IELTS Letter Writing tips for a higher band score

If your target is to get a higher band score in your IELTS test, you should do really well in your writing test. IELTS letter (GT writing task 1) topics are fairly predictable and you should invest a little time to practice them to ensure a higher band score.

The following tips are handpicked by us from many tips and tricks provided by IELTS teachers. Hopefully, you would be able to get a higher band score if you follow these tips. Best of luck!

1. Identify the Letter Type:

Your first task just after you get the question paper is to identify the type of letter you are being asked to write. Ask yourself “is it a formal, semi-formal or informal letter?” The entire tone of your letter should be based on the type of letter you are asked to write. Adjust your writing style and choice of words/expression according to the type of letter you have been asked to write. This is a “must” to ensure a higher band score.

How to do that:

When you are writing to someone you do not know at all (for instance, to the HR of a company, or the manager of a restaurant), you write a formal letter. The situation is formal and you do not exchange personal greetings in such a letter. Instead, you start your letter by directly mentioning who are you, why you are writing and what you want the person to do.

The letter question provides two important hints to help you identify the type of letter you are required to write.

A) The first one is ‘whom to write the letter’.

  • If you write the letter to a friend (someone you know well personally), it is going to be an informal letter.
  • If you write to someone you may or may not know personally (a neighbour, your relative, a teacher from your college and so on), it is going to be a semi-formal letter.
  • If you write to someone you have probably never met before and the person holds a position at a college, office, church and so on (your boss, an HR in an office, a manager in a restaurant or a shop, a councellor, a member of parliament and so on), it is without any doubt a formal letter.

B) The second one is the expression –

  • “Begin your letter as follows: Dear ………,”
  • “Begin your letter as follows: Dear Sir or Madam,”.

If it says to begin your letter with “Dear Sir or Madam,” it is without any doubt a formal letter. If it says, “Dear ……..,”, it could be either a semi-formal or informal letter. If you are asked to write to a friend, it is going to be an informal letter. In other situations (when you need to write to a person you may or may not know), it is a semi-formal letter.

2. Open and close the letter correctly:

As you might already know that “opening” and “ending” of a letter are quite important to get a band score 8 or 9. Any mistakes made in either of these parts will reduce your score.

Remember that each type of letter (informal, semi-formal and formal) requires a slightly different variation of opening and closing statements.

How to do that:

For Informal letters:
You write an informal letter to someone you know well, whose first name you know and use. Do not write the full name of your friend when you begin your letter. You should not write your full name at the end of an informal letter either.

Opening – Dear (first name of your friend).
Example:
Dear Anna,
Dear John,

Please note that it is also correct to use a semicolon (;) or colon (:) after you write “Dear John”, for example,
Dear David;
Dear Emma:

However, we prefer using comma (,) and we also recommend you to do so.

Closing-
Warm wishes,

Your first name

or

Best regards,

Your first name

Note: Do not write “Yours sincerely”, “Yours faithfully” or simply “Sincerely” when you write a letter to your friend.

For Semi-formal letters:
You write a semi-formal letter to someone you may or may not personally know, may or may not have met in person and whose last name you know. Your neighbours, your distant relatives, a person you know socially are examples of people to whom you write a semi-formal letter. Do not write the full name of the person you are writing to in a semi-formal letter, rather use their last name while addressing and always add Mr/Mrs etc. before their last name. You should write your full name at the end of a semi-formal letter.

Opening – Dear Mr/Mrs etc. (last name of the person).
Example:
Dear Mr Smith,
Dear Mrs Watson,

It is also correct to use a semicolon (;) or colon (:) after you write “Mr Smith”, for example,
Dear Mr Smith;
Dear Mrs Watson:

However, we prefer using comma (,) and we also recommend you to do so.

Closing-
Yours sincerely,

Your full name

or

Sincerely yours,

Your full name

Note: Do not write “Yours faithfully”, “Yours forever” or “with love” when you write a semi-formal letter.

