As most college students come to discover, writing a college-level essay is far trickier than crafting a high school-level paper. Apart from the need to follow more complex instructions, college papers tend to be longer and are expected to provide in-depth discussions. Additionally, college essays are evaluated using more rigorous standards of academic writing. One such standard is the quality of the language used. A college paper is required to be written using formal language. So how exactly does a formal essay sound? The answer is: it depends. Formal language varies among academic levels and fields. A paper written by a sophomore student for an art class will have marked differences compared to a paper written by a post-graduate student for a political science class. That said, there are general guidelines for formal writing. In this post, we look at some of these guidelines.
Use the Third Person
One of the cardinal rules for writing a formal essay is writing in the third person point of view. This means avoiding the use of first-person pronouns such as “I,” “me,” “my,” and “we” among many others. The use of the second person is also discouraged in formal writing, though this is not frequently stated since the second person is already rarely used. This means avoiding the use of the pronoun “you.” The use of the third person is prescribed because it gives the paper a more objective and convincing tone. See the example below to see how using the third person can make a sentence sound formal:
First-person writing: “I think that the study’s methodology is inherently flawed because the researchers did not control for a number of variables that could affect the results.”
Third-person writing: “The study’s methodology is inherently flawed because the researchers did not control for a number of variables that could affect the results.”
Though the third person is considered the standard for formal writing, note that the use of first-person is gaining wider acceptance in some circles. To be safe, you may check with your professor if the instructions are not clear.
Another important rule for formal writing is avoiding contractions. A contraction is commonly composed of two words that have been combined to form a shortened version and with an apostrophe added to signal the shortening of the term. Examples of contractions are “aren’t” for “are not,” “it’s” for “it is,” and “haven’t” for “have not.” Contractions are regarded as informal language, and thus writers are advised to avoid these.
Similar to contractions, slangs are best avoided when writing a formal paper. Slangs are words considered as very informal. These words are used more in everyday informal conversation than in writing. For example, “busted” is slang for “captured” or “apprehended.” Thus, instead of writing “the fugitives were busted,” you may write it as “the fugitives were apprehended.”
Use Correct Grammar
An essay also sounds more formal if the grammar is correct. While a few grammatical mistakes are easy to disregard, too many of these can be distracting to a reader. Moreover, grammar mistakes can affect the message of your paper by either making sentences confusing or completely altering their meaning. Correct grammar is especially important if you are writing for more advanced courses. If you are not confident about your grammar, you may seek the help of a friend, a professor, or your school’s writing center.
Avoid Misspellings and Typographical Errors
Like incorrect grammar, misspelled words and typographical errors can affect the quality of the language. A paper with multiple errors sounds far less formal than a paper free of such mistakes. A formal paper is expected to undergo a round of revisions so as to produce a refined final copy, so make sure that you perform editing and proofreading before submission.
Use Formal Vocabulary
Another way to make your essay sound more formal is by using formal vocabulary. Formal vocabulary is a broad term, and what qualifies as formal varies. However, one way of using formal vocabulary is by choosing the appropriate words based on the context. For instance, assuming that you are writing a paper on a health topic, then you should consider the audience of the paper. If your audience does not have extensive background on the topic, then it is best to avoid jargon and use formal but everyday language instead. For example, using “elevated body temperature” is more appropriate for an audience composed of the general public, whereas “hyperthermia” is more appropriate for an audience of healthcare professionals. Both words are formal vocabulary, but they differ in use depending on the audience. While you may use jargon if necessary, remember to keep your language simple. Do not use flowery language. A paper should be formal, but it should also come across as practical and accessible.
Structure Your Essay
Finally, make sure that your essay follows standard structure. A good essay has all the basic parts required. These include an introduction, a main body, and a conclusion. Structuring your essay improves clarity, coherence, and completeness, and hence formality. For example, an essay that abruptly ends without restating the thesis or summarizing the arguments sound less formal than an essay that takes its time in providing a proper conclusion.
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