1. Letter writing section

Each letter has a main purpose or reason for writing the letter and these can be divided into a number of categories.

  • Thanking someone
  • Complaining about someone or something
  • Apologizing about something
  • Inviting someone to something
  • Leaving something – a job, a club, your country
  • Applying for something – a job
  • Recommending someone or something
  • Requesting help (asking for information)

There can be overlapping question types. For example, you night be leaving for a holiday and ask your friend to stay at your house to look after it. This is ‘leaving’ and ‘requesting’. So, read the instructions carefully.

The Tone of a Letter

The Tone of a Letter
Setting the tone of a letter is an essential part of writing a good letter. There are varying levels of formality and informality but for the purposes of the letters you need to write in the IELTS exam we can work with two – formal and informal.

Formal Letter

The formal letters will be writing to someone you don’t know or someone you don’t know very well. This could be to a store to complain about a product that you bought – to a company to apply for a job – to a fitness club to tell them that you want to stop your membership and so on.

Informal Letter

The informal letters will be writing to someone that you know well and are on first name terms with. This could be to invite them to a house warming party – to ask them for information about a university that they attended – to thank them for a lovely weekend spent together and so on.

Setting the Tone

Setting the Tone

The tone of the letter is set by:

  • The way you begin the letter
  • The way you end the letter
  • The type of vocabulary used

Beginning/Ending a Letter

Beginning/Ending a Letter
Formal Letters

If you do not use the name of the person you are writing to you can use:

Dear Sir / Yours faithfully,

Dear Madam / Yours faithfully,

Dear Sir or Madam / Yours faithfully,


If you do know the name of the person you are writing to but use their family name rather than their first name you can


Dear Mr. Smith / Yours sincerely,

Dear Mrs. Smith / Yours sincerely,

Dear Ms. Smith / Yours sincerely,


Don’t forget to add the comma after faithfully and sincerely.

It is also possible to use – Best regards – Best wishes – when you use a family name to start the letter. These

expressions are becoming more informal but would be seen as too formal for writing to good friends.

Informal Letters

If you know the person well and write to them using their first name you can use:

Dear John / See you soon,

Dear Mary / Take care,

Dear Susan / Love,

Dear Anne / Best wishes (this is becoming more formal)

With these endings remember that you must only use your first name to end the letter. Using your family name is too

formal when writing to a friend.

Opening and Closing statements

Opening and Closing statements

Formal letters

For more formal letters it is a good idea to start your letter with an opening statement that explains why you are writing.

This is much better than just starting with the first bullet point.

One simple but effective way of doing this is to write, for example:

  •  I am writing to you in connection with my membership at your health club.
  • I am writing to you regarding your complaint about the noise coming from my house last weekend.
  • Further to my letter of the 15th August, I am writing to you again to complain about my apartment.

Informal letters

  • I hope you and your family are well.
  • I’ve finally found time to write you.
  • I hope all is well and you are enjoying life.



While the way you begin the letter: sets the tone,

– Dear Mr. Smith

– Hi John

You need to continue this tone in the main paragraphs. You do this by the vocabulary and the phrases that you choose.

While some words and phrases are more neutral and can be used in both formal and informal letters others are clearly

one or the other.

Formal Letters

Never use contractions like – I’m, they’ve and so on.

Informal Letters

Contractions can and should be used as this shows the examiner that you know they can be used in informal letters.

Expressions like the ones listed here can also be used:

More FormalMore Informal
I rarely go there nowI only go there once in a blue moon
I really appreciate your helpThanks for your help
Come to my house on FridayCall in sometime for a chat
I really had a lovely time last SaturdayIt was great to see you
Last week I saw my ex-boyfriend Last week I ran into my ex

Main Purpose of the Letter

Main Purpose of the Letter

The main purpose of the letter is stated in the first sentence of the information given to you. This gives you the direction

as well as the tone of the letter.

If you see the word ‘manager’, ‘boss’, ‘bank’, and so on then the letter is going to be formal.

If you see the word ‘friend’, ’classmate’, ‘flat mate’ and so on then the letter is going to be informal.

When you write your letter it is important not to copy long phrases from the information given to you. The examiner will

not count these words and so this might mean that some students fail to reach the minimum of 150 words.


It is OK, however, to use the key words, or most important words, as these provide the focus for the letter and can help

you to develop the bullet points that follow.
Three Bullet Points
Each letter comes with three bullet points that MUST be answered in your letter.

For reasons of Cohesion and Coherence (one of the criteria used to judge your writing) it is a very good idea to use a

separate paragraph for each bullet point.

So, three bullet points means three paragraphs. Each of these should be developed to a similar length with each

paragraph being about 40 – 50 words.

To be able to develop each bullet point you have to do more than just answer the instructions.

For example

Your neighbor has recently written to you to complain about the noise from your flat.

Write a letter to your neighbor. In your letter

  • explain the reasons for the noise
  • apologise
  • describe what action you will take

If you simple write:

I recently bought a puppy and he makes a lot of noise.

I am so sorry to have upset you.

I will take my puppy to a dog school to be trained.

This is not enough to get a good grade. Each bullet point must be developed by inventing, or making up a story with

realistic information that allows you to write more.


Task material – Task 1 (Downloads)