Letter Writing Tips for IELTS
Structure Planning & Writing
- Spend 20 mins on the letter. Spend 3 -5 mins planning and then the rest writing. Always leave 2 mins to check your letter for spelling or grammar mistakes. You will need a full 40 mins for task 2, so don’t go over 20 mins for task 1. It is your responsibility to control the time in your writing test.
- You must write over 150 words (aim for between 160 and 180 to be safe). Writing a letter over 300 words is a waste of time.
- Your letter is worth 33% of your final writing score.
- You do NOT need to write an address on the letter
- Pay close attention to who you are writing to and the relationship you have with that person. This will decide your style of writing and your tone.
- Pay attention to the aim and purpose of the letter.
- It is essential that you use the three points to structure your letter and provide the foundation for the information.
- All points must be included clearly in your letter. If you fail to include all the points in your letter, your band score will be lower.
- You must use your imagination to fill in details and decide the names of the people in your letter.
- Begin your letter by addressing the person and then an opening line. Always sign off appropriately.
Letters can be based on different content which will affect the style of the letter. Below is a list of some of the common content 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 (often personal/ semi-formal but formal can also appear)
apology (could be any style)
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 January 1st, 2015.
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.
A is formal, B is personal (informal) and C is semi-formal
Depending on the style and aim of the letter, you will need to adapt your final sentence or comment.
Dear Sir / Madame = Yours faithfully, (formal letters)
Dear Mr. Robson = Yours sincerely, (formal letters)
Dear John Robson = Yours sincerely (formal letters)
Hi Dave / Dear Dave = See you soon, / Take care, / All the best (informal or semi-formal)
1. You use “Sir / Madame” when we don’t know the person’s name that you are writing to, for example when you write to the manager of a hotel or the local council. You do not use these titles if you know the name of the person. You should NOT use those titles in your speaking test.
2. You can also write a formal letter to someone whose name you know. You can use either “Mr. Robson” or “John Robson”.
3. 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.
The first one is personal and the second one is formal.
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)
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.
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 ….
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.
Structure and Paragraphs
You must also organize 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 – a 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)
name (choose a name or use your own)
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.