Register types

Register can be separated into four categories: FAMILIAR, INFORMAL, FORMAL and CEREMONIAL. The following will explain each category and provide a corresponding example.

'Familiar'

This register is normally used between people who know each other well. Features of this register show a lack of grammar, spelling, punctuation and  usually contains slang and jargon.

For example:

Hey,

Will arrive evening. Did not catch bus.

Later

John

'Informal'

Generally journalism and occasionally academic writing use this register. When using an informal register, there is usually a close relationship between the writer, audience and topic with a degree of casualness. However, care must be taken in order not to mistake informal for familiar registers. The features of this register are different from the familiar register as more care is taken with grammar etc. However, the tone is conversational, using colloquial language, compared to the formal register.

For example:

While I was on my way to the Science Lab., a thought struck me that perhaps all that we think is possible, may not be. For example, a  friend and I were contemplating the prospect of dumping our classes and hanging out in our favourite café instead. We found that what we thought was possible, actually wasn't as our lecturer intervened on our way, ending up that we attended class anyway. Does this mean that what we originally thought was possible, can't be, as something will always intervene?  How does this affect prediction and planning?

'Formal'

A formal register is neither colloquial nor personal and is the register that is mostly used in academic writing. It is a register where strong opinions can be expressed objectively, it does not break any of the rules of written grammar and often has a set of rules of what not to do when using this register. The following extract is from Crystal's book: A dictionary of linguistics and phonetics (Crystal, 1997).

For example:

Several stages of development have been distinguished in the first year of a child's life when it develops the skills necessary to produce a successful first word. According to Crystal (1997), primitive vocal sounds are displayed within the first two months with basic features of speech such as the ability to control air flow and produce rhythmic utterance. Sounds such as cooing, quieter sounds with a lower pitch and more musical develop between six and eight weeks of age. Cooing dies away around three and four months and then a period called vocal play develops; an experimental stage, where a baby has more control and experiments with vocal practise.

'Ceremonial'

Modern academic writing rarely uses this register. Sometimes, it may be encountered when reading transcripts of speeches or historical documents. Often, misunderstandings in recognising the difference between ceremonial and formal registers occur when writers are experimenting with new vocabulary. A dictionary will help you make the right choices and reading academic texts will help you become more familiar with the appropriate choices.

For example:

I stand on this rostrum with a sense of deep humility and great pride - humility in the wake of those great architects of our history who have stood here before me, pride in the reflection that this home of legislative debate represents human liberty in the purest form yet devised.

Here are centered the hopes and aspirations and faith of the entire human race.

(General MacArthur's Address to Congress April 19, 1951: Old soldiers never die they just fade away extracted from the American Experience homepage)