IELTS General Training: How to Write a Formal Letter

If you are attending for General Training exam, you will need to write a letter for the writing task 1. This letter can be a formal letter, or an informal letter. In this page we are going to show you how you can write a great formal letter for General Training Writing Task 1 exam. (If you want to know the tips and strategies of informal letter writing, click how to write an informal letter.)

Conditions to be a formal letter

After getting the question paper at your hand, at first take a look whether it's asking you to 

Condition 1: write a letter to someone who is neither your friend nor your close family member.

 

Condition 2: You are asked to write the letter about any of the following issue:

  • complaining

  • informing/sharing

  • applying

  • resigning

  • proposing/suggesting etc.

If at least one of these conditions exists, you need to write a formal letter.

Look, here two things are important to decide whether you are asked to write a formal letter, or you are required to write an informal letter. The two things are:

  1. What you are writing

  2. Who you are writing to

Remember our 6 step simple structure of your letter writing. Regardless it is formal or informal, always follow this structure. Your job will be much easier. 

Letter Writing Structure

  1. Dear...........

  2. Paragraph 1: Purpose of this letter

  3. Paragraph 2: Write on the first bullet point

  4. Paragraph 3: Write on the second bullet point

  5. Paragraph 4: Write on the third bullet point

  6. Sign off language.

Please, Plan First, Then Write

It will not take much time to make a plan before you start writing. Some people have the perception that it will cost their valuable time.  I guarantee you, it will never be your waste of time, rather it will pay off. Definitely your planned letter will be smarter and more organized than the non-planned ones.

 

We suggest you spend 20 minutes for the letter writing. You need to write 160-170 words in this time. Look, if you write 11 words per minute, you can write 165 words in 15 minutes. And some words are very small such as, a, an, the, am, is, are, many other auxiliary verbs, and modal verbs etc. 

 

Once you have the plan in your head, your writing will be smooth and confident. Therefore, 15 minutes will be more than enough for you to write the letter. 

 

Hope you are quite convinced now that you can easily spend 5 minutes in planning, and write the letter for the remaining 15 minutes.

How to Plan for a Formal Letter

Example question:

"You cannot attend the meeting with your boss at work today.

Write a letter for him/her. In your letter:

  • describe why you can't attend

  • tell him/her how sorry you are because of your absence

  • give your words that this will not happen again"

If you take a close look at the example question above, you can easily see that there are 3 stages in each question: 

  1. The Topic of Your Letter

  2. The Person/Authority You are Writing to

  3. The Bullet Points 

 

Now we are discussing a structure that we suggest you use in all types of formal letters in IELTS Genenral Training exam.

 

Let's start with the question analysis:

The Topic Area

"You cannot attend the meeting with your boss at work today.

Write a letter for him/her." 

This is your topic area, where cannot attend and meeting are the keywords. 

The Person/Authority You are Writing to

You are writing to your boss at work. So, boss is the word that you are looking for.

Therefore, you've already identified whether you need to write a formal letter, or an informal letter. And you know, if you are asked to write a letter to anyone except your friend or a close family member, you will need to write a formal letter. Remember this important trick. 

Some students get confused about colleagues or close neighbors. Look, you can be frank with a colleague or a neighbor in real life, but that does not necessarily mean that person is your friend. In real life, there can be many levels of closeness or interaction, you may have different perception or languages for different levels of interaction. But when you writing in IELTS exam, you need to forget all those. Just remember:

  • Either a formal letter that needs formal language

                           or

  • an informal letter that requires some informal expressions

And if you are asked to write a letter

to friends/close family members:  Write an informal letter

to any other person: Write a formal letter

The Bullet Points

Remember, all the bullet points must be answered. That means you have to include everything in your letter that you are asked there in the bullet points. Usually there are three bullet points. Use individual paragraph for each bullet point. 

The bullet points in our example question on this page:

  • Describe why you can't attend

  • Tell him/her how sorry you are because of your absence

  • Give your words that this will not happen again

Idea Generation

Think simple. Make up, if needed: Don't think too much in this section. Just make up something from your life, or completely from nowhere. It's okay to lie here. Because, it's a language test, not a knowledge test. The examiner is never going to verify your story or information that you are writing.

Stay relevant: Relevance is very important. You can always make up, but make sure it answers the question. Otherwise, the examiner you get the impression that you have not understood the question. In fact, understanding the question is also a part of your language skill.

Let's construct the letter step by step

The Topic Area

"You cannot attend the meeting with your boss at work today.

Write a letter for him/her." 

The Person/Authority You are Writing to

Dear sir/madam (if you do not know the name)

Dear surname (if you know the name)

The Bullet Points (You Must Include in Your Writing) 

  • Describe why you can't attend

  • Tell him/her how sorry you are because of your absence

  • Give your words that this will not happen again

Now, let's place the writing materials in our simple 6 step structure:

Dear Harper,

Paragraph 1: Stating the purpose (unable to attend the meeting with boss, in this case)

Paragraph 2: Say why you cannot attend

Paragraph 3: Tell him/her how sorry you are because of your absence

Paragraph 4: Give your words that this will not happen again

Sign off expression

A Complete Response for a Formal Letter

"Dear Harper,

Thank you for inviting me to the meeting with you on 18th July. Regrettably, I am not able to attend.

Unexpectedly, I have received an emergency call from overseas where my close friend lives. His cousin has just informed me that my friend had a deadly accident. Since then he has been in ICU, recently it has gone more critical. Therefore I'm flying today to visit my friend, and hopefully, I will be back on 23rd July, which is after the scheduled date of our meeting.

I feel very sorry because of my absence in the meeting. It has been always my great honor and privilege to have an official meeting with you. Because, every time I get the chance to talk to you, I always learn something amazing from your priceless experience throughout your impressive professional journey.

However, from now onward, I will stay more aware so that this type of unexpected absence cannot impact on my official schedule. Definitely, in future, I will manage this type of situation in more efficient and professional manner.

Yours faithfully,

Russel Arnold"

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