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IELTS General Writing Task 1 — Tips and Strategies

IELTS General Writing Task 1 — Tips and Strategies

1. Identify the type of letter you are being asked to write.

For Task 1 in IELTS Test, you have to write a letter. You need to decide which style you will opt for in reliance to the type of question asked

  • Formal
  • Semi-formal
  • Informal

Step 2 will help you recognize each type of letter.

2. Identify the purpose of the letter.

Letters can be based on different content which will affect the style of the letter.
Below is a list of some of the common contents for letters. Although there are hints about whether the letters are usually formal or not, please note that you will know the style by reading the instructions given to you.

Formal Asked to write to someone you don’t know
Requesting information from a company
Applying for a job
Complaining to a bank, store, airline, product/service
Making a recommendation/suggestion/arrangement
Semi-formal Complaining to a landlord
Explaining to a neighbour
Asking a professor for permission
Informal Inviting someone you know well
Thanking a friend
Asking for advice

Read lots of sample questions. Decide whether the question requires a formal, semi-formal, or informal response. Steps 1 & 2 will help you choose the right language, style, and tone for your letter.


3. Open and close the letter correctly.

Do this based on the type and purpose of the letter.

Formal To someone you have not met, whose name you don’t know Dear Sir/Madam, Yours faithfully,
Semi-formal To someone you may or may not have met, whose last name you know Dear Mr Brown,
Dear Ms Stone
Yours sincerely,
Informal To someone you know well, whose first name you know and use Dear John,
Dear Anita,
Best regards,
Warm wishes,

4. Start the letter appropriately.

a. Open a formal and semi-formal letter with a formal sentence and paragraph. Get down to business and say why you are writing. Don’t try to be friendly, as you do not know the person you are writing to.

Dear Sir/Madam,
I am writing to inquire about…
I am writing in connection with…

Dear Mr Johnson,
I am writing to inform you that…
I am writing to…

b. Open an informal letter with a general, friendly paragraph. Acknowledge your friendship first, before explaining the reason for your letter. In fact, the first paragraph could include just friendly small talk, unrelated to the reason for your writing.

Dear Susan
I hope you and your family are all well! It was so wonderful to spend time with all of you last month. It felt great to catch up with you and Bob, get to know your children, and have fun together after so long. You have always been dear friends of mine, and always will be.

Anyway, the reason I’m writing is that I have some good news: I am getting married in September…

5. Grammar: Formal vs Informal

Formal and informal (friendly) letters contain different language and style of writing. While informal letters can contain contractions (I’m writing …), these contractions are unacceptable in formal writing so you need to write the words in full (I am writing …. …).
In a formal letter, you could write “I am writing with regards to ….”. whereas for a semi-formal letter you can write “I’m writing about…” or “I’m writing to say..” or “I just want to let you know that..”. So, it is important to adapt your writing to suit the style of the letter. Also, remember to use a range of different sentence structures in order to get a high score.

Do’s & Don’ts of writing Informal and Formal Letters in IELTS General Writing

Informal Formal
Use Colloquial Words/Expressions No Colloquial Words/Expressions
Use Contractions No Contractions
Use Abbreviations No Abbreviations
Write in reference to first/second/third person Write in reference to third person
Use Clichés No Clichés
Use Imperative Voice Avoid use of Imperative Voice
Use Active Voice Use Passive Voice
Short and Simple Sentences Long and Complex Sentences
Use Exclamation Point Avoid using Exclamation Point

Let’s understand these points with an appropriate example.

6. Vocabulary: Formal vs Informal

For vocabulary, be very careful using academic language in a personal letter. This would be inappropriate and will reduce your band score rather than increase it.

Here are some more words that you can take into consideration while writing letters.

Informal Formal
Help Assistance
Buy Purchase
Need Require
Get Obtain
Also/Plus Moreover
Whole Entire
Enough Sufficient
Lots of/A lot of Many/Much
Heaps of A number of
Totally Completely
Really Definitely
Adhere to Enter on
Ascribe to Pertain to
Cast down Provide against
Carry out Point out
Brought about Complain of

Here are some more examples of the difference between formal and informal language:

  • You will be collected at the airport = I’ll pick you up at the airport
  • The next available appointment is on Thursday = how about we meet up on Thursday?
  • I would like to invite you to visit my house on…. = Why don’t you pop round to my place on …..
  • I highly recommend that you come in August = it’d be great if you came in August
  • Please respond at the earliest convenience = Get back to me as soon as you can
  • Unfortunately, I will not be able to attend on … = Sorry, but I won’t be able to make it on ….

7. Divide your letter into paragraphs.

Usually, you need four paragraphs:

  • Introduction
  • Problem / Situation
  • Solution / Action
  • Conclusion

Include all three bulleted points. If you exclude even one of the points given to you in the question prompt, you will get a lower grade. Answer all the points.

In your letter:

  • explain the problem
  • describe why it disturbs you
  • suggest a solution

Make sure to signal the start of a new paragraph in one of two ways:

Indenting: Do NOT leave a line space between paragraphs. Start writing a little to the right of the left margin.
Skipping a line: Leave a line space between paragraphs. Start writing directly from the left margin.

8. Follow the limits.

  • Write at least 150 words. Practice writing letters till you know what 150 words feels like and looks like. You will lose marks if you write less. You will not lose marks if you write more.
  • Finish in time. The IELTS General Task I letter is worth about 30% of your writing score, so make sure you complete the whole letter. Though you have to make up a story to explain the situation, keep it simple so you don’t run out of time. Make sure to keep 40 minutes to complete the essay in Task 2, which is worth much more in terms of points.
  • Understand the scoring criteria. Learn how to get a high score by knowing what examiners look for and how they award or deduct points. Read more about IELTS Writing Scores

Next Steps

I hope you found this post useful and if you are doing General Training, you should also check out our articles

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