IELTS general exam: How to write a formal letter

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

Updated: February 2024

There are 3 types of letters in IELTS general, 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. So to simplify it, 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 writing corrections take a look at the writing correction service here.

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