You must have heard that letter writing is an art and as such it is necessary to be aware of the norms and etiquettes that are integral parts of the letter writing convention.
IELTS Writing Task 1 in the General Training category is fairly simple. All you need to do is write a structurally accurate letter, with absolutely no spelling or grammar mistake and with relevant vocabulary. There’s a fair amount of technicalities when it comes to letter writing and in this article we are attempting to discuss those.
Types of Essays in IELTS Writing
An essay can broadly be divided into two categories: formal and informal letter. Formal letters are those which need to be written to the headmaster, editors, government officials etc, as an attempt to address a social cause/issue.
Informal letters are those kinds of letters that are written to friends, families and acquaintances for conveying personal messages.
There is also one more kind of letter and it is the Semi-formal letter. Semi-formal is used when you know the name of the person, but it is within a professional or official context.
The first thing you need to be sure of, when you get the paper is, whether the question is actually asking you to write a formal or informal letter and then use format and language accordingly.
One of the keys to a high band score is using the appropriate style, formal, semi-formal or informal. The question will tell you the situation and should indicate if you are writing to a friend, colleague or someone you don’t know.
Practical Letter Writing Tips
Here are some tips that are bound to come handy while you are practicing letter writing:
- Make a Plan
There is absolutely no alternative to good planning. It may look like spending a little extra time, but it will actually save your time as you will know exactly what to write and you will not get lost.
Remember that you will have to state why you are writing and then cover the three points you will be given. Here is a basic structure that will help you plan your letters:
Paragraph 1– Explain why you are writing the letter
Paragraph 2– Given point 1
Paragraph 3– Given point 2
Paragraph 4– Given point 3
Closing remark (e.g. I look forward to hearing from you etc.)
Ending (Yours sincerely, Kind regards, All the best etc.)
This structure should not change and the only thing you will have to think about is using the correct style, fulfilling the aim of the letter and filling in the details.
- Use the Correct Style
Let us look at the different grammar and vocabulary you should use for each style of writing:
- If the person is a friend then you should use an informal style. With people we know well, we don’t need to sound too formal and the letter should have a relaxed tone.
- If you have never met the person before and you don’t know their first or last name, then you should use a formal style. You should definitely use a formal tone for letters of application and when making complaints. Formal styles allow us to sound respectful and professional.
- Situations where you should use a semi-formal style is when, you are writing a letter to a colleague or someone from a different company you know. If you write in a formal style it will sound unfriendly, but informal might sound disrespectful
- Answer the Whole Question
The question will always have three bullet points and you are expected to cover all three of these in your letter. A good thing to do is to separate them into three separate paragraphs and then you know that you have properly answered the question.
Some points may take longer to write about than other, but you should avoid writing 5-6 sentences about one point and then only one sentence about the other two.
- Use Complex Sentences To Boost Your Grammar Scores:
Grammar is one of the four areas you will be assessed on and getting high marks in this area is not just about making sure you don’t make any mistakes, but also using a range of appropriate tenses and complex sentences.
Complex sentences are not really all that complex. A simple sentence contains just one clause and one idea, for example. ‘I’m sorry I couldn’t come to your party.’ and ‘I was sick on the day of you party.’
A complex sentence should be used when you are introducing complex ideas. To help you make complex sentences, think of the ideas you need to include in your letter at the planning stage and then think about how you could combine some of these in complex sentences.
- Use the Correct Tense
The questions will be designed so that you have to use a range of tenses. In other words, the examiner will be testing your ability to write in a variety of tenses. Try to make a plan before you write and mark which tenses you will use in the plan.
- Begin and End Your Letter Correctly.
There are a number of different ways you can start and finish your letter, but here are the ways that are commonest:
Formal and you don’t know the name:
Formal and you do know the name:
Dear [Mr(s). Family Name]
Dear [First Name]
Dear [First Name]
- Go Over the Word Limit
Part of answering the question correctly is writing at least 150 words. The examiner will count every word, so make sure you write more than 150 words or you will lose marks.
You will not have time to count how many words you have, so the best thing to do is practice with the official IELTS exam paper and count how many words you write on that.
- Don’t Be Overly Informal
You might be asked to write to a friend, but that doesn’t mean you should stop using correct grammar and spelling.
Avoid using abbreviations like ‘cus’ instead of ‘because’ or ‘u ‘ instead of ‘you’. You should also never use text message style acronyms like ‘LOL’ or ‘OMG’. Emoticons are also a strict ‘no-no’!
- Ideas Should Be Relevant
You will have to think of some ideas and supporting details but don’t worry, these do not need to be interesting or amazing, they just need to be relevant.
For example if you have to explain why you need to take time off work, don’t try to impress the examiner with a wonderfully dramatic story, just keep it simple e.g. family or health problems.
Letter Writing is all about correct formatting and using relevant language. While practicing you must keep this in your mind that your writing must reflect the skills you have acquired; be it grammatical or stylistic. If you stick to the prescribed pattern and choose your words well, you can expect to score a Band 8.