The IELTS general writing task 1 involves writing a letter. One of the most challenging parts is finding phrases to use that sound just like a native speaker. In this article, a native speaker gives you IELTS letter writing tips for writing letters which would be marked as a band 9.
Writing an IELTS letter writing is not difficult, it just requires learning the right language and knowing how to write with the proper degree of politeness.
In this set of 35 IELTS general writing task 1 tips, we’ll show you how to organise letters and how to use phrases in the way that native speakers do. You’ll see that the way the letter is constructed and the structure of the phrases can be applied to an IELTS letter on any subject. After this, we’ll look in detail at how to write letters to say thank you, make apologies, make alternative arrangements and complain about something. For each type of letter, there is a sample band 9 IELTS letter. And you may spot a bonus IELTS thank you letter at the end!
Structuring an IELTS General Task 1 Letter
You can use a simple structure for an IELTS letter on any subject. We’ll talk about some variations when we look at the different types of letter, but the basic structure is always the same.
IELTS Letter Tip #1 Begin with a greeting.
In English, the greeting begins with the word Dear and is followed by the name of the person you’re writing to. If you know them well you may use their full name; if not, it is conventional to use their title.
For example, if writing to your doctor you would write Dear Dr Smith.
If writing to a friend, you would write Dear Mary or Dear John.
IELTS Letter Tip #2 After the greeting you write one or more introductory sentences that explain why you are writing.
The introduction helps the reader to understand what the letter is about. If you were to go right into detail about, for example, a complaint it would make it more difficult to understand.
How to Begin an IELTS letter with an Introductory Sentence
It’s usual to write something personal or complimentary in the introductory sentences if you know the person you’re writing to – although in a letter of complaint it may not be appropriate. If your letter is one of a series, the introduction is where you would acknowledge a prior communication. For example:
It was great to see you on Tuesday. I’m writing to thank you for your invitation….
Dear Mr Smith
I acknowledge receipt of your complaint of October 24th. I’m writing to apologise…
Tip #3 If you do not know who you are writing to…
For example, if you are writing to the manager of a shop without knowing their name, you would write Dear Sir or Madam
IELTS Letter Tip #4 One of the most important tips for IELTS letters is that the place to give the detail is in the main body of the letter. This is usually two or three paragraphs that explain more about the topic.
If your letter concerns a problem that needs to be resolved or something that should change, you would give a full description in this section.
Tip #5 Paragraphing
In a typical IELTS letter question, you are given three or four points that you need to make – one really useful IELTS letter writing tip is to put each one into a new paragraph. This not only makes it easier for the reader to follow what you’re saying but it shows the examiner you can know how to write paragraphs. You can see how we’ve used this structure in this section.
Tips 6 and 7: A Two-Part Ending
To finish an IELTS letter, you write a concluding sentence followed by signing off with your name. You might thank the recipient for their attention, or invite a reply. Before you sign-off with your name, you would write Yours Faithfully or Yours Sincerely. You use Yours Sincerely if you have written to someone by name; if not, you would write Yours Faithfully. If you know the person well, you might end ‘with love’ or ‘with all best wishes’ to emphasise the closeness of your relationship.
Dear Mr Smith
Thank you for taking the time to consider my problem
Dear Sir or Madam
Thank you for taking the time to consider my problem
Tip 8: Should I use formal or informal language? How do I know the difference?
These really helpful IELTS letter writing tips will help you sound more like a native speaker.
Letters are more formal than spoken language or emails or texts. While you may begin an email or text with ‘Hey’ or ‘Hi’, this would be considered impolite in a letter.
Another of our tips for IELTS letters is to be careful with informal language. It is an indication of how well you know someone, and can be seen as polite when you are writing to a friend, or impolite when you don’t know the recipient or you are writing a letter of apology.
Students often ask, how do I know whether something is formal or informal?
Tip #8. The word get/got is always informal. Use become or receive instead.
Tip #9: Phrasal verbs are informal spoken language. You can use them to impress the examiner in an informal letter by writing as though a native speaker is talking to their friend. By using their non-phrasal synonyms you can automatically sound more formal.
Tip #10. These more formal synonyms usually have prefixes, suffixes or multiple syllables.
