Tips 1: Identify the type of letter you need to write. An IELTS letter can be either a formal, semi-formal or Informal.
You write a formal letter to a person or company you DO NOT know and in a formal situation like complaining about a product or applying for a job. In such a situation you do not have someone’s name to address to. You write Dear Sir or Madam, to address the person you are writing to.
Situations when you write a formal letter:
1. Apply for a job/ Resign from a job.
2. Complaint about a product/ service.
3. Request some sort of information.
4. Book an event.
5. Make a suggestion or recommendation.
6. Apply for a course.
You write a semi-formal letter to a person you know about and have met before. However, this person is not close to you and you address him/her with her second name. The tone and expressions should be formal and you usually write such letters to a neighbour, your landlord/landlady or to a colleague or professor in the university.
In such a situation, you have someone’s name to address to. You write ‘Dear Mr/ Mrs/ Ms/ Miss …………,‘ [the dots would be replaced by the second name of the person] to address the person you are writing to.
Situations when you write a semi-formal letter:
1. A letter to a neighbour.
2. A letter to your landlord/landlady.
3. A letter to a colleague in the office.
4. A letter to the professor in your college/university.
You write an informal letter to a friend. You might want to invite your friend to visit you, thank him for something, congratulate her, apologize to him, suggest her something and for all such situations, you write an informal letter. In short, any letter to a friend is an informal letter and you can use some phrasal verbs, idioms, non-offensive slangs, and informal tones to finish your letter.
In such a situation, you use your friend’s first name to address him/her. You write ‘Dear …………,‘ [dots would be replaced by your friend’s first name] to start your letter.
Time saver: Apart from identifying the purpose of the letter and then determining what type of letter it is (i.g. formal/ semi-formal or informal) you can look at the question and observe the line:
Begin your letter as follows:
Dear Sir or Madam,
If it includes “Dear Sir or Madam“, then it is a formal letter. If it is “Dear …………,” and you need to write to a friend, it is an informal letter. Otherwise, it would be a semi-formal letter.
Tips 2: NEVER write any addresses as the IELTS Letter Writing Instruction forbids you to do so.
Tips 3: You can use your own name or an imaginary name. However, write your first name when it’s an informal letter and your full name when it’s a formal or semi-formal letter.
Tips 4: You do not need to write the date or recipient’s address in your letter.
Tips 5: Write at least 150 words. If your letter contains fewer than 150 words, you will lose marks.
Tips 6: Open and close your letter accurately. The opening of the letter is the salutation (Dear Sir or Madam, Dear John, Dear Mr Smith etc) and the closing of the letter is the signature (Yours faithfully, Yours sincerely, Warm wishes etc). Look at the following guidelines to carefully begin and close your letter:
Letter Type Begining Ending
Formal Dear Sir or Madam, Yours faithfully,
Semi-formal Dear Mr … (the person’s second name) Yours sincerely,
Informal Dear … (your friend’s first name) Warm wishes,
DO NOT miss out the comma (,) after the Dear …….., and after the closing statement (i.e. Yours sincerely, ).
Tips 7: Starting the letter perfectly is vital in getting a high band score. This is where you attract your reader/examiner and make or break your score. The starting paragraph should clearly state why you are writing the letter.
If you are writing a formal/ semi-formal letter, shoot right away and clearly state the reason for your letter (i.e. why you are writing). Some of the following expressions might help you do so.
Beginning a formal/semi-formal letter:
I am writing to inquire/enquire about ………….
I am writing to inform you that ………….
I am writing in connection with ………….
I am writing regarding the ………….
I am writing in regards to the ………….
I am writing to draw your attention to ………….
When we write to a person we do not know, we do not want to waste their time by writing unnecessary information and exchanging personal greetings. Instead, we want to get to the point directly.
If it’s an informal letter, you should first use some ice-breaking expressions (at least one expression or sentence) like we do in our real life. For instance, even if we want to borrow some money from a friend and that’s the sole purpose of meeting a friend, we would start with ‘Hi/ Hello, how are you? How are your family?’ and then discuss the possibility of lending some money.
When writing an informal letter, some of the following expressions might help you begin your letter:
Beginning an informal letter:
I hope all is well.
I hope you are well/fine.
How are you? I hope you are healthy and happy.
It was nice to hear from you.
