Formal Language for Writing Reports and Dissertations in English

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Formal language

for writing

Reports and Dissertations

in English

Lynn Andrews

Conférence de méthodes

Novembre 2012

Formal versus informal

language in English

Different types of writing require different

levels of formality:

O Email to a friend

O Email to a member of your family

O Email to a new customer

O Report for your line manager

O Report for a client

O Dissertation for the MBA

Formal versus informal

language in English

Reports and dissertations include:








Discussion of findings based on research



Both of these types of documents must be ‘objective’

and are therefore written in a formal style

Making your written

language more formal

In April 2011, I had to have a look at customer

complaints about the time-keeping of the staff

in the general office.

To get some information, I had a chat with each

of the 12 workers concerned and watched out

for their time of arrival over a two-week period.


What makes your language

formal in written English?



Use of verbs in the passive voice

Use verbs in the active voice

Rare use of personal pronouns

Regular use of personal pronouns eg.

I, you, we…

Neutral verbs whch do not show

feelings (objectivity)

Verbs that show feelings eg. I think, we

feel, I am pleased

Clear and concise words. Often

these are are ‘Latinate’ words :

usually one–word verbs and nouns eg.

punctuality; investigate, interviewed,

noted etc

Phrasal verbs (Verbs with

prepositions) : eg. watched out for,

‘have a look at’ etc

Get : most uses of get are very informal!


Avoiding personal

pronouns (I, we etc..)

O In English using personal pronouns

always makes your language sound more


O In reports and dissertations, formal

language requires impersonal phrases

beginning with ‘It’.

Avoiding personal

pronouns (I, we etc..)

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