How to write a formal letter for IELTS General Training Writing Task 1
Writing
How to write a formal letter for IELTS General Training Writing Task 1

Can you put the following examples in order from the most formal (serious and official) to the least formal (relaxed and friendly)? A) I’m interested in doing some voluntary work in your hospital. B) I’m writing to apply for the position of volunteer worker at the hospital. C) I am writing this letter in support of my application to join the hospital as a volunteer worker. In IELTS General Training Writing Task 1, it’s important that you understand the difference between formal language (Example C above), semi-formal language (Example B above) and informal language (Example A above) because you’ll need to write a letter in one of these styles. I’ve found over many years of teaching that most test takers need more help with writing formal letters, so in this post I’m going to show you features of formal language using an example task and answer from The Official Cambridge Guide to IELTS. IELTS General Training Writing Task 1 The General Training Writing Task 1 below is an example of one that asks you to write a formal letter. You know that the letter has to be formal because it’s to someone you don’t know (a staff member at your local hospital) about something important (your application to work there). (Click to enlarge) It also tells you to start your letter with ‘Dear Sir or Madam,’, which is a signal that you need to write a letter that’s more formal in style! If this wasn’t about IELTS but about a real job application, you’d need to write a formal letter if you didn’t know the person you were writing to, a semi-formal letter if you knew the person you were writing to but perhaps not very well, and possibly an informal email if the person was actually a good friend of yours (or talk to them instead).  IELTS General Training Writing Task 1 example answer If you read the following answer you’ll see that the writer writes a formal letter, making the purpose of the letter clear, explaining why they’d like to do voluntary work at the hospital and what type of work they could do, and saying when they would be available. (Click to enlarge) As you’ll see below, the features that make the letter formal are good examples of the kind of language you could use if you have to write a formal letter. Formal language So, what language features are formal and which should you avoid in a formal letter? Formal language features include: formal openings, e.g. ‘Dear Sir or Madam,’ and closings, e.g. ‘Yours faithfully,’ polite requests, e.g. ‘I would be most grateful if you could…’ past forms of modal verbs, e.g. ‘I would be able to…’ (rather than ‘I will be able to…’) and ‘...responsibilities I might encounter… (rather than ‘...responsibilities I may encounter… ’)  the use of more formal vocabulary, e.g. ‘position’ and ‘role’ (rather than ‘job’), ‘provide’ (rather than ‘give’), ‘encounter’ (rather than ‘meet’) and ‘assist’ (rather than ‘help’)  Language features you should avoid in a formal letter include: contractions, e.g. I’ll be… (instead of ‘I will be…’) direct requests, e.g. ‘Can you look at…?’ ellipsis (writing sentences that can be understood but with words missing), e.g. Hope you find my application suitable (instead of ‘I hope that you find my application suitable) informal vocabulary, e.g. ‘old-timers’ (rather than ‘the elderly’) For more examples of polite phrases, ellipsis and the differences between formal and informal language, check out this page on formal and informal language from Cambridge Dictionary online. Best wishes (or should it be ‘Kind regards’ or ‘Cheers’)! Pete

Pete Jones

3 September, 2020

How to write a formal letter for IELTS General Training Writing Task 1

How to write a formal letter for IELTS General Training Writing Task 1

Can you put the following examples in order from the most formal (serious and official) to the least formal (relaxed and friendly)?

A) I’m interested in doing some voluntary work in your hospital.

B) I’m writing to apply for the position of volunteer worker at the hospital.

C) I am writing this letter in support of my application to join the hospital as a volunteer worker.

In IELTS General Training Writing Task 1, it’s important that you understand the difference between formal language (Example C above), semi-formal language (Example B above) and informal language (Example A above) because you’ll need to write a letter in one of these styles.

I’ve found over many years of teaching that most test takers need more help with writing formal letters, so in this post I’m going to show you features of formal language using an example task and answer from The Official Cambridge Guide to IELTS.

IELTS General Training Writing Task 1

The General Training Writing Task 1 below is an example of one that asks you to write a formal letter.

You know that the letter has to be formal because it’s to someone you don’t know (a staff member at your local hospital) about something important (your application to work there).

Official Guide Writing Task 1 - Page 299

(Click to enlarge)

It also tells you to start your letter with ‘Dear Sir or Madam,’, which is a signal that you need to write a letter that’s more formal in style!

If this wasn’t about IELTS but about a real job application, you’d need to write a formal letter if you didn’t know the person you were writing to, a semi-formal letter if you knew the person you were writing to but perhaps not very well, and possibly an informal email if the person was actually a good friend of yours (or talk to them instead). 

IELTS General Training Writing Task 1 example answer

If you read the following answer you’ll see that the writer writes a formal letter, making the purpose of the letter clear, explaining why they’d like to do voluntary work at the hospital and what type of work they could do, and saying when they would be available.

Official Guide Writing Task 1 Example Answer Page 395

(Click to enlarge)

As you’ll see below, the features that make the letter formal are good examples of the kind of language you could use if you have to write a formal letter.

Formal language

So, what language features are formal and which should you avoid in a formal letter?

Formal language features include:

  • formal openings, e.g. ‘Dear Sir or Madam,’ and closings, e.g. ‘Yours faithfully,’
  • polite requests, e.g. ‘I would be most grateful if you could…’
  • past forms of modal verbs, e.g. ‘I would be able to…’ (rather than ‘I will be able to…’) and ‘...responsibilities I might encounter… (rather than ‘...responsibilities I may encounter… ’) 
  • the use of more formal vocabulary, e.g. ‘position’ and ‘role’ (rather than ‘job’), ‘provide’ (rather than ‘give’), ‘encounter’ (rather than ‘meet’) and ‘assist’ (rather than ‘help’) 

Language features you should avoid in a formal letter include:

  • contractions, e.g. I’ll be… (instead of ‘I will be…’)
  • direct requests, e.g. ‘Can you look at…?’
  • ellipsis (writing sentences that can be understood but with words missing), e.g. Hope you find my application suitable (instead of ‘I hope that you find my application suitable)
  • informal vocabulary, e.g. ‘old-timers’ (rather than ‘the elderly’)

For more examples of polite phrases, ellipsis and the differences between formal and informal language, check out this page on formal and informal language from Cambridge Dictionary online.

Best wishes (or should it be ‘Kind regards’ or ‘Cheers’)!

Pete

Official Cambridge Guide to IELTS - Recommended by Pete

Pete Jones

Pete has been helping IELTS test takers and teachers for many years and really enjoys helping people improve their English and their IELTS band score.

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