It’s been ages since I’ve heard from you.
It is a pleasure to be in touch with you again.
I hope you and your family are all well.
It was a delight to see you in ………….
I hope you enjoyed your trip to ………….
How have you been? It’s been a long since we last met each other.
Tips 8: Use formal/standard expressions in a formal letter. You can use some informal expressions in an informal letter (intended to a friend) but you should never use an informal expression in a formal letter.
Following are some standard expressions as well as their informal versions that you should use in your letter based on the type of letter you are writing:
Informal: I’m writing to let you know that …
Formal: I am writing to draw your attention to …
Informal: I’m sorry for any trouble …
Formal: I apologise for any inconvenience caused …
Informal: I’m very sorry for …
Formal: My sincere apology for …
Formal: I’m very sorry …
Informal: Please accept our sincere apologies …
Informal: You don’t mind …ing (…) (for me), do you?
Formal: I would appreciate if you could …
Informal: Could you please …
Formal: I would be grateful if you please …
Informal: Would it be possible for you to …?
Formal: I would be most grateful if you would …
Informal: I’m rather annoyed with …
Formal: I am writing to express my dissatisfaction with …
Informal: I am not happy with …
Formal: I find it most unsatisfactory that …
Informal: Just give me a call if you have any questions …
Formal: If you require any further information, please don’t hesitate to contact me… or, Please feel free to contact me if you have further questions …
Tips 9: Use formal words in a semi-formal/formal letter while informal versions are accepted in an informal letter.
At first Initially
A lot of Many/ Much/ Numerous
Right away Immediately
Ask for Request
That’s why Therefore
Start Commence/ Begin
Get Acquire / Obtain
Tips 10: Make sure your handwriting is clear, legible and NOT hard to follow. Yes, your handwriting still matters in this era of technology – especially if you are going to take IELTS. You need to write your letter with a pen or pencil in a paper. If the reader/examiner has a hard time reading your sentences, you can’t expect a higher band score.
Tips 11: Use correct spelling. If you want to get band score 9 in writing, you can’t afford to make any spelling mistakes. Contrary to common belief, a single spelling mistake can hurt your band score heavily. One effective way to improve your spelling is writing without the help of any spell checker and then correcting the mistakes.
Tips 12: Use punctuations correctly. Yes, an incorrectly used punctuation mark is as bad as spelling mistakes and sometimes worse!
Tips 13: Use the correct grammar. Not to mention, any grammatical mistake will hinder you from getting a band score of 8 or 9. You should use a variety of sentence structures (simple, compound, and complex sentences) to express your mastery in grammar and writing style. You can get a band score of 5 to 6 by not writing a variety of sentence structures but not more than 7.
Tips 14: Use correct paragraphing and do not write the entire letter in a single paragraph. Your letter usually should have the following paragraphs:
Introduction (First Paragraph: clearly state why you are writing the letter).
2nd Paragraph (details of the problem/ giving more information/ Asking for something in details etc based on the letter requirement).
3rd Paragraph (details of the solution/ actions/ giving extra details).
Closing sentence + Signature (i.e. Yours faithfully and so on)
+ Your name.
Maintain at least a line break or two between these paragraphs. Alternatively, you can right indent these paragraphs. Some teachers prefer both the line break and the right indent style. This also improves the readability of your letter.
Tips 15: Respond to all the three bulleted points in full. IELTS letters generally come with three bullet points that instruct what you should include in your letter. Being able to respond to all these three bulleted points would ensure a higher band score. For example, you might be asked to write a letter to the municipal authority to complain about the damaged road in front of your house. Then the second instruction would be –
“In your letter:
- introduce yourself
- explain the condition of the road
- and suggest what they should do“
You should cover all the three expected bullet points to efficiently write your letter. Some suggest using separate paragraphs for each of these bulleted points. However, you can mix two (NEVER more than two) to write a paragraph.
Ideally, each paragraph should NOT be less than 40 words and more than 80 words.
Use a topic sentence or expression that clearly states what this paragraph is going to describe. For instance, the expression, “In relation to the problems with the room ……”: in a letter distinctly denotes that you are going to tell about the problems you are having in the room you live in. Similarly, the expression “As a solution and since I really like the location of the flat” refers that you are going to propose a solution in this paragraph.