For example, get is a one-syllable easy-to-say word and informal. Its synonym receive is a two-syllable word with a prefix, re-. Therefore, receive is naturally going to sound more formal.
Tip #11 By learning functional language and reusable phrases for particular letter types, you can maximise your band score in IELTS general letter writing task 1
For each example letter below, we will show you some alternative language functions and reusable phrases. A language function is an English structure that has a particular purpose. For example, in the letter about making alternative arrangements we use the language function:
The reason I cannot ……[X]…. is because … [Y]………
[X] is where you would write what you cannot do
[Y] explains why
So, if you cannot visit a friend because you have a doctor’s appointment, you would write
The reason I can’t come to see you on Tuesday is because I need to go to the doctor.
Written language functions are generally more complex than spoken ones in formal letters.
Here are some examples of informal language functions which allow you to explain what you believe in spoken English.
1. I strongly believe that …
2. I honestly believe that …
3. I very much think that…
Here are some further structures that allow you to explain why you believe something
4. Basically, the reason why … is because / is that …
5. I think that ……….. is true because in my experience………….
Memorizing some of the functional phrases and language functions will help you to do well on the speaking test day but we have included some more complex ones to help you construct your letters. They can be learnt and reused in lots of letters.
Now that we’ve looked at some of the general rules about letter writing and some good IELTS letter writing tips, let’s apply them to some specific types of letter that you may encounter in your IELTS general writing task 1. We’ll begin with a Thank You letter.
Tips on How to Write a Thank you Letter for IELTS general letter writing task 1
If a thank you letter is to a close friend it may be informal. The style of an informal thank you letter is friendly, warm and polite. Tip #12 You can imagine it as a conversation.
We will look at an example of an informal thank you letter. The task is to write a letter to a friend to thank them for having hosted a holiday for you, and you will see that the style of the letter is almost conversational. It is written as if you were talking to your friend, and in addition to thanking them you would like to tell them some of your news and extend an invitation to them
Confused about formal and informal letter writing in IELTS? Book a trial lesson with me and get your letter checked by a native speaker who can really advise you on whether you are getting the tone of your letter right. Book a trial lesson now and them email me your letter to email@example.com.
Tip #13 If it was a more formal letter, for example to the manager of a hotel where you had a particularly good holiday, the style would be less conversational. In a more formal thank you letter you may use phrases such as:
It was so kind of you
I am most grateful
We would like to express our gratitude
The structure of the letter is as we discussed earlier in the article. The letter comprises:
An introductory sentence
The main body of the letter
The Introductory sentence in your thank you letter says what the letter is about.
Within the main body, the opening sentence expands on what the letter is about. IN our letter we have begun with
First and foremost, thank you ever so much for hosting me for the last four months.
Some other ways to say this are:
I am writing to say thank you for having hosted me on my holiday.
Thank you ever so much for your hospitality and for hosting me on my four-month-long holiday.
Thank you for opening up your home to me and hosting me on my holiday.
Tip #14 By using the phrase ‘first and foremost’ we let the reader know that there is more than one point. It’s a good way of getting someone’s attention, it reads as if they are being talked to. And you will see that each point is in a new paragraph.
Tip #15 and 16. Look at the sign-off of the letter below. The concluding sentence in this informal letter invites a response, and the sign-off shows your friend how close you feel to them.
Write no less than 150 words.
First and foremost, thank you ever so much for hosting me for the last four months. It was one of the most memorable holidays I have ever had. Thank you, also, for allowing me to stay longer when I could not get home due to the Coronavirus lockdown. I cannot imagine what I would have done without your support.
I have some good news. My house move is going ahead as planned. Our firm has reopened our office and I will have to pack everything in the evenings after work. Despite the fact this is going to be exceedingly difficult, I am still feeling like the luckiest person alive. I am so over the moon that it was not sold to anyone else while I was out of the country.
Would you like to come to England in August 2021? I will have a lovely big spare room in my new home which would be perfect for your stay. On top of that, the weather in England is gorgeous at that time of year so we can have some lovely trips out to some of the local beaches.
Looking forward in anticipation of a yes, covid-19 permitting, of course.
