What are the contexts for using a bunch and a group when describing a handful of people? Please take both spoken and written English into account.
For example, when is it more appropriate to use “a bunch of people” vs. “a group of people”? And are “a bunch of people” or “a bunch of friends” appropriate in an essay? Under which circumstances would either be preferred over the other?
I would say a bunch of people is informal. You can use it where informal writing is appropriate. Otherwise, choose another word, like group.
bunch (dictionary.com, definition #3)
Informal. a group of people: They’re a fine bunch of students.
Update This update addresses the concerns expressed in the comments about when a situation calls for informal vs. formal styles in both writing and speaking:
When it comes to both writing and speaking styles, there is no strict dichotomy between informal and formal styles. There is really a continuous spectrum of formality and choosing your style depends on a number of factors. Here are some examples:
- If your speaking or writing audience is your book club, you probably can (and should) get by with a style on the informal end of the spectrum.
- If you want to convince an audience at the Royal Astronomical Society to take seriously your new and controversial theory on quantum gravity, you are going to need to stay at the formal end of the spectrum.
- If your giving a T.E.D. talk, people come to those to learn serious things in a fun way, so the formality will be mixed or in the middle of the spectrum.
In the end, you have to judge by your own experience with the audience you are addressing. My original answer above simply tells you that “bunch” is informal, and “good” is preferable when the needed style is not informal.