In our last post, we learned about the 15 common mistakes that candidates make while writing a letter in their IELTS tests as well as how to avoid those 15 mistakes. This time we will learn about tips and ways to impress your examiner with your letter response.
If you take a General Training IELTS Test, you will be asked to write a letter (or an email) in your Writing Test (Part 1). A band 8+ IELTS Letter (or Email) answer or response states the purpose clearly, uses the right tone, answers the questions accurately, uses letter structure properly, uses some nice expressions/sentences, and makes no grammatical or spelling mistakes. If you can make sure that those features are properly followed in your letter writing, you are assured to impress your examiner and get a higher band score.
Please note that, for an IELTS candidate, there is no difference between writing a letter and an email. So don’t get confused if you are asked to write an email instead of a letter.
In this preparation material, we will focus on how to write a letter/email to impress your examiner by learning the features that the examiner will be looking for in your answer. So sit tight and keep reading!
(1) State The Purpose Clearly:
To achieve a high band score and give a positive impression to your examiner, your letter must clearly express why you are writing it. Don’t make the examiner keep guessing till the end of the letter! It is always a better idea to start the letter with the purpose. Or at least mention that within your first paragraph. Even in real-life situations, you should let your recipient know why you are writing this letter in the first paragraph. You should state the purpose of the letter based on the situation that has been outlined in your letter question.
Here are a few examples with a clear purpose presented in the first paragraph of the letter.
Dear Sir or Madam,
I am writing to express my dissatisfaction with the electric rice cooker which I purchased from your store a week ago. Please replace this faulty product or refund the full amount within the next 5 days.
Dear Mr Smith,
I am writing this letter to apologise about that noise from my house that caused you trouble for the last couple of days. I have taken proper initiatives to keep the noise level minimum so that it does not disturb you anymore.
I’m writing to invite you and your wife to my house for a casual dinner so that we can catch up and spend some quality time together.
If you look at the common IELTS Letter topics, you would notice the following situations that are given in the letter questions: [Look at more than hundreds of letter questions and their model answers.]
A) Letter of Enquiry: Examples – request information, book a hotel/flight/ticket, seek information about admission to a college, and so on.
B) Letter of Complaints: Example – Complaints about noise, poor service, faulty product, recent experience, a decision, and so on.
C) Letter of Request: Example – Request for a refund, repair, service, advice, reservation, and so on.
D) Letter of Recommendation: Example – Recommendation for a job, promotion, award, requesting for a recommendation, and so on.
E) Letter of Notification: Example – Notifying someone about a situation, danger, change, and so on.
F) Job-Related: Example – Applying to a job, resigning from a job, and so on.
G) Invitation Letter: Example – Invite a friend to go shopping, music concert, theatre/movie or to a dinner party, or invite a neighbour/colleague/relative to a party.
H) Response Letter: Example – Response to the letter that someone has written.
I) Letter of Apology: Example – Apologise for something.
(2) Use The Right Tone:
The tone of your letter is important. It not only gives a hint to the examiner that you understand the topic and your response is accurate but also makes it ready for positive marking criteria. You need to identify the letter (whether it is a formal, semi-formal or informal letter) and then adjust your tone and expression accordingly. If you are writing to a teacher or a manager, your tone should be formal. However, if you are writing to a friend, you should NOT be formal.
[Learn how to identify whether it is a formal, semi-formal or informal letter from the blog post – IELTS Letter Writing tips for a higher band score]
However, the simplest way to identify it is by looking at the question.
(i) If it instructs you to write a letter to a friend and asks you to begin the letter with “Dear ……………”, it is definitely an informal letter.
(ii) If it instructs you to write a letter to a relative, landlord, neighbour, or colleague (someone you know but who is not very close to you), and asks you to begin your letter with “Dear Mr/ Mrs ……………”, or simply “Dear ……………”, it is without a doubt a semi-formal letter.
(iii) And if it asks you to begin the letter with “Dear Sir or Madam”, it is certainly a formal letter.
Now that you know what type of letter it is, you should adjust your tone in the letter accordingly. Generally speaking:
i) A formal letter should contain formal expressions, longer sentences, and sometimes passive sentences.
ii) A formal letter should use some modals (Example: The changing room in the gymnasium needs to be renovated so that the gym users feel more comfortable using it.)
[Note: “Modals” usually contain verbs like “can”, “could”, “need”, “may”, “might”, “shall”, “will”, “would”, “must”, “have” etc.]
i) An informal letter should contain conventional (not so formal) expressions and sentences. [Please read a model letter answer that uses a conventional tone in it.]
ii) An informal letter may contain contractions like you’re, shouldn’t, can’t etc.) [Look at a sample letter answer that uses such contractions.]
