Formal or Informal?
2. Long Words or Short Words
It's sometimes said that the English language is two languages in one, a High style and a Low style. Compare these two for example:
1. The feline quadruped adopted a seated posture on the manufactured floor covering.
2. The cat sat on the mat.
These mean the same thing, don't they? And it seems pretentious to use the High style, when the Low one is just as good. Academic assignments tend to use the High style, of course, and so that might seem pretentious too. Many students feel that writing an academic assignment forces them to be pretentious. Or they feel that their ordinary language isn't good enough.
But it isn't quite as simple as that. For one thing, academic assignments don't deal with things like the cat sat on the mat - they don't deal with simple individual stories. Instead, they deal with general principles and ideas, and the High style is needed for those.
It's also true that almost any good writing in English doesn't stick to one style or the other, but mixes them. The High style is best for general principles, the Low style is best for examples and illustrations. Here are two academic writers mixing styles in this way:
Formality. Any systematic observation of a speaker defines a
formal context in which more than the minimum attention is paid to speech.
In the main body of an interview, where information is requested and supplied,
we would not expect to find the vernacular used. No matter how casual
or friendly the speaker may appear to us, we can always assume that he
has a more casual speech, another style in which he jokes with his friends
and argues with his wife. (Labov, W. (1970) The Study of Language in its Social
The special relevance of the theoretical perspective is expressed in
its representative anecdote (to use Kenneth Burke's term), the image it
puts before our eyes. The image is that of a child ...
In both these examples, the Low style has its uses, as well as the High
style. In your own writing, try and mix High and Low. Mixing the styles
produces writing which is lively and full of argument. Academic writing
needn't be all head-in-the-clouds - keep putting your feet on the ground