In the Cambridge Exam English and Trinity English exams, candidates are required to write in various genres. The main stumbling block for students is to know the organisation of these texts and also the intricate differences between formal and informal writing. This post looks to settle this debate once and for all.


The first thing to understand is that there are many types of text that need to be practised before the day of the exam. For some tips on how to improve writing skills see 5 TIPS TO IMPROVE YOUR WRITING (HERE). It is important to understand the type of language that should be used in each type of text and to write appropriately. This usually depends on two things, the question and the reader. The candidate MUST take into account who the text is written for to know if it is formal or informal; for example if it is for a friend it should be more informal than for something directed at a work colleague.

Formal texts: essays, reports, proposals, letters and emails.

Informal texts: reviews, articles, letters, emails and some essays (semi-formal)

See the different types of essay format in our post on ESSAYS (HERE)



Formal texts are impersonal, and usually written in work or academic situations; try to focus on the question and think, “who is going to read this?”. As formal texts use an indirect and impersonal tone, you should avoid including your personal opinion and you should include general opinions, data and also the passive voice.


What to avoid in formal texts: DO NOT USE THESE FORMS

Phrasal verbs – use one word verbs like tolerate instead of put up with

Contractions – use do not instead of don´t

Direct questions – use indirect questions when possible

Common words – use various instead of lots of, several instead of many

Abbreviations – use approximately instead of approx.

Exclamation marks – don’t use!!!!

Direct personal tone – avoid using I

Incomplete sentences – (I will) see you soon

Some connectors – but, however, therefore… Try to use nevertheless, whereas, thus, etc.


Example questions:

Formal application letter:

Birmingham City University offers two full scholarships per year to worthy students; these scholarships are very competitive and include fees, accommodation and costs.

Write a letter to the university to apply for the scholarship and explain why you deserve to be given this opportunity.




Informal texts should be friendly, warm and personal. You can use phrasal verbs, colloquial language and they should sound a lot like spoken English. They are usually written to friends or people that you know well. They should be easy to read and entertaining.


Informal texts should include:

Phrasal verbs – put off and not delay/postpone

Contractions – can´t, don´t and won´t

Direct questions and question tags – What about you?

Idioms and expressions

Direct speech

Active speak

Common words: use terms like enough, lots of, fun, awesome, awkward

Abbreviations: approx. instead of approximately or App and not application


Example Questions:

Write an email:

A friend of yours has asked you about your last trip, in which you travelled around the world in the space of 4 months. Tell them what you enjoyed most and advise them to do something similar.

Write a (semi-formal) essay:

It is said that using your free time in a productive way leads to happiness. Discuss the benefits of having a hobby and using your free time well, and try to persuade the reader to take up a new activity.



Recommended Posts
Showing 5 comments
pingbacks / trackbacks

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.