In task 1 of the writing exam for IELTS General Training, you will be given the task of writing a letter to someone. What you need to write depends on the task that is set for you, so you should pay close attention to the exam paper. Today we are going to examine this part of the IELTS exam and look at two different questions and sample answers to see how we could write a perfect letter.

What to Do: The Basics

For IELTS General Writing Task 1, you have 20 minutes to write 150 words. This is just the same as for IELTS Academic. The value of this part of the exam is half of Task 2, so don’t spend too much time on it. Many students prefer to write Task 2 first, and then do Task 1 quickly at the end.

Here is a genuine practice exam paper from the British Council.

At this part of the exam, you need to write a letter to someone. It will need to be written in an informal, semi-formal, or formal style. To decide which style to use, you should read the question carefully and think about the context.

Formal or Informal Language?

Knowing which tone to use (informal or formal) requires analyzing the question carefully. In most cases, it is pretty simple to choose. Consider the following as a basic guide:

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A general rule of tone is to use formal language for people who are in positions of authority, or to whom you are writing in a very serious capacity. If it is related to business or law, you would certainly use formal language. Informal is typically reserved for people you are very close to, like immediate friends and family. Semi-formal might be people who work with and know well, but not close enough to consider good friends.

It should be pretty clear from the questions which of the above styles to use. If you really don’t know, it is best to err on the side of caution, and write more formally.

When it comes to actually writing these different styles, students often get confused. What makes a letter formal or informal? And perhaps more confusingly, what is semi-formal?

Here is a very brief set of examples:

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One more thing to consider about the tone of a letter is the actual language you would use in the body of the letter. Generally speaking, for informal letters (to friends, family) you can use slang and contractions (I have=I’ve), but for semi-formal and formal letters it is best to avoid these entirely.

What to Say

What you should actually write in the body of the letter entirely depends upon the requirements of the task. The question will be very specific, and you should make sure to answer everything. Do not leave anything unanswered.

Read the question carefully and make some notes about what you want to write. At the end, read your letter and make sure that you answered each of the points. This is very, very important.

Remember: It is difficult to improve your vocabulary and grammar, but it is easy to answer the question! This will help balance out your marks, potentially giving you a higher band score.

Let’s look at two example questions and figure out what we need to write.

Example #1

Your local council is considering closing a sports and leisure center that it runs, in order to save money.

Write a letter to the local council. In your letter

– give details of how you and your friends or family use the center.

– explain why the sports and leisure center is important for the local community.

– describe the possible effects on local people if the center closes.

Example #2

You are leaving the country and moving back to your home country.

Write a letter to your friend regarding an item of furniture that you would like to give away. In your letter:

– say what it is that you want to give away.

– explain why you want to give away this furniture.

– tell them how to collect the item.

Which of the two examples should be written in a formal style? Of course, Example #1. You must write that very formally, whereas Example #2 should be written informally because it is to a friend.

In terms of details (ie what you should write), you simply follow the instructions in each question. These are very straightforward, and you should have no problem achieving the 150 word count. You can add extra information if necessary, but you don’t have to.

As for paragraphs, it is up to you. Generally, writing two or three short body paragraphs is sufficient. A letter requires less stringent paragraphing than an essay. You could write one short paragraph for each point in the question, or join two of them together if they are closely related.

Generating Ideas for your Letter

One problem that IELTS students often face is having to quickly come up with an idea for their letter (or essay, in Task 2). This is actually a big challenge, and even IELTS teachers like me can find it hard to think of an idea quickly!

I wrote an article about generating ideas for IELTS a few months ago that might be helpful.

The key here is to be realistic but imaginative. You need to quickly think of some ideas about the task, keeping in mind all the required points, but make sure that they are plausible. Don’t get too crazy with your imagination.

Remember also that whatever you think of needs to be something that you can write about easily. It is often a good idea to think of something that you already know. If the question relates to work, for example, you should write about a job that you are familiar with. If it is about a sport, write about a sport that you know well. The reason for this is that you will be able to draw upon a much wider vocabulary.

Sample Answers

Below, I will include two sample answers for the above questions (Example #1 and #2). I have written these carefully to match the tone and requirements of the questions. You should read these and consider them as useful guides to write your own IELTS letters.

Pay attention to how I have used tone (such as the greeting or sign-off, as well as contractions). Note how personal the second one is compared to the first.

Example #1

Dear Sir or Madam,

I recently read in the local newspaper the distressing news that you are considering closing our local sports center. While I understand the importance of maintaining the council’s budget, I really must disagree with this closure.

The sports center is very important to the community as it provides a place for people to get fit and to make friends. In these days of fast food and desk jobs, it is more important than ever that we have a place to get some exercise. Young people use it to build important skills, and people of all ages meet their friends there to do sports together. Robbing us of this would be an incredibly poor decision.

My friends and I use the sports center every week to play tennis. It is our only option, and I do hope that you don’t take it away from us. There are so many people like us, and removing this sports center would cause great damage to our lives and our community.

Yours sincerely,

David Wills

Example #2

Hi Sam,

I’m moving out of my house in two weeks and I remember last year you said that you really liked my old oak dining table. If you want, you can have it at no cost. My new place doesn’t really have much space for that sort of thing, and anyway I don’t often have big meals with lots of people. So let me know if you’d like it.

If you do want it, obviously we’ll have to figure out the details of getting it from my house to yours. It’s not going to be easy! I suppose you’ll need to hire a big van or maybe get a moving company to come and sort it all out for you. As I said, I move in two weeks, so there is a time limit on this. The new people move in just after I move out, so it’s best to get it sorted before then.

Give me a call and we can arrange the pick-up.

Cheers,

David

Conclusion

Remember to read the question carefully, answer all parts, and pick an appropriate tone for your letter. Try to think of ideas quickly and leave yourself time at the end of the exam to check your answers.