IELTS General: How to write a formal letter

IELTSfocus writingGuide to writing a formal letter for IELTS general training.

Updated: 19th Oct 2021

There are 3 types of letters in IELTS general, that is formal, semi-formal and informal. If the letter is to a ‘friend’ then it is always informal, even if it is a letter to a friend in a business content. Most letters will be either formal or informal. I have not included any material on semi-formal here. Just a reminder, click here for a lesson about the differences in IELTS academic and IELTS general task 1 writing.

Take a look at the bottom of this post for an example task and a model answer.

Common types of letters in IELTS general writing

  • a letter to a friend (informal)
  • a letter to your boss (formal)
  • a letter to a company (formal)
  • a letter of application (formal)
  • a letter of complaint (formal)
  • a letter to a teacher (could be both styles)
  • a letter of apology (formal)
  • a letter explaining something (could be both styles)
  • a letter of invitation (could be both styles)

What’s the best structure?

In the formal style you will open and sign off with the following:

    • Opening: Dear Sir/Madam, (this is when you do not know their name)
      Sign off: Yours faithfully
    • Opening: Dear Mr Smith, (if you know their name)
      Sign off: Yours sincerely
      Kind Regards (warm and can still be used formally)
    • Opening: Dear Ms Jones, (do not use Mrs or Miss, Ms is more polite)
      Sign off: Yours sincerely

Remember that right at the end your name should be written as either first name and surname or Mr /Ms plus your surname. Do not just sign off with your first name.

ielts general letter structure

Formal phrases for opening

When we open the letter it is important to give a brief reason for why we are writing. below are some useful phrases.

  • I am writing this letter regarding….

  • I am writing to inform you of…

  • I would like to bring to your attention the matter of..

  • I am writing to make a complaint with regards to….

  • I am writing for more information about…

Formal phrases for requesting information

  • I would like to enquire about…

  • I would be grateful if you could send me information about…

  • I was wondering if I could ask for ….

  • If possible could you send me the…..

  • I am interested in finding out more about…

Formal phrases for inviting

  • I was wondering if you would like to attend the…

  • I am having a party on Friday and was wondering if you would like to come..

  • Could you possibly let me know if ….

  • I would like to invite you to ….

Formal phrases for unexpected circumstances

  • Due to unforeseen circumstances…

  • Due to matters beyond my control…

  • I am writing to convey my surprise about….

  • I have just received news about…..

  • Unfortunately, I am unable to attend the meeting due to unexpected circumstances.

Formal phrases for complaints

  • I am writing to make a complaint regarding…

  • I would like to take this opportunity to urge you to…

  • Unfortunately, this matter is unresolved, so therefore….

  • I wish to express my concern about…..

  • I would like to express my annoyance with regards to…

  • I wish to complain about….

Formal phrases for ending your letter

  • I look forward to hearing from you again.

  • Thank you for your consideration.

  • I am looking forward to your reply.

  • I await your reply as soon as possible (a complaint letter)

  • I hope to hear from you soon

  • I look forward to your prompt reply

Example task and Model answer

Now let’s take a look at a task from IELTS general task 1.

You have made a decision to leave your current job to work in a new company.

Write a letter of resignation to your boss. In your letter:

  • tell your boss about your decision to leave and explain why you are leaving
  • explain about how you feel about leaving and what you have learnt from your time with the company
  • request a letter of reference

Dear Mr Jones,

I am writing regarding my decision to leave the company at the end of March.

I would like to take this opportunity to give 30 days notice to resign from my post at the end of March. I have enjoyed my time at the company and I am grateful for the assistance you have given me over these 3 years. I have decided this because I have been given an opportunity to work at Boston Dynamics as a robotics technician. As you may know, it has been my dream to work in the robotics department of a leading company, so this is a chance I cannot turn down.

This has been a difficult decision because everyone has been very supportive and I have been very happy working with the technical team here. I have learnt so much about artificial intelligence and robotics in this company so I am grateful for that experience.

If possible, could I ask for a reference for my time here at the company? It would be greatly appreciated.

I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Yours Sincerely.
Bob Evans

186 words  (aim for between 170 to 190 words in task 1)

If you need further help or writing corrections , take a look at our writing correction service here.

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