For Formal letters:
You write a formal letter to someone you do not personally know, may not have met in person before and whose name you do not know. Do not write the first, last or full name of the person you are writing to in a formal letter, rather use “Dear Sir or Madam” while addressing this person. You should write your full name at the end of a formal letter.

Opening – Dear Sir or Madam, (Even if you know that the person is a male or a female, do not write “Dear Sir” or “Dear Madam” unless you are instructed to do so in your question instruction). Also, notice the Capital “S” & Capital “M” in “Dear Sir or Madam,”.

It is also correct to use a semicolon (;) or colon (:) after you write “Dear Sir or Madam”, for example,
Dear Sir or Madam;
Dear Sir or Madam:

However, we prefer using comma (,) and we also recommend you to do so.

Closing-
Yours faithfully,

Your full name

Note: Do not write “Yours sincerely”, “Yours truly” or “regards” when you write a formal letter.

3. Identify the main purpose of the letter:

There is always a reason you write a letter to someone and identifying this reason is important to write a high-quality letter that conveys the message accurately and effectively. Read the question and ask yourself “Why am I writing this letter?”. Do I need to invite someone to a party, do I need to apologise to my neighbours for a late night loud noise or do I simply invite a friend to spend the holiday with me? Based on your reason, you should develop your letter.

Note: Some IELTS teachers prefer that you clearly and concisely mention why you are writing the letter at the beginning of the letter, or at the end of the first paragraph in case of an informal letter. Some of the examples of such expressions are given below. Please read those samples and understand how the purposes are expressed.

1. Dear Mr Patrick,
I am your next door neighbour, and writing to invite you and your wife to a party we are holding next week…

2. Dear Mrs Alicia,
I am Emma Gordon, a member of the fitness club you regularly visit at the Cranberry Hill. I am writing to bring your attention to a recent incident …

3. Dear Rahul,
Hope you are doing excellent. I still can’t forget the incredible days we spent last summer in Bali, Indonesia and I hope we can make such a trip again this year. However, I am writing today to let you know that I will come to your city next month for a professional training session and would like to stay at your house for a couple of days.

4. Dear Natalia,
I am so excited to hear that you have thrown a graduation party next week. I would very much love to attend it, but unfortunately, I will be visiting my grandparents with my family during the weekends. I wish you an excellent party and hope to meet you soon.

5. Dear Sir or Madam,
I am a loyal customer of your superstore and had been to your FlowerHill store recently. On 12th March 2019, I purchased a blender machine from your store but unfortunately, it stopped working just after a week’s use. I contacted your service centre a couple of days ago, and they refused to provide any servicing despite the valid warranty for the product. I am hoping you would explain why I was denied the servicing and take the necessary actions so that it does not happen in the future.

Sometimes the situation is quite different than you can expect (like the local authority has decided to enhance the local airport near which you live in and you want to write to the newspaper to protest the decision) and in such a situation you need to put yourself in someone else’s shoes who actually need to write the letter.

Also, determine what is the main purpose of your letter – apologising, complaining, inviting someone, thanking someone, protesting a decision or simply informing someone something.

Always use appropriate and polite expressions that will support what you need to say. For instance, if your intention is to apologise, your expression should clearly and politely do so.

Following is a chart to help you identify the purpose of a letter:

Letter TypePurpose of the Letter
Informal– Thanking a friend.
– Inviting someone you know well.
– Apologizing to a friend.
– Asking for advice from a friend.
– Seeking advice from someone you know well.
– Replying to a letter written by a friend.
– Informing a friend about something.
– Replying to an invitation.
(from a friend or someone you know well)
Semi-formal– Complaining to a landlord.
– Inviting a neighbour.
– Asking a professor for permission.
– Asking permission from a landlord.
– Apologising to a neighbour.
– Asking for a reference from a professor.
Formal– Applying for a job.
– Resigning from a job.
– Requesting information from a company.
– Complaining to a bank, store or an airline.
– Complaining to the manager of a restaurant.
– Complaining about a product/service.
– Making a recommendation/suggestion.
– A letter to the editor of a newspaper.
– A letter to the HR manager of a company.
– Letter to the hotel manager.

