informal expressions, and any other differences you may have noticed while reading the two texts. Here are some of the things you may have noticed:

  • use of contractions, such as ‘it’s’, ‘don’t’
  • use of personal pronouns such as ‘I’, ‘you’, ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘it’, ‘we’, ‘they’
  • expressions used to introduce information or ideas
  • number of words used to describe an idea
  • length and complexity of sentences
  • overall structure of the text
  • choice of words.

Write your observations in the box below before comparing them to mine.

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Table 3 Formals texts and informal texts
Formal textsInformal texts

Use of expanded forms

it is, cannot

Use of contractions

it’s, can’t, doesn’t

Texts are impersonal

I is rarely used. Formal texts more commonly use: it, he, she, they, the organisation

Informal texts tend to use:

I, we, you, ours

Writers strive to be objective and use research findings to support the points they make

Studies…support the position that…

it has been observed

…was found to be greater

Porter and Lawler (1964) observed

Writers make subjective statements. They state personal views and experiences

I think

I feel that

It’s obvious

Use of technical terms and very concise expressions

employee satisfaction

propensity to leave

Use of less concise everyday expressions

staff are satisfied

many of us want to quit

Complex sentences

Contradicting the mainstream trend in literature, Zeist (1983) reported a greater degree of job satisfaction in more highly structured roles since role clarity reduced anxiety and served as a basis for reward seeking activities.

Simpler sentences

I think that there are more opportunities and staff should be more satisfied in big companies like ours.

Texts are structured in paragraphs

Texts move from general to specific

Texts follow an informal structure

There may several short paragraphs and a less logical progression

Word choice

Formal vocabulary: one long word instead of two or more short words; words of Latin or Greek origin, e.g. oriented, adversely, autonomy, hierarchical, propensity

Formal verbs such as to arrive, to obtain

Word choice

Informal vocabulary: short words do, make, get

Idiomatic expressions: at the end of the day

Use of phrasal verbs such as come up, goes on

Phrasal verbs, which consist of a verb and a preposition or an adverb, are more commonly used in informal texts and informal conversation.