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Casual VS formal writing: are we going somewhere with this?

Write a story the same way you plan a road trip.
Write a story the same way you plan a road trip.
Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images

“Understanding Poverty” by Ruby Payne not only explains the different ways that people live in our country, it also explains the different ways that people think, speak and write. One of the topics covered in this book is the difference between casual conversation and formal English.

Some cultures don’t want to be judgmental, so when they discuss a subject, they don’t form an opinion or come to a conclusion. All of the information is considered to be equally important, so it is presented at random, in no particular order. It’s also known as “beating around the bush”.

While this style is appropriate for friendship, it is not acceptable for writing. Writing uses formal English that includes an introduction, a presentation of facts in some logical order, and a conclusion. It is planned so that one fact leads to the next in some way, be it chronological order (first event to last) or by importance or some common element. A good author leads the readers thinking, and then wraps it all up by coming to a conclusion that is based on the facts.

One way to illustrate the difference between these styles is to compare them to taking a road trip. Writing should be like driving a car. The author begins the trip by telling her mother “I’m going to Waynesborough. Its 150 miles away, and I should get there by three this afternoon.” She gets into the car, refers to a road map, and begins driving on a road. She takes this road to Small Town, another road to Centerton, then turns right and goes to Smithville, down to Sikeston, and finally arrives at Waynesborough according to plan. When she arrives, she calls her mother and says “I arrived safely. We didn’t have any problems with the weather or car, and I enjoyed the ride.”

Casual conversation is like going on a helicopter tour of the area. She gets into the cockpit, but there’s no need to file a flight plan. The wind is gusting, so it’s easier to go south first, then north around the front, touching down on anything that looks interesting. There’s no road leading from one landing spot to the next. Anything that looks interesting is worth going to see. When the helicopter runs out of gas, she lands and gets out. This kind of tour is enjoyable, but it doesn’t go anywhere.

Casual thinking can be a part of one’s culture, but it can also be a symptom of certain learning disorders where the student has problems making choices or determining importance. For example, students with ADD react to stimulus, and will consider watching TV to be just as important as doing their homework.

If casual thinking is causing a student to have problems with writing an assignment, one way to compensate is to write the outline on index cards. Put one fact on each card. Lay the cards out, looking for a logical order, a rank of importance, and common threads (roads) that tie one thought to the next. The cards can be arranged and rearranged until a satisfactory outline is achieved. Then, add two more cards; and introduction (where I am going) and a conclusion (where I am now).

©Paula Hrbacek All rights reserved. Please link to this article instead of reposting it. For reprint rights use the contact form at For other articles about writing and publishing, see my Pinterest board at

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