Tips on How to Write a Letter of Apology for IELTS
IELTS Letter Writing Tip #17. For writing an IELTS apology letter.
One of the biggest IELTS letter writing tips is: we should use super-polite language to gently bring the reader into the central message of the apology. The formality of polite language shows that you are treating the reader with respect and they are more likely to accept your apology.
Our band 9 example of an apology letter below is about the noise from your house or flat.
What Introductory Sentence Should I Use in My IELTS Apology Letter?
The Introductory sentence in our example of a formal letter acknowledges receipt of an earlier letter – by this I mean that it says: ‘hey! I got your letter and I’m writing in reply’, but in other more carefully chosen, respectful, words.
The word ‘acknowledgement’ is a very long one. Actually, because it is long, it is super-polite whereas hey, and got are very short ones and therefore very informal – in an apology letter informality would be seen as impolite.
Remember the tips for IELTS letters about reusable language? We said that formal language is more complex, but there are structures you can learn for particular letters. The main language function used in this opening sentence is…
I am writing in acknowledgement of your letter complaining about……
Here are two other ways to say the same thing:
I am writing in acknowledgement of your letter dated 1st September 2020 in which you state that…
I am writing in acknowledgement of your recent letter and would like to offer an apology.
In the main body of the IELTS letter, we tell them the reason for the noise:
The reason for the noise is that…
This example uses the word ‘reason’ as functional language to explain why something happened. Here is some more functional language appropriate for offering an explanation to your reader.
- The reason why … is because / is that …
- The main reason why … is because / is that …
- One reason why … is because / is that …
- One possible explanation (for that) is …
- To understand why ….., you first need to ….. (understand, know, be aware that)
Compare the length of the words below
- Well, it’s like this: …. [you would use a phrase like this in a more informal letter. It wouldn’t be appropriate in a letter of apology.]
Tip #18. As you can see in the spoken phrase above, all the words are one syllable long. There is also a contraction. It is has become it’s. Remember never to use contractions in formal writing. And, this means do not use them in your essay either. Essays are formal academic writing. On the other hand, do use contractions as much as you can in the speaking test. Using them when you are speaking will improve your pronunciation band score.
- You could look at it this way: … [ again, this is considered very informal]
Take a look again. These informal phrases, examples 6 and 7, contain very short words whereas the politer ones, examples 1 to 5, have at least one longer word.
How to apologise in IELTS letters
Always follow our IELTS letter writing tips about language functions to make your IELTS letter read like a native speaker’s.
Tip #19 The main language function used in our example letter for apologising is:
I wish to offer my sincere apologies for….[X]…..and reassure you that …..[Y]…..
X = the disturbance
Y = we are trying our best to manage our son’s crying
I wish to offer my sincere apologies for …..[V]…… and reassure you that we are …..[doing W]….. so that it does not continue
V = the noise
W = sending our son to his grandmother’s house for a while
Tip #20 How to Make an Apology Right in English
Here is another of the most important IELTS letter writing tips: to make the apology right, you need to describe some action you will take to make the other person feel better.
Tip #21 Again, a language function has been used that is easily learned and repeatable in other letters:
Please rest assured that [Z]
Z= the noise will no longer continue.
In an IELTS letter apologizing that you haven’t been coming to class, the following model or something similar would work:
Please rest assured that my attendance will improve once my daughter’s health improves.
Here is an example of a sentence used in a letter saying sorry for breaking something in an Airbnb rental place:
Please rest assured that I will replace the damaged item.
This sample IELTS apology letter is a band 9 written by a native speaker.
Band 9 Task 1 General IELTS Writing
Your neighbours have recently written to you to complain about the noise from your house or flat.
Write a letter to your neighbours. In your letter
- Explain the reasons for the noise
- Describe what action you will take
I am writing in acknowledgement of your letter complaining about the noise that our child has been making at night during the last few weeks.
The reason for the noise is that our nine-month-old son, who unfortunately has been teething for the past two months, has been in a lot of pain. Not only are his teeth painful, which causes him to cry inconsolably, but, also, he has been experiencing severe fevers.
I wish to offer my sincere apologies for the disturbance and reassure you that as first-time parents, we are trying our best to manage our son’s crying. We can say that we are looking forward to his teeth coming out soon, which will then have him back to his happy normal self again.
