Examining novice writers’ perceptions of formality

Tove Larsson, Henrik Kaatari, Tülay Dixon, Jesse Egbert

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Adherence to standards pertaining to formality remains important for novice academic writers wishing to write within the scientific community. However, due to its elusive nature, it may not be clear what “formal” really means. This study investigates what affects novice writers’ perceptions of formality; specifically, it looks at the individual and combined impact of register (journal articles vs. academic blog posts) and linguistic features with two variants (e.g., split vs. non-split infinitives). The writers (n=117) were presented with a series of binary choices between register-feature combinations and asked to select the most formal combination. This resulted in a rank-ordered list showing which combinations they perceived as more formal. The results showed that the novice writers’ perceptions largely aligned with the expected rankings, in that journal articles and the feature variant associated with this register tended to be perceived as more formal than the alternative. These trends were especially strong for two of the features investigated: exclamation points and contractions. In bringing us one step closer to understanding how novice writers think about formality, this study helps shed some light on the commonly used, but less commonly defined, concept of formality.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)29-55
Number of pages27
JournalJournal of English for Research Publication Purposes
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 20 2023


  • formality
  • linguistic features
  • novice writers’ perceptions
  • registers
  • writing for the scientific community

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Linguistics and Language


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