Formal communication: Definition and tips to improve

Gain a comprehensive understanding of formal communication along with practical tips and strategies to enhance formal communication in the workplace, fostering clarity, professionalism, and productivity.

Inês Pinto

Formal communication: Definition and tips to improve

Table of contents

Formal communication: definition and characteristics

Formal communication refers to the exchange of information or messages following official rules, policies, and hierarchical structure within an organization. It is characterized by the use of formal language, predefined communication channels, adherence to specific formats, and an overall formal tone.


Some key characteristics of formal communication include:

  • Use of formal, professional language: Avoiding slang, colloquialisms, and informal terminology.
  • Communication through official channels: Following proper reporting structures, hierarchies, and protocols.
  • Adherence to standardized formats: Using approved templates, layouts, and communication styles. 
  • Formal, impersonal tone: Maintaining professional distance and avoiding personal opinions or views.
  • Precise, accurate information: Ensuring clarity and correctness of facts, data, and messages.
  • Recordkeeping and documentation: Formally archiving communications for later reference.

The formality helps maintain professionalism and consistency in organizational communications. It also reinforces authority, accountability, and responsibility within predefined organizational structures and processes.

Why is formal communication important?

Formal communication is crucial for maintaining professionalism and consistency within an organization. By adhering to established policies, rules, and structures, formal communication promotes uniformity in how information is conveyed across different levels and departments. This consistency ensures that communications remain clear and accurate as they move through official channels. 

Formal communication also reinforces organizational hierarchies and lines of authority. Employees understand who they report to and who has decision-making powers. This structure facilitates accountability as directives get passed down through proper leadership chains. Information flow becomes more efficient when all employees follow formal protocols.

Overall, formal communication is important because it:

  • Maintains professionalism and consistency across the organization's communications.
  • Ensures clear and accurate information flow through official channels. 
  • Promotes accountability and authority within the organizational structure.

Types of formal communication

Vertical communication

Vertical communication refers to the formal flow of information up and down the organizational hierarchy. It includes:

Downward communication: Information flows from higher managerial levels down to lower levels. Examples include company policies, instructions, feedback, etc.

Upward communication: Information flows from lower levels up to higher managerial levels. Examples are requests, progress reports, grievances, suggestions, etc.  

Vertical communication promotes unified direction and maintains organizational structure. However, it can sometimes limit flexibility.

Horizontal communication 

Horizontal communication refers to the formal exchange of information between departments, teams, or employees at the same level. It helps coordinate activities and tasks. Examples include:

  • Communication between different departments like sales and marketing.
  • Communication between team members working on a shared project.
  • Communication between employees within the same department. 

Horizontal communication improves collaboration and workflow. But it may lack top-down strategic direction.

External communication

External communication refers to formal information exchange with entities outside the organization. Examples include:

  • Communication with customers and clients.
  • Communication with investors, shareholders, and partners. 
  • Communication with vendors, suppliers, and distributors.
  • Communication with government agencies and regulatory bodies.

External communication facilitates business relationships and brand management. But it requires maintaining consistent messaging.

Formal communication methods

Formal communication utilizes several methods to share information within organizations. These can be categorized into written, oral, and non-verbal methods.

Written communication

Written communication includes any exchanges using the written word.

Common examples of formal written communication include:

📧 Emails: Used for internal communication and external correspondence. Email allows quick transmission of messages, data, and documents.

📝 Memos: Short written messages sent internally within an organization. Often used to inform employees of policies, procedures, or events.

✉️ Letters: Official correspondence sent to external stakeholders like customers, partners, etc. 

📊 Reports: Detailed documents conveying information like financials, project updates, analysis, etc.

📒 Proposals: Written presentations of a plan or suggestion for a project/initiative. Used to get buy-in from decision-makers.

Oral communication  

Oral communication refers to spoken exchanges. Examples of formal oral communication:

🤝 Meetings: Gatherings to discuss and exchange information, coordinate tasks, make decisions. Includes team meetings, board meetings, etc.

💼 Presentations: Structured speeches to inform or persuade an audience. Often include visual aids like slides, charts.

🏢 Conferences: Large-scale events where multiple speakers present to an audience. Allow sharing of information among organizations.

Non-verbal communication

Non-verbal communication includes body language, tone, gestures, and other unspoken signals when interacting. Examples of formal non-verbal communication:

👍 Body language: Posture, eye contact, facial expressions, and gestures used when communicating. Conveys additional meaning beyond words.

🗣️ Tone of voice: Pitch, volume, and inflection while speaking. Indicates emphasis, intent, and meaning.

💅 Appearance: Attire, grooming, and overall presentation of oneself. Reflects professionalism in formal settings.

Formal vs. Informal communication

Formal communication is structured, official, and follows predefined rules and policies. It adheres to the formal hierarchies, protocols, and procedures established in an organization. Formal communication is often written, documented, and recorded. Examples include memos, reports, letters, and presentations.

In contrast, informal communication tends to be more casual, spontaneous, and less structured. It does not follow strict rules or predefined communication channels. Informal communication may occur through casual conversations, phone calls, emails, and hallway discussions. It promotes free exchange of information in a relaxed manner.

The key differences between formal and informal communication can be summarized as follow:

Both formal and informal communication serve important yet distinct purposes in an organization. Finding the right balance between the two allows for effective communication flow.

