The term formalist can have many applications:
- The Chambers 1994 edition Dictionary indicates a pejorative quality, "a person having an exaggerated regard to rules or established usages".
- In the philosophy of mathematics a formalist is a person who belongs to the school of formalism, a certain mathematical-philosophical doctrine which includes for example David Hilbert. See formal system.
- The term is often used generally in the Arts, but has become a familiar term in modern poetry in particular. Formalist poets may be considered as the opposite of 'Free Verse' poets, though of course these are just labels, and rarely sum up matters satisfactorily. 'Formalism' in poetry represents an attachment to poetry that recognises and uses schemes of rhyme and rhythm to create poetic effects and to innovate. To distingush it from archaic poetry the term 'neo-formalist' is sometimes used.
- In literary theory, the school of criticism of I.A. Richards and his followers has sometimes been labelled 'formalist'. See also Russian Formalism.