How to write a formal letter/email in your GT IELTS Exam?

What To Expect From This Article?
Before we begin with the preparation part of this article, we would like to give you a piece of good news! The news is – of all the GT IELTS exam segments, you would probably find the IELTS GT writing task 1 or letter writing task the easiest. Well, at least most candidates do, and with a little preparation and confidence, you can find that to be the easiest part as well, and this article aims to give you the necessary confidence boost so that you can write a great formal letter. We, perhaps, will cover the topic of writing an informal letter in a later article.

What Is GT Writing Task 1 (Letter Writing Sub-test)?
In this part of the test, the IELTS candidates are asked to write a “formal”, “semi-formal” or “informal” letter of about 150 words, within the recommended 20-minute time. Please note that you write a formal letter in a formal situation, for instance, a letter to the municipal officer; an informal letter to a friend; and a semi-formal letter to a neighbour or landlord. A semi-formal letter falls between a formal and informal letter and has a more formal tone than an informal one. In this part of the test, you would be given a question with instructions to write a letter. Each letter usually comes with three bullet points. In this sub-test (letter writing part or GT Writing Task 1), most candidates prefer to write a letter between 160 and 190 words. Please note that you would be penalised if you write less than 150 words. But you can write more than 150 words (or even more than 200 words).

A sample GT IELTS Letter Question:

You should spend about 20 minutes on this task.

You took your family to a nearby restaurant. You were disappointed with the meal and wish to complain to the manager.

Write a letter to the manager of the restaurant. In your letter:

  • explain why you were at the restaurant
  • describe the problems
  • write about the action you want the manager to take

Write at least 150 words.
You do NOT need to write any addresses.

Begin your letter as follows:
Dear Sir or Madam,

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What To Include In Your Letter?
Your first task in this sub-test is to identify the type of letter you are asked to write. Then plan for your answer and write a letter of at least 150 words. The question usually contains three bullet points, and adding all the information in your letter asked by these 3 bullet points, in a short, concise and coherent manner will help you write a great letter. Follow the instruction of the question and use the right tone and expression to complete your letter. We will give you some examples of how to achieve it shortly.

What Letter Type We Will Talk About In This Article?
We have already mentioned above that there are 3 types of letters: formal, semi-informal, and informal. While it is absolutely imperative that IELTS candidates learn to write all types of letters for the purpose of getting a good score on their exam, for the purpose of this article, we will go ahead and mostly talk about the formal letter, by providing an example of it.

What Exactly Is A Formal Letter?
Well, in simple words, a formal IELTS letter is a letter that is written in a formal situation, which means it is written to some completely unknown persons/ authorities and contains a well-controlled structure and message. This type of letter starts with formal salutations like “Dear Sir or Madam”, and ends with a valediction, like “Yours Faithfully”, to show proper respect or regard to the person the letter is directed to. Since formal letters are written to completely unknown persons, they are more complicated than semi-formal and informal letters in the sense that one has to be as thorough as possible with his/her response and writing style so that the person, to whom the letter is directed, is convinced to pay due attention to the contents of the letter even though he/she is a completely unknown person to the letter sender. However, apart from this level of difficulty, formal letters are different from semi-formal and informal letters in some other aspects as well.

But before anything else, let us first take a look at a sample formal letter and then explain each and every section of it, in order to understand how to best organize and write a formal letter.

An example of how to write a formal letter, followed by a formal letter question

Question:

You should spend about 20 minutes on this task.

On a recent holiday trip, you rented a car from a car rental company. But, when coming back from your holiday trip, you had an accident. Fortunately, you have a comprehensive car insurance to cover all the costs.

Write a letter to the manager of your car rental company. In your letter,

  • describe the damage that was caused to your car
  • describe how you had the accident
  • tell the manager what you would like him to do

Write at least 150 words.
You do NOT need to write any addresses.

Begin your letter as follows:
Dear Sir or Madam,

A Model Response:

Dear Sir or Madam,

I am Thomas Albert, writing to inform you that I recently got involved in an accident with the car that I hired from your company, and I just wanted to assure you that my car insurance company will pay for the cost to fix all the damages. Despite my best intention and effort, I could not avoid the accident, but I am relieved that my car insurance covers it all.

Regarding this unfortunate accident – when I was returning from my recent holiday trip in your car last Monday evening, I was driving on a busy road within the prescribed speed limit except I was probably a bit too tired and sleepy for driving too long at a stretch. I must have lost my concentration for a few seconds because of that tiredness, and thus accidentally ran over the traffic island between the roads and then hit a pole and a tree on it. Luckily, nothing major happened to me except some bruises and cuts, but the front part and the bonnet of the car were moderately damaged. Besides, the rearview mirror on the left also broke.

I sincerely regret the accident and damages caused to your car. Here I am providing my car insurance details and the phone number of my insurance company so that you can contact them. They will take all the necessary steps to pay for the damages to your car.

Yours faithfully,

Thomas Albert

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Different Parts Of This Formal Letter:
In the example above, the very first section is called “salutation” where it is written “Dear Sir or Madam. Choosing the proper salutation is very important because it essentially sets the tone of your letter, as in whether it is going to be a formal letter or an informal letter. The salutation, used in this letter, is very much in line with the rule and requirements of a formal letter which states that a formal letter must start with the salutation “Dear Sir or Madam”. And we know that it is a formal letter since it is directed to a person (a “manager” in this case) whose name is unknown to us or whom we may or may not personally know.

