Difference between formal and informal communication
The difference between formal and informal communications has nothing to do with whether the communication is “grammatical” or “ungrammatical”. It is register that distinguishes formal from informal communications and it includes tone of voice, vocabulary and syntax. In our everyday life, we tend to use different register in different situations. For example, when we write or speak to professors, we would be more careful about what we write and speak and thus tend to use a relatively formal style. When we write or speak to our family members or close friends, we usually write or speak in a casual manner and tend to use a relatively informal style. So, what makes formal communication different from informal ones? There are three general conventions:
1. Conservative language
In formal style, noun-pronoun agreement should be taken into consideration. For instance, we use “everyone has his or her own weakness” instead of “everyone has their own weakness”. However, it should be noticed that “everyone has their weakness” is more or less accepted nowadays due to the requirement of gender-free language.
2. No contractions
The use of contractions should be avoided in formal style. For example, “I cannot attend the meeting” is more formal than “I can’t attend the meeting”.
3. Restrained style
Slangs and colloquial terms should also be avoided in formal communications, as they are more casual and less serious.
Formal communications are usually in a written format, which indicates that the information given is more precise and less likely to be misunderstood. They are however more bureaucratic and require longer time to receive feedback. Informal communications, usually in an oral format, are more personal and allow two-way communication. They are also helpful to create a harmonious and cooperative relationship among workers. However, as informal communications are mostly oral, it is difficult to trace information if required.
The case of QC Immigration
In the previous blogpost, we talked about QC Immigration’s internal communications and they belong to the category of informal communication. Considering that QC Immigration is a small-sized legal company, communications between the director and employees or among employees are usually face-to-face and oral. Such communications allow them to give immediate feedback and are more time efficient.
When communicating with its clients, on the contrary, QC Immigration prefers formal style in order to maintain its professional image. In our email communications with the director, she tended to use formal style as well. For example, in one of our email threads, she avoided using contractions (we will instead of we’ll). Moreover, all the emails from the director end with the name of the company, its contact information, as well as confidentiality disclaimer. The function of confidentiality disclaimer is to mitigate the risk a confidential email may be forwarded to a third-party recipient and ask the third-party recipient to delete the message, as he or she is not the authorised recipient. It is also the risk that QC Immigration, as a legal company, wants to avoid.
With regards to the communication between QC Immigration and governmental institutions, they are also formal. The communication method, however, is rather limited and the communicaitons are usually done by traditional letters. QC Immigration has its own letter format, with its logo in header, as well as company name, contact information and its registration number in footer. According to the director, its communications with its regulator and governmental institutions are basically one-way and not very frequent (a couple of times per year). The director also mentioned that it always takes a lot of time for her to receive response from government officials, no matter whether she sends the message through emails or traditional letters.