4. Open a formal/semi-formal letter with a formal expression:

Always open a formal and semi-formal letter with a formal sentence or expression. Don’t try to be friendly here, as you do not know the person you are writing to. Moreover, even if you know the person you are writing to (for instance your manager in your office), you should never start a formal/semi-formal letter with personal greetings, friendly guesture. Get right down to business and indicate the reason you are writing.

Thus you are not advised to start a formal or semi-formal letter with the following expressions.

  1. Hello, how are you?
  2. Dear Sir or Madam,
    Hope this letter finds you in good health and fine spirit.
  3. Dear Sir or Madam,
    Hope your mom is doing fine who had been admitted to the hospital last week.
  4. Dear Sir or Madam,
    I am one of your avid supporters and had met you at your home last year.

Rather use the following styles while writing a semi-formal or formal letter:

  1. Dear Sir or Madam,
    I am writing to inquire about ….
  2. Dear Sir / Madam,
    I am writing in connection with…
  3. Dear Mr Alfred,
    I am writing to inform you … / I am writing in connection with…
  4. Dear Mrs Petricia,
    I am your next door neighbour and writing to invite you to a house party next Friday night at our house.

5. Open an informal letter with personal greetings and friendly gesture:

When we write to a friend, we do not get straight down to business and indicate our purpose only. It would be strange, impolite and rude to do so. Rather we want to show that we care for our friends and their family and thus we always acknowledge our friendship first, before getting down to our main purpose of writing the letter.

Sometimes, personal or informal letters could have a whole first paragraph full of friendly small talks, personal greetings and emotions which are completely unrelated to the reason we are writing the letter. It is up to you which style you want to adopt.

Following are two examples of these two different styles of a personal/informal letter’s beginning paragraph:

1. Dear Olivia,

I hope you are doing great. We had such an amazing time last summer and I still cherish those days. We sure had a fabulous time together after so many years and I wish to have such a vacation sometime soon.

Anyway, the reason I’m writing is that I have some good news that I would like to share with you…

2. Dear Grace,

It was a pleasant surprise to receive your letter after so many months. We might not be in touch as frequently as we expect, but I absolutely cherish our friendship and always will remember our days in school together. However, I am writing to let you know that I have recently…

6. Write at least 150 words:

The question instruction clearly says that you should write at least 150 words. So if you write fewer than 150 words, you will be penalised for doing so.

Practise letter writing for your IELTS test till you know what “150 words” feels like and looks like. You should download the “IELTS GT Writing Task 1 Answer Sheet“, the type of answer sheet you will be using in your original paper-based IELTS test, to get to know how many lines do you really need to write to exceed the 150-words requirement.

Many IELTS students often ask us whether they will lose marks if they write more than 150 words. To answer that question – no, you will not lose marks if you write more than 150 words. However, writing more would require more time and you do not have the luxury to spend more than 20 minutes to finish your letter. Our advice is that you should target to write between 160 to 180 words.

7. Do not spend more than 20 minutes:

You have 60 minutes to complete your writing test – task 1 and task 2. Writing task 2 requires you to write an essay which is more than 250 words and carries more weights than your letter answer. Therefore it is recommended that you have at least 40 minutes for your essay writing which leaves you roughly 20 minutes for you to complete your letter answer.

Always stay on topic and focus on the three given bullet points. To complete your letter within 20 minutes practice writing letters where you stick to the point and do not elaborate a point too much. Sometimes you need to introduce hypothetical situations or make a story to complete your letter, but don’t make your story so complicated and too lengthy that you run out of time.

Note: Do not panic if you take 21-25 minutes to complete your letter. If you did so, which by all means you should have avoided, your only way to cover the lost minutes is to write faster for the remaining test without compromising the quality of the writing.

8. Answer to all three bullet points:

Almost all IELTS letter topics come with three bullet points. Each of these bulleted points indicates what you need to write about in your letter. To achieve a high band score, you should never miss any of these bulleted points. In fact, if you exclude even one of the points given to you in the question prompt, you will lose valuable marks.

