GT Writing Task 1: How to write an email to someone you don’t know
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.
This lesson is NOT exactly about IELTS though it might be useful to General Training students who need to write emails for Task 1.
This lesson is for people who contact me with requests to publish/post links on my website.
The emails I use below are NOT examples from my lovely students, who always write me beautiful, kind and polite emails, which I REALLY appreciate 🙏❤️.
What do you think?
📝 Here are the opening lines from an email I received this morning.
What would you do to improve the opening?
(🤔 Things are much better for who? Who on earth are you? Why are you writing to me?)
1. How to start an email
- find out the name of the person you’re writing to. 😊 It is easy to find my name on my website or on any of the social media links I put on my website.
- show the reader that you are not spam. Spam emails are easily recognisable because they can’t be bothered to find out my name.
- start with ‘Dear Fiona’. The reader will be more likely to show interest and read on.
- 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). You do not know this person, so you have to be cautious.
- don’t use ‘Hey’ or ‘Hiii’ (without using a name) to address someone you don’t know. It’s rude.
- 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 ‘Can I ask you a question?’ and then wait for a response. Just ask your question clearly.
(This person clearly knows my name from the name of my site, but chooses not to use it. How can I consider publishing their article when they do not know how to follow basic letter-writing rules? 🤦♀️)
2. How to explain what you want
(‘Learn new things’ like WHAT for example? A ‘great article’ about what? Define ‘great’. 😒)
- say ‘I want’. At the very least say ‘I would like’. The reader is under no obligation to help you no matter what you want.
- be specific about what you can offer. In the example above, the writer tells me that my audience will ‘learn a lot of new things’. This suggests that I am not teaching my audience new things.
- clearly explain the benefits of your request to the reader (if there are any benefits to the reader). Explain what makes you the best person to give advice on my website, and why I should trust you to do that.
(🤷♀️ Have they even looked at my website? Why would they offer me an article with no illegal/adult content? 800 words about WHAT?)
3. 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
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.
(😖 Best wishes? Best regards? Yours sincerely? Who are you Barry?)
Use full, grammatically correct sentences.
DON’T use informal language (see below where the writer drops the pronoun ‘I’).
This just looks lazy. I am unlikely to trust you to publish a high-quality article.
DO use fixed expressions to show the reader that you know how to write well e.g.
‘I look forward to hearing from you’.
(If this person had spent ANY time on my website, they would know that they should do this).
Never assume that the person will want to work with you.
(🙈Hang on a minute – are they going to charge ME for publishing an article on my own site? What?)
5. Follow-up emails
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.
Here is the follow-up email I received.
How could you improve it?
(😱They know I’m busy but they don’t know my name?)
I am losing respect for this person and I am starting to distrust them.
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) so that I know if you have any authority to give advice
- any social media platforms where you post regularly (so I can see that you are genuinely trying to help, and that your lessons are high quality and reliable)
- your LinkedIn profile (so I can see you are a real person with professional goals and a genuine desire to help people)
- ideally a website that I can quickly check out to see how wonderful your articles are and if they meet my audiences’s needs
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 grammar practice:
- How to use ‘despite’ and ‘in spite of’.
- How to use concession in Writing Task 2.
- How to write complex sentences for IELTS.
- ‘Not only but also’ and inversion
- How to use ‘the former, the latter’
- How to correct your grammar mistakes in IELTS
- Check out my links to more free resources that can help you study at home.