These IELTS letter writing tips are essential to follow to get a good score in task 1 for the general training paper. The list of tips below will help you understand all the different types of letters, how to write them, how to structure you letter and how to fulfill the task for a high score. You will have 20 mins for this task. Remember only students taking the General Training Paper in IELTS will be required to write a letter for task 1.
You will be given instructions and three points to include in your letter. It is essential that you follow use the three points to structure your letter and provide the foundation for the information. If you fail to include all the points in your letter, your band score will be lower. Here is an example of the type of instructions you can get:
You recently had a holiday visiting your friends and you stayed in their house.
Write a letter to your friend. In your letter:
- thank your friend for staying with them
- tell them what you enjoyed most about the holiday
- explain you are sending photos of the holiday with the letter
Further instructions for all GT writing task 1 state:
- you must write over 150 words (aim for between 160 and 180 to be safe)
- you do NOT need to write an address on the letter
- how to begin your letter. For example Dear Sir/ Madam, or Dear …. When you see ‘Dear ….’, this means you should write a name for the person from your imagination – see below for tips on this)
2. Types of IELTS Letter
There are three different types of letters: personal, semi-formal and formal. Each type of letter will use different language. It will have a different beginning and a different way of signing off. Your first task, before you start writing, is to decide which type of letter you must write by identifying the task given. Below are examples of the three different types of letters.
You would like to invite a foreign friend to visit you for your birthday
Write a letter inviting your friend. In your letter:
- tell your friend about your birthday
- explain how much the visit would mean to you
- suggest that your friend stays at your house for the visit
A personal letter is to someone you know personally about a social situation or a personal situation.
Your friend has a travel company and would like you to come and work with him.
Write a letter replying to your friends offer. In your letter:
- explain what you know about your friends company
- choose whether you accept or decline the offer
- give reasons for your choice
A semi-formal letter is to someone you know about a formal or serious situation such as work
You are interested in applying for a scholarship program to study at a foreign University.
Write a letter to inquire about the course. In your letter:
- explain which course you are interested in
- tell what you know about the University
- explain why you should receive the scholarship
A formal letter is to someone you don’t know about a serious or formal situation
3. Letter Aims
Letters can be based on different content which will affect the style of the letter. Below is a list of some of the common contents for letters. Although there are hints about whether the letters are usually formal or not, please note that you will know the style by reading the instructions given to you.
- complaints (usually formal)
- invitations (usually personal or semi-formal)
- applications or resignations (usually formal)
- request (any style common)
- making arrangements (often formal)
- explanation (sometimes semi-formal or personal)
- informative / news letter (often personal/ semi-formal but formal can also appear)
- apology (could be any style)
4. Letter Openings
Letters usually start with an opening statement which explains the reason for writing the letter. This opening statement varies depending on whether you are writing a formal or informal letter. Below are two examples of an opening statement. Can you spot which one is formal and which one is informal?
A) I am writing this letter with regards to the scholarship program to study at London University which I read in Sunday Times on December 1st, 2014.
B) It’s been so long since we last were in touch but I haven’t forgotten all the wonderful times we spent together last year. It’s my birthday coming up and I wanted to invite you over to stay at my place for the celebration.
C) I’m just writing to say thank you for the offer of joining your company.Answer
A is formal, B is personal (informal) and C is semi-formal
5. Signing Off
Depending on the style and aim of the letter, you will need to adapt your final sentence or comment.
- Dear Sir / Madame = Yours faithfully,
- Dear Mr Robson = Yours sincerely,
- Hi Dave / Dear Dave = See you soon, / Take care, / All the best
Note: We use “Sir / Madame” when we don’t know the person’s name that we are writing to, for example when we write to the manager of a hotel. We use “Mr Robson” (with a title Mr or Mrs or without) when we are writing a formal letter but we know the name of the person we are writing to. We use no title and no last name when we write to a friend.
Below are some examples of final comments before signing off, can you tell which ones are formal and which not?
It’ll be great to catch up again soon. Give my best to everyone in the family.
I look forward to hearing from you.Answers
You should write a name at the end of your letter. You can use your name or you can invest one.
- Dear Sir = Yours faithfully, John Brown (always with a family name but with or without a title)
- Dear Mr Robson = Yours sincerely, Mrs Susan Harper (always with a family name but with or without a title)
- Hi Dave or Dear Dave = See you soon, Brian (not title and no family name because it is informal)
6. Grammar: Formal and Informal
Formal and informal (friendly) letters contain different language and style of writing. While informal letters can contain contractions (I’m writing …), these contractions are unacceptable in formal writing so you need to write the words in full (I am writing …. …).
In a formal letter, you could write “I am writing with regards to ….”. whereas for a semi-formal letter you can write “I’m writing about…” or “I’m writing to say..” or “I just want to let you know that..”. So, it is important to adapt your writing to suit the style of the letter. Also remember to use a range of different sentence structures in order to get a high score.
7. Vocabulary: Formal and Informal
For vocabulary, be very careful using academic language in a personal letter. This would be inappropriate and will reduce your band score rather than increase it. Here are some examples of the difference between formal and informal language:
- You will be collected at the airport = I’ll pick you up at the airport
- The next available appointment is on Thursday = how about we meet up on Thursday?
- I would like to invite you to visit my house on…. = Why don’t you pop round to my place on …..
- I highly recommend that you come in August = it’d be great if you came in August
- Please respond at the earliest convenience = Get back to me as soon as you can
- Unfortunately I will not be able to attend on … = Sorry, but I won’t be able to make it on ….
8. Spelling and Punctuation
The examiner will check your accuracy in your spelling and your punctuation (this means your use of commas and full stops). If you make frequent errors in spelling or in punctuation it is unlikely to get over band score 6.