Here are a few words that would help you set the tone right while writing a letter:
Informal – Formal
Brave – Courageous
Let – Allow
Expect – Anticipate
Help – Aid/Assist
Settle for – Choose
Ask – Enquire
Tell – Inform
Hurt – Damage
Chance – Opportunity
Use – Utilise
Also – In addition / Additionally
Go on – Continue
Dirty/ Polluted – Contaminated
Get – Receive
Lack – Deficiency
End – Finish
A bit – A little
Eager – Avid
Want – Desire
Build – Construct
Lucky – Fortunate
Okay – Acceptable
Anyway – Nevertheless
Informal – Formal
But – However
Bad – Negative
Put in – Insert
Check – Verify
Rich – Wealthy
Mend – Repair
Clear – Transparent
Find out – Discover
So – Therefore
Lead to – Cause
Go after – Pursue
Keep – Preserve
Laid back – Relaxed
Show – Demonstrate
Think about – Consider
Think of – Conceive
Pick up – Collect
Wrong – Incorrect
Book – Reserve
Deal with – Handle
Tough – Difficult
Enough – Sufficient
Buy – Purchase
(3) Answer The Questions Accurately:
An IELTS Letter gives you “a situation” – about which you need to write the letter, “a recipient” – to whom you need to write the letter, and “three bullet points” about which you need to write your letter. Sometimes, and very rarely, there could be no bullet points but a sentence or two containing the instructions (see an example of such a letter). Your letter should include all the answers to the bullet points so that the examiner feels that you have accurately written the letter.
Let us look at a question that contains three bullet points.
You have just moved into a new home and are planning to hold a party. You want to invite a neighbour to the party.
Write a letter to your neighbour. In your letter,
- introduce yourself
- describe your plans for the party
- invite your neighbour to come to the party
Write at least 150 words.
You do NOT need to write any addresses.
Begin your letter as follows:
The letter question asks you to introduce yourself, describe your plans for the party, and invite your neighbour to the party. A good letter response thus would cover all these bullet points and explain the situation mentioned in the letter accurately.
Now let’s write a response that covers all these three bullet points:
Dear Mr Spencer,
I am Aaron Flake, a doctor by profession, moved into this neighbourhood with my family a couple of weeks ago. I am very excited to announce that I will be holding a party to welcome my friends and relatives to this new house, and I would be honoured to have you among us. [Note: This paragraph covers the part “introduce yourself”. It has also stated the reason for writing this letter – i.e. inviting the neighbour to the party.]
I moved into this nice house in a marvellous neighbourhood with my wife and three children. I and my wife have decided to invite a few friends, colleagues and relatives to my new house. This is why we will organise a family party in the evening on 18h July. The party will include snacks, drinks and barbeque in the evening, some music and dancing and then dinner at 8:00 pm. [Note: this part of the letter explains the plan for the party – which has been asked in the second bullet point.]
I would like you and your whole family to be with us on that day. It would be an honour to have the opportunity to meet you and your family. Your presence would be highly appreciated. [Note: It adequately answers the third bullet point which asks to invite the neighbour to the party.]
Hope to see you at the party. [Note: This is the rounding off statement or closing statement.]
(4) Use Letter Structure Properly:
A properly structured letter response gives a positive impression to the examiner and ensures a better band score. So make sure your letter answer is properly structured.
But, what is a properly structured letter response? Well, a properly structured letter response has a greeting, the main body that answers all the bullet points, and a closing. We will now look at each of these elements.
A) A greeting: Based on the type of the letter (e.g. formal/ semi-formal and informal) your letter must have a proper greeting at the beginning of it.
Examples: Dear Mr Alfred (semi-formal), Dear James (informal), Dear Sir or Madam (Formal).
B) The main body of the letter: The main body of a nicely structured letter consists of multiple paragraphs that address the situation that has been mentioned in the letter questions, and also answer all the bullet points. Usually, the first paragraph introduced the writer of the letter (not applicable for informal letters) and clearly mentions why the person is writing the letter. The second, third, or even fourth paragraphs give details of the situation while also clearly answering the bullet points, sometimes a paragraph for each bullet point. Then it closed the letter with a closing statement (also known as rounding off statement) as well as closing expressions like – “Yours faithfully”, “Yours sincerely”, “Warm wishes”, “Best wishes”, “Kind regards”, “Love”, “Yours truly” and so on. A few examples of rounding off statements are –
A) I look forward to hearing from you soon.
B) Take care. See you soon.
C) I hope to catch up with you soon.
D) Can’t wait to meet you at the party.
E) I would really appreciate a reply.
F) Thank you in advance.
G) I hope to hear a positive reply from you soon.
The letter questions often forbid you to write your own addresses with the instruction – “You do NOT need to write any addresses”. So do not mention any address in your letter. Even if you need to write an address (for instance, if the letter asks you to give your location to a friend who would be visiting your house), give a fictitious address like 23/A Main street, Hampton, that does not reveal your real location.
(5) Make No Grammatical & Spelling Mistakes:
Making grammatical and spelling mistakes weaken your letter response and give a negative impression to your examiner. “Grammatical range and accuracy” is one of the four marking criteria for your IELTS GT writing task 1 response, and this is why it is important.
To avoid making spelling mistakes, it is recommended that you avoid using words whose spelling you are not sure about, and then use alternative words to convey the same meaning.
Now we would like to wrap up with this tutorial by saying that please practise as extensively as possible to master these elements or features in your letter writing samples. Best of luck!