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.
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