When asking someone to help you or give you something that you want, it’s really important that you get the tone right so that you get a positive response.
In this lesson, you will learn how to write a polite and effective letter of request.
How to write a polite letter of request
I often get requests which sound like commands (‘Send me materials’, ‘Give me tips’, ‘I want the planner’, ‘I need help’), with no form of polite address (Dear Fiona/Hi Fiona), and no ‘please‘ or ‘thank you‘.
Although this may be ok when you’re talking to friends, this lack of politeness will have a very negative effect on someone you don’t know, (as well as lots of other people you might need help from in your life, such as your University tutor, or work colleagues).
Example Question – a polite letter of request
You are a member of a local group which provides a free service for your community. You have a special request for extra help. Write a letter to the group leader.
– thank him/her for their work
– explain what you need help with
– suggest what you could do in return
Say how this might benefit the community.
Before you look at the 2 suggested answers, write your own version (in 20 minutes, 150 words).
Then compare your version and ask yourself these questions:
- How should I address the person at the start of the letter?
- How should I introduce the topic?
- How should I make a polite request?
- What polite phrases can I use to show appreciation?
- How should I close the letter?
Scroll down to see my top tips relating to these questions.
Model Letter 1
Dear Mr Jones,
Thank you very much for providing us with your free ‘Maths for Mums and Dads’ lessons in the community centre every day. I’m sure that these must take a long time to prepare. I have learnt such a lot from them and now feel more confident about helping my son with his homework.
I was wondering if you could possibly give me any extra materials that I could use in my free time? I realise I could google this myself and find something on the internet but I thought you might be able to point me in the right direction if you have time.
Perhaps I could make some photocopies and share them around so that other people can make use of them too? I know you’re very busy at the moment because it’s the start of term, so there’s no hurry.
With many thanks in advance,
Model Letter 2
This is Fiona from your running group (the slow one who’s always at the back!). I just wanted to say thank you for all the hard work that you put in every week. It can’t be much fun standing out in the freezing cold and pouring rain while we’re running around keeping warm! I also really appreciate the fact that you always encourage me to keep going even though I will never win any races.
Speaking of which, I’m not sure if you I told you but I’ve signed up for a marathon next year and I was wondering if you could recommend a book or something that would help me with my training plan. There seem to be hundreds of these online, so I thought you might have a personal favourite that I could get. No worries if not – you probably get asked this all the time!
See you next week and thanks again
All the best
8 ways to be polite
- always use a polite greeting (Dear, Hi) and a friendly goodbye (Many thanks in advance, Bye for now, See you soon)
- always show awareness of the reader’s situation (I’m sorry to bother you as I know you’re busy) or show some appreciation of the person you want to get help from (Thank you for letting me know about…)
- always ask polite questions (Would it be possible for you to…? Could you possibly…? Would you mind…?)
- or use a polite phrase (I would be very grateful if you could…I was wondering if you could possibly…)
- ALWAYS say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’
- NEVER use commands (
Send me more information. Give me more difficult questions). They are rude and very unlikely to get positive response.
- try not to criticise the person you are asking to give you something for free
(This is too easy for me. I want more difficult questions).
- Also, avoid starting sentences with
‘I want’or ‘I need’– these are not requests, and can sometimes sound very demanding.
10 polite expressions you can memorise
- Hi Steph – friendly personal greeting
- This is Fiona from your running group – clear introduction
- I just wanted to say thank you – polite thanks
- It can’t be much fun – showing empathy and understanding
- I also really appreciate the fact that – showing appreciation
- I’m not sure if you know but – assume nothing
- I was wondering if you could – a polite request
- so I thought you might – clear explanation for why you’re asking
- No worries if not – no pressure on the reader
- See you next week and thanks again – a friendly goodbye
- All the best/Warm wishes/Cheers
TOP TIP: DON’T use this expression
I ignore emails that tell me to ‘do the needful’.
This expression suggests that I am not doing my job properly.
I understand that it is used in certain cultures and countries, but in the UK it would be considered rude to tell someone to ‘do the needful’ when you are asking for their help.
It is a direct command (from a superior to a subordinated) and disrespectful to the person you’re asking for help, even if you say ‘please do the needful’ (the ‘please’ does not make this more polite).