In the IELTS general writing test, you might have to write a thank you letter. But how should you do this?

In today’s lesson, I am going to show you everything you need to know about writing an appropriate thank you letter, including vocabulary, structure, and content.

how to write an ielts thank you letter

What is a thank you letter?

Basically, a thank you letter is a letter that you write to someone to express your gratitude for something. The purpose of the letter is to tell that person “thanks” for having done something.

In IELTS, there are different kinds of thank you letter, but please note that the question will probably not say “write a thank you letter.” Instead, it will say something like “write a letter to tell ___ that you were happy with ___.” In other words, it will be specific to a particular situation.

What sort of thank you letters appear in IELTS?

There are many different kinds of thank you letters that appear in the IELTS general writing exam. You could be asked to write a letter to a friend, a colleague, a family member, a business owner, a famous person, or just about anyone else.

Of course, the letters will totally depend upon the circumstances of the situation. You could be asked to thank a teacher for helping you, thank a stranger for returning your lost wallet, thank a business owner for great service, or almost anything else.

Remember that although we often talk about “common IELTS topics,” there is almost an unlimited supply of possible specific questions. You will need to read the task carefully to answer it properly.

Formal vs informal thank you letters

One thing to remember about IELTS is that you are always required to use appropriate language. This is really important. Although English is not as strict as Japanese or Korean in terms of honorific language (that means how you show respect with words), we also have distinct vocabulary and grammar for formal and informal situations.

formal vs informal language for thank you letters

In a formal letter, you would say “Dear ___” at the beginning, and you would likely refer to that person by a title and surname. You would sign off with “Yours sincerely” and your full name. In the letter itself, you would use sophisticated, formal vocabulary and grammar. Try to avoid contractions, strong opinions, and any sort of slang. Never use exclamation marks! 😉

For informal letters, you might say “Hi ___” and use the person’s first name. You would probably sign off with a very casual remark like, “Thanks again” or “Cheers.” You don’t need to finish with your full name. The language you include in the body of the letter could be casual, with contractions and slang.

Remember, too, that there is not always a clear distinction between formal and informal. You might have a semi-formal letter, for example. This would require a more careful use of language. Think about who the letter is to and what it is for. This will help you pick the right words to use.

You can read more about formal and informal language for IELTS letters in this general guide.

Thank you letter template

I do not recommend memorising templates for use in the IELTS writing test because examiners are trained to spot this sort of thing. Although you might still produce a good essay/letter, a template would be a sign that you have not used entirely original words or ideas, and so your score would not be as high as it could.

Still, it is useful to see some templates, so I have put these together. One is a formal letter and one is an informal letter. You can use the ideas and structure from these templates to guide you in writing your own ones.

How to say “thank you” in formal English

When you are speaking with someone, we generally just say “thank you” but we can modify it to show an even greater degree of gratitude: “thank you so much,” etc. In writing, however, we can go a little more formal.

When writing a thank you letter, we can begin with a paragraph that explicitly says “thank you” by making it clear that this is the purpose of the letter. Rather than just saying “thank you,” we can say “I am writing to express my gratitude for___” or “I wanted to show my appreciation for ___.” Either of these is quite good to use.

Here is a sample that you can modify for your own purposes:

I am writing to let you know that I really enjoyed [a meal I had at your restaurant last weekend], and I wanted to show my appreciation for [your hard work and the efforts made by your staff].

IELTS thank you letter sample

Now I am going to show you two sample IELTS thank you letters. The first one is a formal one because it is addressed to the owner of a business.

Formal Thank You Letter

Here is the question:

You and some friends ate a meal at a restaurant to celebrate a special occasion, and you were very pleased with the food and service. Write a letter to the restaurant manager. In your letter

  • give details of your visit to the restaurant
  • explain the reason for the celebration
  • say what was good about the food and the service

And here is my sample letter:

Dear Mr. Thompson,

I am writing to let you know that I really enjoyed a meal I had at your restaurant last weekend, and I wanted to show my appreciation for your hard work and the efforts made by your staff.

It was my wife’s birthday and so we invited a group of six friends to join us for a meal to celebrate. We were given a wonderful table with a garden view and felt that the overall atmosphere was really pleasant. From the music to the decorations, it was an enchanting evening that we will all remember for years to come.

The food, of course, was excellent. We chose the restaurant because we had been once before and really enjoyed the seafood. This time we were even more impressed, particularly by the prawns. We were also really happy with how much attention the waiting staff paid to us.

Thanks again for a wonderful evening.

Yours sincerely,

David Wills

Notes on sample letter

It is important that you read the task carefully so that your answer addresses all parts of it. Here, there are a few things to remember:

  1. it is about you and your friends, so don’t talk about a time when it was just one or two people
  2. a special occasion is requires, so it can’t just be a regular Friday night
  3. this letter is to the manager, so it’s not appropriate to address the waiting staff
  4. you must give details about those bullet points

In my letter, I have given some background details as appropriate. It is fine to say a little more than what is covered in the task, but you should make sure that everything is covered. Don’t forget any of those points.

I started this letter “Dear Mr. Thompson.” This is a man’s title and his surname. Don’t say “Dear Bob” or anything like that. It would be far too informal. Sometimes the questions will tell you to begin “Dear Sir or Madam,” but in this case I feel that you would know the manager’s name when you wrote, so that would be inappropriate.

I have used adjectives to show how I felt about the evening in question. This adds to the whole “thank you” aspect of the letter by flattering the owner for having a nice business:

  • wonderful
  • pleasant
  • enchanting
  • excellent
  • impressed
  • happy

Informal Thank You Letter

Next, here is an informal letter. First, the question:

A friend, who lives in another country, has invited you to come and stay with him/her on your next holiday. You are too busy to accept the invitation. Write a letter to your friend. In your letter:

  • thank him/her for the invitation
  • explain why you cannot come
  • give him/her you other news

Now, my sample letter:

Hi Susan,

Thanks so much for inviting me to your house in France. It sounds like a beautiful place and I’d really love to visit, but unfortunately I’m super busy this summer with an internship and another part-time job. Although I’d like nothing more than to come and hang out for a week in the countryside and drink some of that amazing red wine, there’s really no way that I could get the time off. Also, I need to save up money for next semester.

Well, maybe we can arrange it for next year or some other time. Obviously, you’re totally welcome to come here and stay with me whenever you get the chance. As I mentioned before, I’m pretty busy all through the summer, and I’m heading back to uni after that, but we can definitely arrange something if you are able to get over here. I’d love to see you again.

Cheers,

David

Notes on the letter

In this letter, you can see some aspects of informal language. It begins with “Hi” and the woman’s first name, and signs off with “Cheers” and my first name.

Throughout the letter, my language is very informal. I say things like “thanks so much” and then give my explanation as “I’m super busy.” These expressions would not be acceptable in formal writing.

I’ve also made it personal because this is clearly for a friend. Things like “I’d love to see you again” are appropriate for this sort of letter, but do not use them in letters to strangers or businesspeople that you don’t know well.