Students often ask us how to write different kinds of letters so we thought we would help by doing a series of posts that guide you through how to write different types of letters that may come up in the General Training Writing module. First let’s have a look at letters offering advice.
Step 1 – Analyze the question
Here is an IELTS General Training Writing Task 1 question:
An English friend wants to visit your country or region for a short holiday and has written asking you for advice and information. Write a letter to your friend. In your letter:
- Offer to help your friend find somewhere to stay
- Give advice about what your friend should do in your country or region
- Give information about what clothes your friend needs to bring
Begin your letter as follows: ‘Dear……,’
Before you write anything you need to break the question down and plan your response. In the test this should take you around 5 minutes. The more time you spend planning the better you will write. Look at the questions below and answer them yourself before you click to open our answers.
Questions about the Prompt
1. What is the topic of the letter you must write?
Helping a friend plan a holiday.
2. What is the function of the letter you must write?
To offer advice and suggestions about the holiday.
3. How many different things must you include?
An offer about accommodation, advice about activities, and suggestions on what to bring, must all be included in the letter. Each bullet point from the prompt should form a paragraph of your response.
Step 2 – Think of details
If you were going to write this letter, what details would you have to invent?
Think about the questions below before you open our answers.
1. Who would you write the letter to?
The prompt tells you to start ‘Dear……,’. You must think of the name of your English friend.
2. What places to stay would you offer?
Staying with you, staying at a hotel or staying in a dorm at a youth hostel to save money are all possibilities you could suggest. Of course there are many others as well.
3. What fun or interesting activities in your country or local area could you suggest?
This depends very much on where you live. It’s probably a good idea to offer a range of activities as you are more likely to use an interesting range of vocabulary if you do so. You could suggest cultural, adventure, culinary or social activities to name but a few.
4. How many activities should you suggest?
3 should be enough. Not too many or you won’t spend enough time on other parts of your letter.
5. What do you need to think about in connection to advice about what clothes to bring?
Suggestions about clothes need to take into account the different seasons and the activities you have suggested. Don’t suggest for your friend to go out nightclubbing and then suggest she brings only her hiking boots. Making connections between the paragraphs will improve the coherence of your letter.
Step three – Think about the tone
Getting tone right is about using appropriate language for the situation. For example, we often use more formal language when discussing work in a business meeting, and less formal language when relaxing with friends. Answer the questions below, then check your answers with ours.
1. How formal should this letter be? What clues are there in the prompt?
This letter should be informal because the prompt asks you to write to a friend.
2. How will you start and finish your letter?
Now we know the letter is informal, how will this affect the salutation and sign off?
The salutation should be ‘Dear + first name’. For example, ‘Dear Sally,’. Don’t use Mr. or Mrs. with a family name as this is much too formal.
To end the letter, you could use one of these informal sign off expressions – regards, my warmest regards, take care
3. Should you use contractions?
The letter is informal so contractions such as shouldn’t or won’t are acceptable. Contractions may be used in informal writing but not in formal writing.
If you feel confident with it, you may use some colloquial or slang vocabulary in your letter. If you don’t use colloquialisms, you will not lose marks so only use it if you are sure you can use it correctly.
An example colloquialism is ‘How are things?’ rather than ‘How are you?’
Step 4 – write your letter
You have taken up to 5 minutes to analyze the prompt and plan your letter. Now you should take roughly 10 minutes to write your letter. You have your ideas planned out so it should be relatively easy and quick to do this now.
Step 5 – Check for Mistakes
You have taken up to 5 minutes for planning and around 10 minutes for writing so you should have roughly 5 minutes left to check and edit your work. Check spelling, grammar and punctuation. I find that subject-verb agreement and verb tense errors are common issues which can easily be fixed if you take time to edit your work.
Let’s practice our letter writing language with some interactive activities.
Practice Activity 1
Below is a response to the question we have been thinking about. Write a word from the box or click on the word in the box and then click again on the gap to complete the letter.
Practice Activity 2
Read the letter again and answer the following questions. Click on the question when you are finished to see the answer.
1. What language does the writer use to make offers?
Offering: I think it would be great if you… / if you prefer, I can…
2. What language does the writer use to give advice?
Giving advice: If I were you, I’d… / one place you really should visit is… / you ought to go… / You need to…
3. What language does the writer use to give information and reasons for it?
Information with reasons: …bring a range of clothes since you will experience tropical heat at sea level but more temperate conditions in the mountains / make sure you bring some loose trousers in order to keep the mosquitoes off you…
Practice Activity 3
Now try and write a letter for the following prompt.
An English-speaking friend is coming to study in your town next year and has written asking for information and advice. Write a letter to your friend. In your letter:
- Offer a place to live for him/her.
- Give advice about how to find a part-time job.
- Give information on where they can learn your language
Begin your letter as follows: ‘Dear…’
You should write at least 150 words.