If you take IELTS General Training (GT), then you will need to write a letter for task 1 of the writing exam. This requires quite different skills than essay writing, so in today’s lesson I will tell you some important IELTS writing tips that will help you get a better IELTS writing score.
1. Decide on the right tone… and stick to it!
Perhaps the most important thing I can tell you about writing a letter for IELTS is that you must choose the correct tone and then be consistent with that throughout the letter.
If you are wondering what I mean, then you should know that there are essentially two different tones that you can use in English:
However, there is arguably a third tone that falls in between the other two:
In any case, when you read the letter prompt, you must decide what the appropriate tone is. If you are asked to write to a friend or family member, you will use informal language. If you are asked to write to a manager, businessperson, or most strangers, then you will use informal language. A co-worker or distant relative might require a semi-formal tone.
It is really important to know this and do it correctly, but equally important is the fact that you stick to this throughout the letter. If you start by saying something informal like, “Hi Bob, How’ve you been lately? It’s been ages since met up!” then you must not switch to formal writing later: “I eagerly await your reply. Sincerely, John Smith.”
A failure to pick the right tone or to mix different tones together would result in a big drop in your IELTS writing score.
2. Use conventional essay formatting and structure
You probably know that IELTS essays require a formal structure comprised of an introduction and conclusion alongside several body paragraphs, but what about a letter?
It is important to have a good structure to your letter, although this can be more fluid than that which you use for your essays. Instead of grouping ideas strictly and having topic sentences and supporting sentences, you can group your ideas more loosely and link them according to a conversational flow.
You should use paragraphs to separate your ideas, but these can be much shorter than essay paragraphs. Having one paragraph that outlines the purpose (“I’m writing to inform you that…”) is a great idea, and you can also end the essay with a call to action or a general pleasantry (“Looking forward to hearing from you…”).
However, you must stick to the basics of letter writing conventions. That means you should have a greeting and a sign off:
- Dear Mr. Robertson,
- Hello Fred,
- Yours sincerely,
- Best wishes,
As you can see, I have listed two formal and two informal greetings and sign offs. You should tailor these to the tone of the essay. Also, note that each is followed by a comma. This is another important convention.
3. Don’t write too much… or too little
For the IELTS writing test, whether you do the general or academic exam, you must adhere to the word counts stated and you should adhere to the time limits suggested.
For task 1, you will be told to write at least 150 words and that you should spend about 20 minutes on it. For task 2, you will be told to write at least 250 words and that you should spend about 40 minutes on it.
There are various strategies that different tutors recommend, but the important thing to note is that you should not write fewer than the stated number of words and it is not wise to write much more.
The first one is pretty obvious. As you are explicitly told to write more than 150 words, your letter must not have fewer words or else you will be deducted points. However, why shouldn’t you write more than that?
Well, there are various reasons. First of all, if you tried to write a 300 word letter, you would soon find that it takes much longer than 20 minutes. This would mean that you did not have enough time to do the next part of the exam, which would cause your score to drop.
In addition to that, you would find that you fall into this basic axiom of writing:
- MORE WORDS = MORE MISTAKES
It is true for everyone. If you wrote 150 words with 5 mistakes, you would statistically be likely to make 10 mistakes in 300 words.
Worse than that is the fact that you should devote time at the end of your exam to checking your letter for mistakes. If you do not have enough time, you will not be able to find and remove those errors, contributing to an overall reduction in your score.
4. Be creative… but also realistic!
One of the strange things about IELTS writing task 1 for the general test is that you need to use your imagination. This is the complete opposite of what you do in academic IELTS.
An IELTS letter prompt will give you a situation. Perhaps you are writing a friend to ask for a favour. Maybe you are writing your boss to request a holiday. Sometimes you need to write the editor of a newspaper to make a public announcement.
In all of these scenarios, you will be given a situation and some guidelines to follow. However, the important thing is that you still need to do a lot of creative thinking. This can actually be very difficult for some people. It is not a familiar task for lots of you.
Your letter must take into consideration all of the facts from the prompt but there is a lot you must imagine. If you are asked to write a restaurant owner to complain, you must think of all those details yourself – what was wrong with the food, for example?
Importantly, you should not get too carried away with these creative impulses. Try to keep it realistic or else it will not be believable for the examiner. Anything too wild and strange will sound bad and you will not get a high score. Thus, you must use your imagination to think of realistic scenarios that fit perfectly with the given prompt.
IELTS writing is a notoriously difficult exam and the different parts of it require totally different skills. When it comes to writing letters, it might even be strange for people because many of you have never written a letter before! Still, it is not impossible. You just have to follow the instructions, use good English, and follow the above four tips. Do all of that, and you will find that it’s not difficult to get a high band score.