We have been giving our son pain medication to assist with his pain and fevers. But due to us not sleeping and having to work, we are finding it extremely difficult to function. As his parents, we have decided to leave our son at my mother’s house until his pain subsides and we can all have a much-needed sleep. Please rest assured that the noise will no longer continue.
Your neighbour Kate
How to Write a Letter making Alternative Arrangements
Below is a band 9 IELTS letter about changing your plans.
Because changing arrangements often means inconvenienced someone else, this type of IELTS letter requires both a kind and polite tone.
Tip #22 Here are some examples of language functions or reusable phrases that are appropriate for this type of letter.
- The reason I cannot make it … is because / is that …
- The main reason why I am unable to attend … is because / is that …
- One reason why I can’t come… is because / is that …
- I am not going to be able to attend this time because…but I would like to take a rain check if possible. (* Taking a rain check is an expression which lets the host or inviter know that we would love to attend but simply cannot and we hope to be invited some other time)
Write a letter to your teacher. In it you should say:
- Thank them
- Tell them you can no longer attend the course.
- State the alternative arrangements you would like to make.
Tip #23 The Introductory sentence in your formal letter is kind in tone. You are asking them to change something for you, so you need to be nice. In this example, you thank your teacher for the assistance and patience shown during the course.
Tip #24 The main language function used in this opening sentence is…
Firstly, I would like to thank you as my teacher for always being so helpful, patient and assisting me during the course thus far.
- I would like to thank you for always ___ing….
- The reason I am writing is to …
- I would like to thank you for ______________ing.
- I appreciate that you took the time to ________________
- I am grateful for your ____________ing… and that you ___________ed.
Tip #25 Why Link the Paragraphs in IELTS General Task 1 Writing?
To maximise your cohesion score in the IELTS marking system.
Tip #26 Let’s look at a phrase that gives a way of linking the paragraphs that you can reuse in any letter:
Despite the above, …
The above refers to everything nice you have said in the first paragraph.
Tip #27 When changing arrangements combine despite the above with…going forward.
… I have had to make a decision about the course going forward.
Going forward contrasts what you have said about the past in the previous paragraph and introduces the idea of a new plan for the future.
By linking the paragraphs, you can get a high cohesion score. Coherence is a significant part of the marks in IELTS general task 1 writing.
Tip #28 A reusable phrase to make an alternative arrangement in an IELTS letter
I understand that A and if possible I would like to B
Some examples might be…
In a letter rearranging a hotel room:
I understand that the hotel has a room with a beach view and if possible I would like to upgrade my stay.
In a letter rearranging a gym membership:
I understand that the gym has an off-peak membership and if possible I would like to switch to this plan.
In a letter changing the selection of some furniture:
I understand that the blue fabric is now available and if possible I would like to change my order.
The whole IELTS letter is below:
Dear Joe Brown,
Firstly, I would like to thank you as my teacher for always being so helpful, patient and assisting me during the course thus far. Attending your course has not only improved my listening skills but inspired me to take further counselling courses with a view to making a career change once I am qualified.
Despite the above, I have had to make a decision about the course going forward. During the day, I work for the Luxury Real Estate Agency. I have recently been asked to deputize for my manager, given a set of office keys and asked to lock up after the end of the day on weekday nights. Although this is only a temporary arrangement, it has made it impossible to attend your Tuesday evening classes for the crucial last four weeks of term before our assessment.
I understand that the course also runs online at the weekends and If possible, I would like to continue my course online; however, as you know, my group of classmates have developed a close bond, and I would very much like to rejoin the face-to-face class on Tuesday evenings next term.
How to Write An IELTS Complaint Letter.
Tip #29 Here is another of our tips for IELTS letters. The important tip for writing a complaint letter is not to be rude! The language should be polite and formal.
In a complaint letter, you want the structures you choose to be much more formal. Formal writing will sound polite. Spoken language, phrasal verbs, contractions… these might sound like you are trying to be rude, to attack the other person, or they may devalue you, making you sound lesser.
Tip #30. It may be better to avoid what you think and believe and simply concentrate on facts.
Tip #31 The letter should clearly explain to the reader not only what the problem is but how you would like the matter to be resolved.
