Hello and welcome to In Too Deep, where I over-analyse a certain section of pop culture.
Now yesterday (subjectively speaking) I talked about how I had to do an assignment talking about rhetorical space and how the tutor never said it had to be written formal. And, because I’m a smarmy git, I pointed out that it never said it had to be written in a formal tone, hence the informal one. Furthermore, since I’m extra smarmy, I’m going ahead and writing this blog to counter the accusations that will be raised by the tutor, who will no doubt see this when he looks at the previous blog. So without further ado, my argument.
Before we start, I suppose I do have to admit that formal writing does indeed have its place in this world. Formal writing is used as a way of convincing someone that what you are saying is factual. By talking in cold, clinical writing you are demonstrating to your reader that your writing is true when it comes to the facts of the matter. It shows a lack of bias. You want the facts to stand on their own, despite your personal views on the topic. By introducing your own viewpoints, even through the use of a more informal tone, you are automatically reflecting your biases. If the reader doesn’t agree with your biases, you are pretty much screwed in terms of convincing them about the facts at hand. However, this only holds true if you’re trying to present a wholly factual argument. If the goal is to use logic and reason, in relation to these true facts, to persuade the reader into agreeing with your side. But what if you’re using an informal argument? What if what you’re talking about is subjective, not objective? Does formal writing work then?
Well, no doubt as this blog itself is starting to prove, the answer to that question is ‘no’. There is no objective way of answering the question of ‘should subjective topics be written informally’. There are cases for both sides. There’s a difference between stating â€œX is doing Yâ€ and â€œShould we stop X from doing Y?â€ One is a simple matter-of-fact, the other is the writer’s personal viewpoints on the matter. So if I wrote this blog in a formal tone, using objective language over casual language, would that make this blog stronger? Probably not, since the subject is subjective to start with. You have your own opinions about the use of formal and informal tones, opinions that are going to bias your views to start with. The human mind is wonderful at rejecting anything that it chooses to be counter to its cause (see also: Any internet debate where the debater ignores all the evidence that disproves their hypothesis to focus on the one thing that proves it). So is a formal type argument going to work when the subject itself is inherently open to questioning? Probably not. But does that automatically make an informal style better?
Now over the course of the last 3 years I’ve written well over 400 blogs, an overwhelming majority of which have been informal in tone (the formal ones being essays I posted online because why not?). Sometimes I’ve sided with popular opinion, sometimes I’ve rallied against it. But almost every time I’ve spoken somewhat informally as an important tool of persuasion? Why? Because it makes you more likely to engage with the conversation if you feel like there is a conversation to be had. By adopting an informal, casual tone, I encourage a two way communication between myself and the reader. By starting off with the disclaimer that my work is based on personal opinion and not hard fact, you don’t feel like you’re being lectured too. But when I say I start with a disclaimer, I don’t come right out and say it. No I start with an informal tone to convince the reader that this isn’t an essay, a report. It is instead a person musing out-loud, coming up with his own thoughts about subjects. You can agree with these musings, you can disagree, but the point is these musing make you reflect on your own opinions on the subject and give you the urge to give your own take on them. By acting like this is a discussion, not a lecture, you find yourself more drawn in since it feels like you’re already part of this conversation.
So why bring all this up (besides justifying my laziness). Well because English, as a subject, is a subjective concept to begin with. Whether it’s the standard ‘English in terms of analysis of fiction’ or ‘Writing Studies in terms of how the concept of writing influences the world around us’, at the end of the day it’s a non-imperical subject. In science and maths, there is only one right answer. Two plus two will equal four, no matter how much philosophy you try to shove into there to make it so that the universe is fundamentally flawed. You can’t escape this no matter how hard you try, there will always be facts that are true. But English? Well any analyses of anything is going to be fundamentally biased by the person reading it. Even at the most basic level of like/dislike, this bias is going to influence how you feel about the subject. So since English is a subjective subject, being subjective is the only way of dealing with the problem. All writing is subjective, since all writing is influenced by the person writing it. Hell this very blog is subjective since I’m taking a wholly subjective take upon the concept of subjectively. I’m arguing about why my viewpoint is right because of my own personal beliefs. Is it convincing? Well, that depends on the reader. If they agree with me, my arguments are effective. If they don’t, nothing I say will change their mind. But presenting it as objective means they’re more likely to harden their beliefs. If they already believe what I’m saying, they’re gonna use that as proof that they’re right. If they already disbelieve it, they’re going to reject my reality and substitute their own. At least with a subjective style they’re more willing to engage with the discussion, since it’s already been set out like that.
So there you have it. My look at formal vs informal writing to see which one is ‘better’. If you disagree with anything, or have anything to add, feel free to leave a comment. Till next time.