Informal or what?
by Guy Perring
I’m currently working at one of Malaysia’s leading universities on a course designed to assist lecturers in getting published in academic journals.
Publications are, of course, a prerequisite for academic life and can be a key to tenure and promotion. The domination of English in academia means that most of the leading journals are published in English. I present this not as a good or bad thing, but a fact of life. This is also true in the international business world where company reports, strategy papers and other key documents are generally in English.
In looking at any type of “professional” writing, we should remember that one of the key aspects to look at is the style or genre norms that have become accepted as the standard in the area. There are no real rules, just established practice in publications and other genres of communicative writing. This is true for letter writing, e-mails, reports as well as writing for academic journals.
In earlier columns, I’ve written about how English in business is becoming less formal and that features such as “contractions” – e.g. can’t and “won’t” – and the use of personal pronouns – e.g. “we” and “I” – are now more acceptable. This is now becoming the case in academia, too, where a fairly rigid formal style is becoming more relaxed.
Let’s take a look at some of the features where there is some debate about their use in different genres or publications.
The use of personal pronouns
Beginning a sentence with a conjunction
All of the above are commonly used in spoken language. Let’s look at them in more detail and see if you can use them in more “formal” writing.
The evolution of English is about these “spoken” styles becoming acceptable as written forms. In the end it is about being understood!
Guy Perring is Director, Professional Development Unit (PDU), at the British Council Malaysia. The PDU offers a wide range of learning opportunities from management and communication skills training to developing English skills. Visit it at www.britishcouncil.org.my or e-mail guy.perring@british council.org.my
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