Here's my full answer to last week's question:
(Click on the letter to enlarge it)
Here's a general writing task 1 question from Cambridge IELTS book 9:
The question tells you to begin with "Dear Sir or Madam", so we know that it needs to be a formal letter. After that, you just need 3 short paragraphs to cover the bullet points in the question, followed by a formal letter ending.
I'll write my sample answer for next week.
Let's compare some of the formal and informal features in the two letters that you can see if you click here.
One of the first things that the examiner will notice in your letter is its 'tone'. In other words, is your letter written in an appropriately formal or informal way, depending on the person you are addressing?
Compare the tone of the two letters in the document linked below. Make a list of the formal and informal features that you find. Click here to see the document.
Here are some formal phrases that I've used in previous lessons. See if you can use them in your own letters:
Beginning the letter by explaining why you are writing:
Requesting or suggesting something:
Ending the letter with a request for action:
I haven't done a lesson about the General Writing test for a while, so here's an interesting question that a student sent me. I'll share my answer next week.
Remember that the examiner is looking for the following things:
Here are some questions that a student asked me about General Writing task 1:
1. Should I write the date at the top of a formal letter?
No, in the IELTS test you should not write the date or your address.
2. Should I use indentation at the start of a new paragraph?
You can either indent or miss a line. Just make sure it's clear that you have begun a new paragraph. Personally, I think missing a line is clearer.
3. Should I end the letter with "Yours..." on the left or on the right?
Always end the letter on the left. Have a look at my letters on this page.
4. Should I sign the letter before writing my name?
No, don't sign your name. You don't even need to put your real name. Personally, I use a first name (e.g. John) for informal letters, and a full name (e.g. John Smith) for formal letters.
Here's a recent question from General IELTS writing task 1:
My advice is to choose an easy topic like "litter". Write a quick plan with ideas for each bullet point. If you need some help, have a look at this website.
Yesterday I forgot to mention my key piece of advice for writing task 1 in the General Training test. If I had to choose one key piece of advice for GT task 1, I'd say that you need to get the 'tone' right.
The tone of your letter is its character or attitude, either formal or informal. For a summary of the differences between formal and informal letters, read this lesson.
Let's look again at the letter I wrote last week. One interesting thing to notice is the variety of verb tenses:
I take, the overcrowding means, this is...
I am writing, passengers are becoming, delays are making...
my train has arrived, I have been unable, I have seen...
you will address
Let's do a quick plan for the question below.
Always do a quick plan! The plan above only took me a couple of minutes, and now I'm ready to write a good essay. I'll post it next week.
Don't worry about whether the problem seems realistic or not. You will be judged according to how well you express ideas, not on the ideas themselves.
The phrases below make the letter in this lesson a bit more friendly / informal:
Here are some mistakes that you should avoid in writing task 1 of the GT test:
Avoid these mistakes, and you are on the way to writing a good letter!
It's a good idea to write a quick plan before you start writing your letter. Take this question for example:
Here's my quick plan:
After writing "Dear..." it's a good idea to establish the main purpose of the letter straight away in your opening sentence. Here are some examples:
1. Formal letter (e.g. complaining to a manager)
I am writing to complain about the unacceptable state of the room I was given, and the unhelpful attitude of certain members of staff at your hotel.
2. Semi-formal letter (e.g. inviting a neighbour)
My wife and I would like to invite you to a dinner party at our home next Saturday evening.
3. Informal letter (e.g. thanking a friend)
I hope you're well. I'm just writing to say thanks for letting me stay over at your house while I was in London last week.
There are plenty of websites giving advice to native English speakers about how to write letters. Try a Google search for "how to write letters" or click here to see a website that has some good sample letters.
Note: In the IELTS test, you should not write an address or date at the top of your letter. Apart from that, sample letters on websites like the one above can teach you a lot.
The following question comes from Cambridge IELTS book 5.
You have a full-time job and are also doing a part-time evening course. You now find that you cannot continue the course. Write a letter to the course tutor. In your letter
There are three main things to consider before writing your essay:
1. Tone (formal or informal)
Sometimes students are friendly with their tutors, but I think it would be better to write a formal letter. Start with your tutor’s surname (e.g. Dear Mr. Smith,) and end with “Yours sincerely,”. Avoid contractions (write “I am” instead of “I’m”), and avoid using informal idioms or expressions. Be polite rather than friendly.
The main purpose of this letter is to inform your tutor that you are leaving the course. Make this clear straight away (e.g. I am writing to inform you that...). Then cover the three points, writing a short paragraph for each.
I recommend spending a few minutes planning ideas for each of the task points before you start writing. You need to decide what the evening course is about, what your full-time job is, a reason why you are too busy with work to continue with the course, and whether you want to leave completely or perhaps continue at a later date.
IELTS books and teachers sometimes talk about formal, semi-formal, and informal letters. But a student asked me an interesting question recently:
Can we make things easier by forgetting about "semi-formal"?
Actually, I think the answer is yes! When writing to a colleague or neighbour, you can write in a friendly, informal way using the informal features mentioned in this lesson. I can't really think of any reason why we need the "semi-formal" category for IELTS writing purposes. Your letter will be either formal or friendly!
Feel free to disagree with me if you can find a reason why we need the semi-formal category. Maybe I've missed something.
It's important to start and end letters in the correct way, depending on who you are writing to. The table below should give you all you need.
You should follow the rules for formal letters, but there are many ways to end an informal letter. The main thing is to avoid mixing formal and informal.