In the IELTS writing test, you may be asked to produce a letter of advice. This will require you to give advice to someone – typically a friend or family member. In this article, I will explain everything you need to know and give some sample letters.
What is a Letter of Advice?
As the name suggests, a letter of advice is a letter written to someone with the purpose of giving them advice about something. This may be a problem they face or a dilemma. You might have to help them make a difficult choice, such as whether to get a job or go on to further education.
The prompt may or may not say “give advice.” Sometimes it is strong implied or just stated through other words. It might say that the other person has “asked for advice” or it might tell you to “give them advice.” It totally depends on the situation.
How to Write a Letter of Advice
When writing a letter of advice, you need to consider the tone of the essay. In other words, is it formal or informal? To be honest, for IELTS this sort of letter is going to be informal in 90% of situations. However, sometimes you might want to be a little cautious and go with semi-formal, particularly if the advice is on a serious matter.
You will also need to think about structure. There is no single formula for a letter structure but generally you should consider the following:
- An appropriate greeting.
- A short paragraph stating the purpose of the letter and why you are writing.
- Logical body paragraphs that address the bullet points.
- An appropriate sign-off.
You can read all about this in my book, A Complete Guide to IELTS Letters.
Next, we need to pick the right language for this situation.
Language for Giving Advice
When it comes to giving people advice, the most obvious phrase to use is “you should…” This is perfectly fine to use in IELTS, but we shouldn’t over-use it. You might also find that certain situations call for slightly more delicate language. In other words, you might not want to be too direct and so you soften your language when giving advice.
Here is an example:
- I think you should speak to your boss and tell him you are unhappy with your current duties.
This is perfectly fine, but we might soften it slightly by saying:
- Why don’t you speak to your boss and tell him you are unhappy with your current duties?
By making this a question, it is a little less forceful.
You can also use the word “could” to soften it even further:
- You could speak to your boss and tell him you are unhappy with your current duties.
This could be made even more delicate with “perhaps”:
- Perhaps you could speak to your boss and tell him you are unhappy with your current duties.
In very casual situations, you might use a question with “how about”:
- How about speaking with your boss and telling him you are unhappy with your current duties?
All of these are acceptable and there are only slight differences between them. Your choice will depend on the situation and your intended meaning.
Here are two example letters that answer prompts requiring advice.
You recently received a letter from a friend asking for advice about whether to go to college or to try to get a job. You think they should get a job.
Write a letter to this friend. In your letter
- say they would not enjoy going to college
- explain why getting a job is a good idea for them
- suggest types of jobs that would be suitable for them
Thanks for your recent letter. I’m glad to hear that you are doing well, and I think that it’s great that you have so many options for your future. You’re really lucky to have such a choice to make, but let me tell you why I think you should get a job rather than go to college.
Nowadays, everyone seems to be going to college. It’s become such a common thing that degrees and diplomas are actually being devalued and it’s the people who go out into the world and get a job that are succeeding. Aside from that, I know that you really hated school and could never seem to sit still long enough to get much value from a class. I just don’t see you really getting much out of college and so maybe you’d function better in a regular job.
You were great in all of our practical classes like woodwork, so why don’t you look into getting an apprenticeship as a carpenter or something like that? These people are making a lot of money nowadays and so it’s a useful skill to have. By the time everyone graduates from college and are fighting over the same jobs, you’ll be an experienced professional earning a great salary.
Think about it and let me know. I’ll support you whatever you choose to do.
This letter is written to a friend, so it is possible to use an informal tone, but because it is dealing with a serious matter it is probably better to use a semi-formal tone. Here, I have used some elements of informal language but overall there is a lot of neutral language. It is discursive and informative, giving advice in a careful way. Being too informal here might be inappropriate because it could potentially offend the recipient to hear that they are not right for higher education.
The main piece of advice is presented here, with a question:
- why don’t you look into getting an apprenticeship as a carpenter or something like that?
The show of support at the end is quite important after giving advice and would mean a lot as a kind gesture between friends.
A friend has written to you asking for advice about a problem at work. You have had a similar problem in the past.
Write a letter to your friend. In your letter
- tell your friend you understand the problem
- explain what happened to you in the past
- suggest possible solutions to the problem
I was sorry to hear that you aren’t getting along in your new job. I understand what you’re going through. Back when I started at my job, I experienced the same thing. Let me tell you a little about it.
When I first started working at the hotel, I really struggled to get along with my co-workers. They all seemed to gather in little cliques and it was hard to communicate with them because they didn’t seem interested in talking to me. I wouldn’t have minded, but it was affecting my work and, as the new guy, I was afraid I’d get fired.
In the end, I made sure that my work ethic was impeccable and so no one could complain about me. Then, I made greater efforts to reach out to my co-workers. I asked them questions to make them feel appreciated and spent some time with one or two of them outside of work to build a social connection.
Perhaps these things can help you, too. I really hope so.
Let me know how it goes.
This letter is addressed to a friend and so it should be written in a somewhat informal tone. It is about work, so perhaps semi-formal would also be acceptable, but you can see that I have chosen to use mostly informal language here. I have structured my letter casually but logically to fit the requirements of the task, giving a story about my own experiences. I have avoided the obvious language of “You should…” because it is a little direct. That is fine, but in this case I have given my advice more subtly by explaining my story and then saying “Perhaps these things can help you, too.”