Advantages of formal communication

Formal communication provides several advantages in professional settings:

✔️ Promotes clarity and accuracy: The use of official language, predefined formats, and strict protocols promotes clarity and accuracy in communications. Messages are less likely to be misinterpreted when following formal rules and structures.

✔️ Maintains professional image and credibility: Adhering to formal communication guidelines projects a professional image for both individuals and the organization. It shows the business is credible, accountable, and values clear communication.

✔️ Facilitates documentation and record-keeping: Formal communications produce documentation trails as meetings are recorded, emails saved, and reports archived. This facilitates record-keeping and provides evidence if needed to verify communications later.

Disadvantages of formal communication

Formal communication can have some drawbacks and disadvantages, especially compared to informal communication:

Time-consuming: Following strict protocols, procedures, and formats for formal communication can require more time and effort compared to informal communication. Meetings, presentations, written reports, and other formal communication channels often involve extensive preparation, planning and approval processes which can be time-consuming and lead to communication delays.

Lacks flexibility: The rigid rules and structures of formal communication allow little room for spontaneity, personalization or thinking outside the box. This can restrict the flow of creative ideas and prevent the open discussion of issues. Formal communication emphasizes conformity rather than flexibility.

Potential for misinterpretation: The use of formal language, jargon, and standardized formats in formal communication can sometimes lead to misinterpretation or unclear understanding, especially if the receiver is unfamiliar with the terminology. The lack of personal touch and contextual cues can create communication gaps.

Formal communication channels

Formal communication typically relies on established official channels within an organization. Some key formal communication channels include:


Meetings are a common formal communication channel used to exchange information, discuss issues, make decisions, and solve problems.

Examples of formal meetings include departmental meetings, board meetings, shareholder meetings, and staff meetings. These are structured events with set agendas, designated participants, and formal protocols. Meeting minutes are recorded to document the communication.

Written documents 

Written documents like memos, letters, reports, and proposals are formal methods of communicating information in organizations. They follow standard formats and style guidelines.

These documents transmit information, give instructions, analyze problems, and propose solutions through a structured written approach. They provide documentation of the communication.

Communication hierarchy

The organizational hierarchy represents the formal vertical communication structure. It determines the flow of information from top leadership down to staff (downward communication) and from staff back to leadership (upward communication). Communication follows the chain of command and designated reporting relationships. This ensures systematic and controlled communication aligned with authority levels.

Formal communication channels enable structured information sharing through official organizational networks. They promote consistency, accountability, and transparency in communications aligned with business needs and protocols.

Best practices for effective formal communication

Effective formal communication requires following certain best practices to ensure clarity, professionalism, and productivity.

Here are some key tips:

🗣️ Use clear, concise, and unambiguous language. Avoid jargon, acronyms or overly complex terms when communicating with a broad audience. 

🗣️ Adhere to established communication protocols, procedures and formats. This maintains consistency and allows recipients to easily process information.

🗣️ Maintain professionalism and respect organizational hierarchies. Use an appropriate tone and level of formality when addressing different levels of leadership.

🗣️ Ensure timely and accurate flow of information. Verify facts, review for errors, and meet deadlines when sharing formal communication. 

🗣️ Confirm receipt and comprehension of important formal messages. Follow up if needed to prevent miscommunication.

🗣️ Keep communication focused and relevant to audience needs. Avoid unnecessary details that distract from the core message.

🗣️ Use proper channels and mediums for formal communications. Email, memos, and meetings all have appropriate uses.

🗣️ Create documentation trail for critical information. Formal communication should facilitate record keeping and accountability.

🗣️ Balance brevity with sufficient details and context. Convey key facts accurately and comprehensively.

4 Tips to improve formal communication

Effective formal communication requires effort from both senders and receivers.

Here are some tips for overcoming potential barriers to make formal communication successful:

1. Promote open communication and feedback: Encourage employees to provide constructive feedback on formal communication methods. Create channels for them to offer suggestions anonymously if needed.

You can use Oneteam’s Forms feature for this, for example.

Head to the Forms tab in the menu on the left and you’ll be able to create your own form or start from one of our templates.

To collect employee suggestions in a formal and standardized way, select our “Idea box” template.

With this template, you can create a form with one open-ended question field. Add content to give your employees context about what input you’re looking for and why it’s important for your organization to gather these inputs.

In the Settings tab, you can customize who can manage this form by adding Moderators as well as who will receive this form by filtering employees by community, function group, days in service, and more.

2. Encourage active listening and clarification: Train employees on active listening skills during formal communications. Encourage them to ask clarifying questions, restate key points, and provide feedback. 

3. Provide training and guidelines: Offer regular formal communication training, especially for new hires. Provide clear guidelines and examples for expected formats, tone, and style.

4. Regularly review and update policies: Schedule periodic reviews of formal communication policies and procedures. Solicit feedback and update policies regularly to match current needs and challenges.

The key is to make formal communication a two-way process focused on understanding. This ensures information is conveyed accurately while respecting organizational needs and objectives. With proper training and an open channel for constructive feedback, organizations can overcome barriers and facilitate effective formal communication.

Inês Pinto

Inês Pinto

Inês is the Head of Content at Oneteam. She mainly writes about employee experience and other HR topics. Fun fact about Inês: she is originally from Portugal, grew up in Canada and the US, and now lives in the Netherlands with her husband and 3 daughters!

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