Today, I want to show you two IELTS letter prompts that I recently encountered. I want to show you why they are difficult, then explain how you can answer them effectively. I will give you my own sample band 9 answer for each one.
This prompt seems quite simple on the surface, but it contains some complexities:
You have just read an article in a national newspaper which claims that town centres in your country all look very similar to each other. You don’t fully agree with this opinion.
Write a letter to the editor of the newspaper. In your letter
– say which points in the article you agree with
– explain ways in which your town centre is different from most other town centres
– offer to give a guided tour of your town to the writer of the article
So why is this difficult?
First of all, it is hard because you are essentially responding to two people, which is quite unusual in IELTS writing. You must address your letter to the editor, but you are also required to offer a guided tour to the writer of the article. This requires some careful planning.
Beyond that, there is honestly quite a lot to deal with here. You need to think about how to refer back to the original article in a realistic and grammatical way, then give quite a few details and corrections. It is also important that it says “You don’t fully agree with this opinion,” showing that it is not 100% disagreement. Altogether, this is a real challenge!
Here is what I would write:
Sample Band 9 Answer
Dear Sir or Madam,
I recently read the article, “Uninspiring Town Centres” in the December 10th edition of your newspaper and I would like to offer my thoughts on this prickly issue.
First of all, I concede that there is some truth to the claim. In the past, town centres were dominated by chain shops that varied little from one place to the next, and now sadly the economic downturn has meant that town centres are often blighted by boarded-up windows and empty shopfronts. In this respect, they did and still do look rather similar.
However, it is not true of all town centres and I disagree that St. Andrews, where I live, is like the others. As you will surely be aware, most of our towns are ancient and built to unique specifications and, whilst modernity has brought some conformity, there is an architectural difference from one town to the next. My hometown has buildings and walls almost a thousand years old that could not be mistaken for any other town, with a cathedral and castle that are known across the country for their iconic appearances.
If your writer wishes to visit and reflect upon their trite assumption that all our towns look alike, I would be more than happy to show them around and change their opinion.
Notes on the Answer
I have begun with relevant and important details, including the name and date of the article, formatted correctly. I have then summarised the article by saying what I agreed with, which is hard to do without just saying things that the editor would already know. I have then devoted the longest paragraph to my disagreements as this is the main purpose of the letter. I explained clearly why the article was incorrect. Finally, I incorporated the hardest part in my last paragraph, saying “If your writer wishes to visit…” This directs the question to the editor but extends the offer to the writer.
In terms of vocabulary, I have tried as always to use topic-specific language:
- prickly issue
- I concede that
- the economic downturn
- blighted by boarded-up windows
- iconic appearances
- trite assumption
This all refers to the issue of town centres and mistaken assumptions on the part of a newspaper writer.
Next, we have a letter that again seems quite clear, but which people often misunderstand:
A magazine wants to include contributions from its readers for an article called “The book that influenced me most.”
Write a letter to the editor of the magazine about the book that influenced you most. In the letter
– describe what this book was about
– explain how this book influenced you
– say whether this book would be likely to influence other people
Why is this so difficult?
The problem here is primarily that you are writing to a magazine about an article but it has not yet been published! Most people read the question prompt and quickly jump to the assumption that they are responding to an already-published article, which is a big mistake. This is just one more reason why you need to very carefully read before you plan or write your letter.
Here is how I would respond:
Sample Band 9 Answer
Dear Sir or Madam,
I am writing in response to a call for submissions on the subject of books that have influenced us. I would like to mention Jack Kerouac’s classic road novel, On the Road, which shaped my life like no other.
In case you have not read it, On the Road is the tale of one man’s adventures crossing the United States in the late 1940s. It is a frenetic and exciting journey, but also fraught with troubles. It tends to excite in young people a passion for travel, and I was no different. As a young man, I read this book and immediately wanted to take off for my own voyages in my own country, and since then I have been constantly in love with life on the road.
For more than a half-century, this novel has shaped the lives of countless people in dozens of countries and I suspect it will continue to do so for decades to come. It has inspired poets and authors and musicians with its notions of freedom and enthusiasm, and I think that those readers of yours that are not yet familiar should seek it out and give it a chance.
Notes on the Answer
The easy part here is answering the three bullet points, which I have done clearly. I combined the first two into one paragraph and the third has its own paragraph. The hard part was conveying all of this to the editor in a believable way. To do that, I started “I am writing in response to a call for submissions on the subject of books that have influenced us.” This is because it is clear from the question prompt that there was some sort of note in the magazine asking for this letter.
To convey the importance of this book, I used the following language:
- books that have influenced us
- shaped my life like no other
- has inspired poets and authors and musicians
I also made sure that my language for describing the book was specific to this actual book. As it is a road novel, I picked words and phrases related to that rather than using generic terms. Remember that accuracy is important and so is using topic-specific language.
Note that my language here is also appropriately formal. If you want to get a good score for your IELTS letter, you absolutely must know how to use formal and informal language.
You can learn more about answering IELTS letters in my 2021 book, How to Write the Perfect Letter for IELTS.