Next, we will try to explain the “beginning or the very first paragraph of the letter” where a “statement of the intention” has duly been described that says, “…I just wanted to assure you that my car insurance company will pay for the cost to fix all the damages…”. This “statement of intention” above the quote is nothing but an effort to explain why the letter is actually being written, which, again, is very much in line with the practice of writing a proper formal letter.

If we want to put it in another way, the beginning of the letter should clearly indicate what to follow in the rest of the letter, in order to ensure a proper chain of thoughts from one paragraph to the next, and that’s exactly what has been done.

Now, to explain the body of the letter a little, it nicely takes care of the bullet points by providing the details about how and why the accident actually took place, in the first place. Please notice that the writer here tried to give some extra details also about the exact reason as to why the accident had actually taken place instead of just explaining how it really happened (as asked by one of the bullet points that writes “describe how you had the accident”). Such extra details do no harm because it supports the letter with a natural chain of thoughts, to make the letter more convincing for its receiver, while also remaining on the topic at the same time.

“Ending of the letter” or the final paragraph rightly explains what kind of actions the letter sender wants its receiver to take to receive the fund for accident damages. And that’s exactly the information which is asked by the third and final bullet point in the letter question.

Finally, the letter sender has signed off the letter with the proper valediction that says, “Yours faithfully”, which is exactly what is required in a formal letter writing practice. In fact, this particular “farewell phrase” or valediction is one of the two major distinguishable features, along with the “salutation”, of a formal letter. So, it is absolutely important that we don’t make any kind of mistake with this particular feature while writing a formal letter on our IELTS exam.

How A Formal Letter Is Different From A Semi-Formal or Informal Letter?
However, even though, so far, we have mostly discussed what a formal letter really is, and how to write it, the discussion would not really be complete and fruitful if we do not identify at least some of the differences between a formal letter and informal letter, as well as the difference between a formal letter and semi-informal letter. Highlighting some of these differences here is important if we really ought to feel comfortable about identifying the type of letter we should write on our IELTS exam.

Differences between a formal and informal letter: The difference between a formal letter and an informal one is pretty simple and straightforward. One such simple difference is that while an informal letter is directed/written to generally familiar or known persons, like family members, friends, and relatives, a formal letter is directed to a completely unknown person – persons who we have never met before. Besides, while formal letters can have a clear “statement of intention” in the beginning, informal letters would have general statements in the beginning, like “how are you/hope all is well”.

Another major difference between a formal letter and an informal letter is that while contractions (like “I’m well”) and a bit of “informal expressions” are acceptable in informal letters, formal letters should always use standard academic language with proper grammar structures, and avoid all types of contractions and slang terms.

Differences between a formal and semi-informal letter: While the difference between a formal and informal letter is pretty simple and visible, the same can’t be said about the difference between a formal and semi-informal letter. In fact, it wouldn’t really be completely wrong to suggest that there isn’t any clear line of distinction between a formal and semi-informal letter except that the person we write a formal letter to is a stranger to us and we personally don’t know them while the recipient of a semi-informal letter may be known to us by just not be that close to us. An example of one such person, to whom a semi-informal letter could be written, would be one of our neighbours who we may know about but are not that close with, personally. Therefore, recognizing where to use a semi-informal letter could be a bit tricky sometimes unless we are able to determine just how informal or formal our letters should be, based on the issues or situations we are describing in our letters.

How to identify a formal letter in your IELTS exam?
Now that we have described the differences between a formal and informal letter, as well as the differences between a formal and semi-informal letter, it would be easier for us to identify a formal letter in our IELTS exam. So, how exactly do we identify or decided whether it is a formal letter or an informal letter in our IELTS exam? Well, fortunately, it is rather simple to do.

In fact, all we need to do is first check if we actually know the name of the person, to whom we are writing the letter. If we do not know the name of the person, then it definitely has to be a formal letter. Besides, being able to understand the purpose of the letter would also help us to identify whether it is a formal or informal letter in our IELTS exam. For example, if the purpose of the letter is to reach out to some official or authority and ask for some kind of help, by thoroughly explaining the situation to him /her, we can be almost certain that it is asking us to write a formal letter.

Being able to ascertain the situations or circumstances also, in which the letter is being written, would help us identify whether it should be a formal or informal letter. Such situations would involve requesting some kind of information from a company or an authority. It could also involve situations like applying for a job, and complaining to an authority/official of some kind of institution like a bank, utility/power supply authority, or a store or business.

Finally, if the question asks us to make some kind of official recommendations or suggestions, then we can be pretty sure that it is asking us to write a formal letter. But, if you still are not too sure about properly identifying a formal letter on your exam, please read a lot of sample questions to feel more comfortable about writing your letter.

Succeeding at any exam requires good preparation, practice and a high level of confidence. But, the good news is that this letter-writing task of the IELTS examination is probably a bit easier than the other IELTS segments. Therefore, the candidates would be well-advised to take advantage of this relatively easier segment to showcase their writing skills and abilities, thus getting a good score.

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