How confident are you about your letter-writing skills?
For General Training IELTS Task 1 you need to:
- choose an appropriate tone (formal, informal or semi-informal)
- ensure your message is clear
- choose an appropriate opening/closing
- address all of the bullet points
- use language for a variety of functions e.g. requests, complaints, apologies, enquiries
IELTS General Training (GT) Task 1 asks you to write a letter/email of 250 words.
There are ALWAYS 3 bullet points in the letter, and you MUST answer all of them. For example:
Your friend would like to visit you, but unfortunately you are not free when they want to come. Write a letter to your friend.
- Explain why you are busy
- Suggest another time
Formal, Informal, or Semi-Formal?
This is the first big decision you have to make, and it is VERY important to get the right tone, depending on who you are writing to. Generally:
Formal Letters – to people you don’t know or are senior to you (job applications, letters of complaint, letter of request to your manager, or requesting information)
Informal Letters – to people you know well (invitations to friends, giving advice, news or congratulations)
Semi-Formal – to people you might know well, but it’s a delicate issue (complaining to a neighbour, asking your friend for the bag you lent him/her, OR writing to colleagues/your boss about an informal topic e.g. planning a staff party).
There is often a grey area e.g. depending on how well you know your boss (Do you use first names with your boss? How often do you talk to him/her? How long have you known him/her? Do you feel comfortable addressing them informally?).
If you are unsure, the most important thing is to stay consistent – use the same tone throughout.
DON’T start with an informal ‘Hi John, How’s it going?’ followed by a very formal ‘I would like to request….’ and then end with ‘Lots of love xxx’
If you’re not sure about which tone to use, it is always better to ‘play safe’:
Informal: ‘Hi John!’ ‘Can I ask you a favour?’ ‘Cheers’
Semi-formal: ‘Dear John’ ‘I’m writing to ask …’ ‘All the best’
Formal: ‘Dear Mr Jones’ ‘I would like to ask…”Best regards’
Very formal: ‘Dear Sir or Madam’ ‘I am writing in order to request…’ ‘Yours faithfully’
The easiest way to lose points is to use language that is TOO formal for the person you’re writing to. This is the main reason why strong writers get a lower score than they expect in General Training Task 1.
When you’re writing an informal letter, you have to switch on your informal brain. Write as if you were talking. Many people feel uncomfortable doing this in an exam, but it is the key to a higher score.
Compare these two answers. Which one gets the higher score?
Task 1 Model A
I was pleased to receive a letter from you, informing me of your upcoming visit to my hometown.
I sincerely apologise but I will be unable to accommodate you during the week you requested, as I will not be available. I am sorry to inform you that I have been requested to complete a training course at my company. However, I will be happy to rearrange a mutually convenient date in the near future.
What is your opinion on the matter? Please let me know your availability. I propose next week if that is suitable for you. Please accept my unreserved apologies.
I look forward to hearing from you,
Task 1 Model B
Great to hear from you at long last. Sorry to hear about your job but at least you’ll be able to relax and travel until you find something else.
Speaking of which… I’d really love to have you come and stay at mine for a while, but next week’s not great timing – I’ve got loads of stuff to do at work and I’m on that training course I’ve been wanting to do for ages. It’s a bit tricky to rearrange unfortunately – you know what these things are like.
How about the week after though? The training will be over by then and I’ll have much more time to show you around. Let me know what day’s best for you and I’ll come and pick you up at the station. Can’t wait!
All for now,
What do you think?
Yes, Model A is beautifully written, but what’s the problem? It’s much too formal of course, and this will seriously lose you marks if Task 1 asks you to write to a friend. Stay as informal as you possibly can, like Model B.
Checklist of INFORMAL features
- Choose an informal way of starting and finishing the letter (Hi! How’s it going? See you later! Lots of love!)
- Use exclamation marks!
- Use direct commands (Let me know!)
- Ask direct questions – (you know what I mean?)
- Use phrasal verbs and even a slang word and/or idiom if you’re confident it’s the right one (I’ll pick you up, loads of stuff)
- Use contractions (I’m, I’d, I can’t etc)
- Don’t be too polite – remember you’re talking to a friend
- Choose INFORMAL vocabulary options e.g. select = choose, attend = go to, participate in = take part in
- Adopt a ‘spoken’ style by dropping unnecessary words (
That’sall for now = All for now) ( It wasgreat to hear from you = Great to hear from you) ( Ican’t wait!)
- Make informal suggestions How about? Why don’t we… Let’s..?
Remember to always check who you’re writing to – don’t use this style if you’re writing a Letter of Complaint or Job Application!
Read plenty of ‘informal’ letters like this one to get more familiar and comfortable writing this style of letter.
The Members Academy has a 7-Day course with videos, worksheets and a Model Answer booklet to help you write Task 1 letters.
I also review your own examples in our Weekly Webinar.
Find out more about the Members Academy here.
Get more General Training Practice and advice here.
General Training Writing Task 2 is very similar to the Academic Writing Task 2. Get advice and strategies here.