This lesson is NOT exactly about IELTS.
I wrote it to send to scammers who send me rude emails. (I give the bad examples first in the boxes before the good advice).
However, the advice is useful for General Training students who need to write emails for Task 1.
I have a more specific General Training email lesson with the language of polite requests.
By the end of this lesson, you will
- better understand how to write an effective email to someone you don’t know
- be able to make simple changes that will get a more positive response to your request.
How to start an email
(This person clearly knows my name from the name of my site, but chooses not to use it).
- find out/use the name of the person you’re writing to. This helps to show the reader that you are not spam.
- say “Dear Sir or Madam” if you really don’t know their name
- introduce yourself e.g. ‘My name is ______ and I’m a ________. I’m writing to you because…’
- use informal language (don’t use ‘Hi’ or exclamation marks).
- don’t use ‘Hey’ or ‘Hiii’ or “Hlo” to address someone you don’t know. It looks lazay.
- ask ‘How are you?’ if you’ve never had any contact with the reader before. Only use this when you have already established contact or a relationship with someone. (Say “I hope you are well” if you want to).
2. How to explain why you're writing
(‘Learn new things’ like WHAT for example? A ‘great article’ about what? Define ‘great’. 😒)
- say ‘I want’. This sounds very demanding.
- say ‘I need’. The person you’re writing to has no obligation to meet your needs. Use a polite question instead.
- say “I would like…” or “Would it be possible for you/me to…”
- be specific and clear if you’re offering your services
- show awareness of the reader – why should they care about you? Try to make your request relevant to them.
- clearly explain the benefits of your request to the reader
How to make a polite request
If you’re asking someone to help you and give up their time for you, but you have nothing to offer in return, you are unlikely to get a positive response.
I can’t write to Elon Musk and say ‘I find your cars amazing for saving the planet, therefore I want one’ and then expect him to send me a TESLA.
- ask polite questions (Would it be possible for you to…? Could you possibly…? Would you mind…?)
- use a polite phrase (I would be very grateful if you could…I was wondering if you could possibly…)
- say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’
- avoid starting sentences with
‘I want’or ‘I need’– these are not requests, and can sometimes sound very demanding.
4. Don't use commands
(😖 Best wishes? Best regards? Yours sincerely? Who are you, Barry?)
DON’T tell the reader what they should do next.
It is up to the reader to decide what they want to do next.
Try to see your email from the reader’s point of view, and don’t expect the reader to reply.
I expect that Elon Musk is a very busy man, and I don’t expect him to reply to my email asking for a TESLA.
So I cannot say ‘Write back soon’ or ‘Let me know what you think’. These are commands.
Nobody likes to be told what to do by someone they DON’T KNOW, and by someone who is asking for free HELP.
Say something like:
- “I would be grateful if you could let me know what you think”.
5. Don't use slang or 'lazy' shortcuts
(🙈Hang on a minute – are they going to charge ME for publishing an article on my own site? What?)
Use full, grammatically correct sentences.
DON’T use informal language (see below where the writer drops the pronoun ‘I’).
DO use fixed, friendly expressions to close the letter:
- ‘I look forward to hearing from you’.
(😱They know I’m busy but they don’t know my name?)
If someone hasn’t responded to your email it could be because:
- the email went to junk
- they didn’t have time
- your email did not have a positive effect on them
You now have some options.
Which is the best option?
- Give up and try someone else – copy and paste your original email so you don’t have to do any work like finding out the person’s name
- Write a follow-up email which is even more demanding
- Consider why your first email wasn’t successful and try to write a better one.
Obviously, you should ask yourself what was wrong with the first email (Option 3), and then do some research on how to write a more effective email.
In order to gain trust and be taken seriously, you need to include some or ALL of these details:
- your full name
- your credentials (qualifications, background, experience)
- your LinkedIn profile (so I can see you are a real person with professional goals)
- ideally a website that I can quickly check out
If you seriously want someone to help you, think seriously about what you have to offer in return.
The style and tone of your letter is crucial. It is a skill that is disappearing.
However, as you can see from my tips above, it is NOT difficult to make simple changes that show your respect for the reader’s time and situation.
Even if they just quickly respond to say they are not interested, it shows that your email has been taken seriously and that you can keep working towards your goals and improving your offering so that one day soon you will get a positive response.
Get more help with Letter Writing
I have a 28-day General Training Letter-Writing Course in the Members Academy.
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Thank you so much for your useful guidance in this content. To illustrate the content, you used some cases which were straight but clear and helpful. Honestly, I appreciate your support with learners.
Thank you again and best wishes for you,
Thanks ever so much for your comment and I’m glad you found the blog helpful,
Yes, absolutely thank you so much for clarification.
Thanks for your amazing effort! This website is what totally anyone who appears for IELTS would need.! Need some clarification, If we are writing to a person whom we don’t know I learnt as it would be a formal letter and we should start with Dear Sir/Madam. So I am confused now which to follow as you have mentioned to start with Dear ‘name’…Please clarify if my understanding is incorrect.
Many thanks in advance.
Hi Riya. This is a great question. It just totally depends on the question. If you don’t know the person, definitely write Dear Sir/Madam. But if you’re writing to your boss, for example, you need to use a name (Dear Mr Smith or Dear Mrs Jones), as you probably know the name of your boss. Does that answer your question?
Jaime Ortiz says
You alweys post a great and very helpful content.
Thank you for sharing
Thank you James. I’m really glad you find my content helpful.