The main structure used for a letter of complaint in IELTS general writing task 1 is:
I wish to complain about [the reason].
This is the problem [the facts].
What should happen to resolve the problem [the resolution].
In the IELTS letter below, I do use one structure to state what I believe:
I suspect that the mechanism is flawed.
Tip #32 Reusable phrases for a complaint letter.
Unfortunately, the PC fan has been noisy from the first time I used it. (A fan moves the air to keep the laptop cool)
Unfortunately, the petrol tank has leaked from the time it was installed. (A petrol tank is where you store the petrol/gasoline in a car. It will leak if there is a hole in it)
Unfortunately, the bicycle light started turning off unexpectedly from the very first time I used it.
The juicer has never worked.
The PC has never worked properly.
The car has been difficult to start since you fitted the new battery.
The car has been noisy since you fitted the new tyres.
The juicer will not switch on.
The PC will not power on.
The juicer keeps jamming
The paper shredder keeps jamming (ever tried shredding 10 pages at once, and the shredder just stops halfway through them, then you have the job of pulling lots of little pieces of paper out of the cutters)
The car keeps stalling (the engine suddenly goes off, usually this is because of poor driving skills)
Sample IELTS letter of complaint written by a native speaker.
IELTS letter writing band 9
You recently bought a piece of equipment for your kitchen but it did not work. You phoned the shop but no action was taken.
Write a letter of no fewer than 150 words to the shop manager. In your letter
- Describe the problem with the equipment
- Explain what happened when you phoned the shop
- Say what you would like the manager to do
- Start Dear Sir / Madam __________________
Remember the guidance above about how to construct the letter. To get to a band 9 standard for IELTS letter writing it needs to include the reason for the complaint, the problem and the resolution (how to make it better).
reason = a faulty juicer
problem = a description of what is wrong
resolution = please can the juicer be replaced?
Tip #33 Introductory sentence for an IELTS complaint letter
As always, following our IELTS letter writing tips, an introductory sentence is necessary. Here are some formal language functions that you could use:
I am writing to notify you that I visited your store a month ago and purchased a juicer.
I am writing to advise you that I visited your store and month ago and I purchased a juicer.
Tip #34. Use the words notify or advise rather than tell. If you wish your complaint to sound polite use more formal words. For instance, tell is an informal word that means advise or notify. As I have said before a simple one-syllable word is more likely to be spoken/informal English. If you apply this rule, I estimate you will be right 95% of the time. The exceptions to the rule are mostly very old fashioned words which you will find in books written before the 20th Century.
Tell them the reason for the complaint
Here is an IELTS writing sample answer that you could use to let the store manager know why you are writing
Tip #35. For our final tip, here are some more reusable phrases for writing an IELTS complaint letter.
The reason for the complaint is that… the juicer keeps jamming, but I am not sure why.
I am writing to complain about … my recent purchase of a juicer which keeps jamming
Because of the problems I have experienced, I would appreciate it if you would kindly replace … with…
And here is the letter….
I am writing to let you know that I visited your store a month ago and, after talking to your salesperson, purchased the latest JXYZ90 juicer which has a new kind of compressor. Unfortunately, it was faulty from the first time I used it.
I carefully followed all the instructions and made sure to remove all the pips and cut the fruit into quarters. Despite this, the juicer keeps jamming.
I have contacted your store but every time I speak to the gentleman who heads the electronic department he cannot assist me. I have also tried to speak to the salesperson who made the sale and persuaded me to try a juicer with the most up-to-date technology, and he too is not able to provide me with any assistance.
I have all the packaging of the juicer and the receipt and would appreciate it if you would kindly replace it with a more traditional model as I suspect the new compression technology used in the JXYZ90 is flawed.
And finally, a letter to you…..
Thank you so much for reading this article.
I hope that these IELTS letter writing tips have been helpful for you. I’m sure that if you follow them as we’ve suggested, and carefully study these band 9 IELTS letters with samples, you’ll do well in your IELTS general writing task 1.
If you’d like to get in touch to ask us any questions about IELTS letter writing, or to book a lesson where you can get individual guidance and tips for IELTS letters, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. I’m always here to help you
With very best wishes
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