In order to differentiate formal and informal essay, you have to read the piece. It is easy to distinguish if it is formal or informal when you read the essay. It is however a different story when you are actually going to write it. The subject matter of the essay and the target audience will determine if your essay is going to be formal or informal.
Formal essay should never use the first person or the second person, meaning there is no "I" or "You" in your writing. Formal essay should also never be referred to. Do not use the term "this writing is about" or "this essay proves that." For informal essays, all of these are allowed.
Contractions and slang language should be avoided in formal essay unless it is a direct quotation. It is again allowed in informal essay but the condition is that all your target audience should understand the language.
The sentence structuring and grammar should be perfect in formal essay. Every sentence in a formal essay should be complete and correct. Whereas in informal essay, sentence fragments are allowed for the purpose of added impact to the reader. However, it would be advisable to use it sparingly.
The tone of your essay if it is formal should be void of emotions. The tone should always be steady and even for formal essay. For informal essays, there should be shifting of tone and a lot of emotions for a dramatic effect.
The organization of formal essay should include an introduction, the main body or argument and the conclusion. This should always be the organizational structure of the formal essay. For the informal essay, it is less structured and it follows the natural thought of the writer.
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