Here is an example of an IELTS Letter that comes with three bullet points:

You recently bought a piece of equipment for your kitchen but it did not work. You phoned the shop but no action was taken.

Write a letter to the shop manager. In your letter:

    • describe the problem with the equipment
    • explain what happened when you phoned the shop
    • say what you would like the manager to do

Write at least 150 words.

The bullet points actually indicate what your letter should comprise while the actual letter topic (for example, “You recently bought a piece of equipment for your kitchen but it did not work. You phoned the shop but no action was taken.”) only indicates the scenario. Therefore it is imperative that you follow the instruction to satisfyingly answer all the three bulleted points in order to get a band score 8 or higher.

Practice writing letters that include the three points and go back and check that you have included them in each practice exercise you do. You can read some letter samples that are band 8 level to get ideas on how to develop the answer while satisfyingly answering all three bulleted points.

9. Never write a full address:

The question prompt says that “You do NOT need to write any addresses” which means you should not write an identifiable address in your letter.

However, there are situations when you need to mention an address for the sake of the topic and in such a situation give a hypothetical and partial address. For instance, if the letter is about renting out a room in your apartment or inviting someone to your house, you can use an address like 25/A Book Street, Section – B.

Same goes for the email address, phone and fax number. You can always invent them and using an email address like johndoe@gmail.com is quite acceptable. While signing off your letter, you can use either your real name or an imaginative name. Just make sure you do not spend any time thinking about such an imaginative name.

10. Learn the correct spelling of commonly used words:

Spelling mistakes and inaccurate grammar will cost you dearly. It is surprising how many IELTS candidates misspell common and easy words such as “generally”, “sincerely”, “faithfully”, “environment”, “in connection with” etc on their IELTS test. The number of candidates who incorrectly write some ‘commonly used letter writing expressions’ is also surprisingly high.

You can prevent yourself from making such mistakes and losing marks as a consequence by learning the correct spelling of these words and correct use of these expressions which you are highly likely to use in your letter answer.

Following are some words and expression you should learn by heart:

Till or until (not ‘untill’).
High but Height (not ‘hight’)
Great but grateful (not ‘greatful’)

Some expressions that you should never(!) use incorrectly:

I am writing to inquire about…
I am writing in connection with…
I am writing to express my dissatisfaction with…
Please accept my sincere apologies for…
I am writing to inform you that/about…

I look forward to hearing from you soon.
I look forward to your reply.
Once again, I apologise for any inconvenience.
I would highly appreciate it if you could…
Thank you in advance!

No more today.
Well, let me finish here. I am eagerly waiting for your reply.

11. Use correct paragraphing:

You need to use correct paragraphing in order to get a higher band score. A common rule is to answer three bullet points in three separate paragraphs. However, if you can gracefully mix answers to two bullet points, you can do so as long as the paragraph does not become too big and hard to understand. We would advise not to write answers to all three bullet points in a single paragraph, and not to mention do not write the entire letter in a single paragraph.

An ideal letter should have the following paragraphs:

Salutation +

Introduction/ first Paragraph: Mention why you are writing the letter. Get right down to business and indicate the reason you are writing if it’s a formal or semi-formal letter. In a letter to a friend, always acknowledge your friendship first, before getting down to your main purpose. +

2nd Paragraph: Answer to the first bullet point and/or second bullet point which generally contains details of the problem/ giving more information/ Asking for something in details etc based on the letter topic and requirement). +

3rd Paragraph: Give details of the solution/ actions/ giving extra details in this paragraph. +

Closing sentence +

Signature (i.e. “Warm wishes”, “Yours sincerely”, “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. Follow a style that you feel comfortable with but follow it consistently so that you do not get confused about what to do during a test.

12. Make sure your handwriting is readable:

Your handwriting has to be clear, legible and not hard to follow. Yes, your handwriting still matters in the IELTS Writing Test. Having said that, your handwriting does not have to be excellent or unique but, of course, readable and easy to follow.

Best of luck to all!

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