IELTS general training writing task 1…formal letter vs informal letter…structural differences
In this video/post I want to look at the letter task for the IELTS general training. I haven’t written anything about task 1 at all really, whether for academic or general training, so I want to rectify that in my next few videos/posts.
Now there are two kinds of letter, formal and informal, I know some websites say that there is also something called a “semi-formal” letter but I would argue that no such item exists, if you can find one and tell me what it means, then I would like to hear from you. In any case, even if such an item existed, I would ignore it for the sake of clarity. As I have mentioned in earlier videos about whether to agree or disagree (for the essay task) I always tell students to do one or the other, never to partially agree or disagree. Why make things more complicated for yourself? In the same vein, forget semi-formal, we are just going to look at the differences between formal and informal and I will show you a structure you can use along with a couple of examples of both.
Now this task is one of the easiest, if not the easiest, of the IELTS writing tasks for the simple reason it tells you exactly what to write. Unlike the essays and report tasks where you have to do some thinking for yourself, here, the task gives you three prompts which you just have to follow.
So first, how do you know when a letter is formal or informal? You should really know this, but I will spell it out for you here. There are several clues, first, the task instructions, second, the person you are asked to write to. So if it is a complaint, a resignation, a request for assistance, then these are pretty much always formal, and if you do not have the name of the person to write to then it is formal.
So, the task instructions…if we take the example below
Dear Sir…? Well, does that sound like you are writing to a friend? No, so that’s the first clue, this letter is formal.
The next bit, to reinforce this idea, you are asked to write to the airline…so you would probably be addressing it to the customer service dept (formal), or to general inquiries (formal), so not a friend so not informal.
Let’s consider some more examples and see whether they are formal or not…
As you are writing to a bank manager to complain, this would definitely be a formal letter.
As you are making an inquiry about a possible purchase and you have no idea of the name of the person to write to, this would be something like “Dear Sir or Madam”, or “To whom it may concern”, and therefore formal.
This would be an apology for a failure to attend, and as it is to a college admin tutor, formal.
So let’s consider a structure we might use for such a letter, as you will see this is pretty straightforward and is one of the reasons why task 1 is only a third of your total writing score, as they basically tell you what to write in a letter task. The essay of course is a different matter which is why most of my previous posts/videos are all about that.
Dear Sir/Madam -To whom it may concern
Paragraph 1- reason for writing.
Paragraph 2- point 1 and supporting details
Paragraph 3- point 2 and supporting details
Paragraph 4- point 3 and supporting details
Now to see this in a couple of examples…
We will use the apology letter to the admin tutor above for this purpose. As you see we have three things to accomplish, explain the situation, apologise and offer to reschedule, and inquire about the format of the interview.
Dear Sir or Madam
I am writing to inform you of my inability to attend the scheduled interview for college admission on the 21st of this month. The reason I cannot attend at the scheduled time is that I have a long standing hospital appointment which I am unable to break.
I would like to apologise for any possible inconvenience this may cause you as this was not my intention, I was wondering if I could request another interview at a later time on the 21st or another day, if convenient to you.
I should also like to inquire as to how long the interview will last as I may have to leave after a certain time, and also could you tell me if there will be any kind of exam or test during this process so that I might prepare for it?
My apologies again for this inconvenience and I hope to hear from you soon.
Kevin A Dean
Ok, let’s have another….the missing chequebook from the bank manager should do nicely.
I am writing in regard to the matter of the chequebook I ordered from your branch two weeks ago and which has yet to arrive.
As you will see from your records, I made an order for a replacement chequebook on the 21st of last month, some two weeks ago, at the time I was assured by one of your staff in the Oxford branch that this would in fact only take three to five working days to arrive. However, here we are over two weeks later and I still do not have my chequebook.
I would like to inquire how long you anticipate this item will take to arrive as I am a business man who makes extensive use of my chequebook and not having one is therefore very inconvenient for my everyday dealings.
Could you please inform me what action you intend to take regarding this matter as I wish to see it resolved as soon as possible.
Kevin A Dean
I hope you can see the structure in these two examples, as you will no doubt have seen from your study and practice, the letter task is the same every time so you can use this three point structure every time also. Having such a structure means (as you may have seen in my other posts/vids) that you don’t need to think too much about how to write, only what to write, and we don’t need any particularly great ideas here, just use your imagination and make sure that you address the three points as required.
When you make your plan before writing (as you always should regardless of task 1 or 2) all you need to do is to think of the points in the instructions and how you can support them, no fancy ideas needed.
A quick word as to grammar, in formal English we would tend to
avoid contractions (can’t, won’t, etc)
avoid slang or colloquial expressions
use of passive if possible
use of more complicated styles of expressions (see examples above for this)
Next, how to write an informal letter…