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 your 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 = 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 the title Mr or Mrs) 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, Mr John Brown (here your name is John Brown and you use a title because it is formal)
- Dear Mr Robson = Yours sincerely, Mrs Susan Harper (here your name is Susan Harper and you use a title because it is formal)
- Hi Dave = See you soon, Liz (here you use your first name only 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
- IELTS Letter: Model Answer
- IELTS Complaint Model Letter
- IELTS Invitation Model Letter
- IELTS Sample Letters for Practice
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