9. Structure and Paragraphs
You must also organise your letter into paragraphs. This is an essential part of your letter writing and the examiner will be marking you on your ability to use effective paragraphing. In IELTS writing task 1 (GT), the letter structure below is most common as it usually follows the three points which you must include in your letter. However you must adapt it to suit the task given to you by IELTS. So spend time reading the instructions and deciding your paragraphing.
- opening statement – reason for writing
- body paragraph A (one point with detail)
- body paragraph B (another point with detail)
- body paragraph C (final point with detail)
- closing statement (if needed)
- signing off
- name (choose a name or use your own)
10. Planning Your Letter
You should spend at least 3 or 4 minutes planning your letter. Covering all the points in your letter, adding details, using the appropriate style of letter writing and using paragraphs well count for about 50% of your marks. So it’s worth taking time to plan your letter well. Follow the points below for a well planned letter:
- read the instructions
- identify what style of letter you must write
- read through the points you must include in your letter
- think about how many paragraphs you will have and where to put each point
- plan what information you will add to each point
- decide how to open the letter
- think about the language you will use (both grammar and vocabulary) – it must suit the style of the letter
- decide how to close the letter
- plan the content of each body paragraph
- start writing
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This post will show you how to write a formal letter in task 1 of the IELTS writing test. This post is for students doing the General Training module. For those of you taking the Academic module, please return to the task 1 page for more articles.
This post will
- show you how to analyse a task 1 question
- show you how to make a plan that will save you lots of time and boost your mark
- suggest some useful language
- provide you with a quick task 1 checklist
- give you a sample band 9 answer
Is it a formal letter?
The first thing you need to do is decide if the question is actually asking you to write a formal or informal letter.
We can tell this by checking if we know the name of the person we are writing to or not and the situation. For example, if we are writing a letter of complaint, applying for a new job or resigning from our existing job, it will always be formal. Also, if we do not know the name of the person we are writing to, then it will be formal.
Take a look at the four example questions below and decide which two are formal.
The first and third questions are formal. We don’t know the name of the managers and they are formal situations.
The second question does not give us the name of the manager and would, therefore, be a formal letter.
The last letter is to a friend and must be informal.
Planning a Formal Letter
People don’t normally plan letters but in the IELTS test you really should. In fact, I have met very few students who wrote a band 9 letter and didn’t make a plan before writing.
As you can see above, all task 1 questions on the General Training paper follow the same format. They will first tell you the situation (the reason why you are writing) and then give you three bullet points that you have to cover. This is good news for us because it means we can follow the same structure every time.
Here is the formal letter structure I tell all of my General Training IELTS students to follow.
Paragraph 1- Say why you are writing to them. (I am writing with regard to…)
Paragraph 2- Bullet point 1 and supporting details
Paragraph 3- Bullet point 2 and supporting details
Paragraph 4- Bullet point 3 and supporting details
I look forward to hearing from you.
[Your Full Name]
That’s it. It will take you only a few minutes to write this out in the exam and then all you have to do is think of the supporting details.
When thinking of supporting details don’t worry about being entertaining or even thinking of the best ideas you can, just make sure they are relevant.
Below is a selection of useful language for you to use in a formal letter. The phrases you choose will depend on the context of the question.
- I am writing this letter with regard to…
- I am writing to bring to your attention…
- I am writing to inform you that…
- I am writing to express my dissatisfaction with…..
Requests and Suggestions
- I would be grateful if you would…
- I would like you to…
- I am entitled to request that you….
- I was wondering if it would be at all possible to….
- I would like to suggest that….
- I look forward to hearing from you.
- I look forward to receiving your response.
- I await your prompt service.
- I thank you for your consideration.
- Please respond at the earliest convenience.
IELTS Letter Writing Checklist
Here are some questions you should ask yourself when answering any General Training task 1 question.
- Have I read and understood the instructions?
- Is it a formal or informal letter?
- Have I made a plan?
- Have I included both the reason for writing and the 3 bullet points?
- Have I supported each bullet point with relevant details?
- Have I used appropriate language?
- Have I separated my letter into paragraphs?
- Are my ideas clear and easy to understand?
- Have I avoided copying the question and varied my vocabulary?
- Have I checked my letter for grammar and spelling mistakes?
If you can answer all of these questions you are well on your way to writing a good formal letter.
Band 9 Sample Formal Letter
On a recent holiday you lost a valuable item. Fortunately, you have travel insurance to cover the cost of anything lost.
Write a letter to the manager of your insurance company. In your letter
- describe the item you lost
- explain how you lost it
- tell the insurance company what you would like them to do
I am writing to inform you that I recently lost my digital camera while on holiday in Vietnam.
The camera is a black Canon 70d and cost $1550 when I bought it new last month. It has a resolution of 20 megapixels, a Canon 67 millimeter lens and was in a brown leather case with my name on it.
I lost it when I was having coffee with my husband in the backpacker area of Ho Chi Minh City. I believe the coffee shop was called Highlands Coffee and it was on Pham Ngu Lao Street. We had been at the coffee shop for around 45 minutes when I noticed it was missing.
I am entitled to make a claim for the value of the above mentioned item and request that you send me details on what I need to do to in order to proceed.
I look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.
This candidate has fully answered the question by covering both the purpose of the letter and the three bullet points in the question. The candidate has also used the appropriate formal tone. All ideas are supported with relevant details.
The ideas are clear and well organised. Paragraphing has been used well.
Vocabulary is both accurate and appropriate. Words such as digital, resolution, backpacker and claim show a high level of vocabulary.
The candidate has used a range of tenses (present simple, present perfect, present continuous, past continuous and past simple) and all sentences are error-free.
I hope you found this post useful. For more information on IELTS letter writing please check out our articles on how to write an informal letter and IELTS letter writing tips.
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