If you are preparing for the IELTS General Training test, you will be asked to write a letter to a fictional person or organization. The reason for writing the letter and the details you need to include will be given to you.
That may sound easy to some of you but before you write the test, I think you need to sit down and ask yourself, “Do I actually know how to ORGANIZE a letter in English? If you are unsure, keep reading because this advice about proper letter structure could make a big difference to your performance.
This isn’t your typical DO and DON’T article. Instead, I am going to demonstrate ORGANIZATION for you using an example correspondence. What follows are two letters: The first is a request for letter writing advice and the next is my reply. In this way, you can read about and see how to organize your ideas.
As a BONUS, although this entry focuses on organization, if you look carefully, you will get some clues about how to use TONE or polite language when writing to a stranger. Remember, using the correct TONE is important in letters.
Dear Sir or Madam,
I signed up for the IELTS General Training exam and would like some advice about Task 1 letter writing.
I have a lot of questions but I will start with asking about how to organize my ideas. I write lots of emails, but I am not sure if I can write a letter well. How do I know if my ideas are arranged correctly on the test?
Your advice would be greatly appreciated.
Mr. John Rochon
Dear Mr. Rochon,
Thank you for your letter. It would be my pleasure to help you prepare for the writing test.
You are wise to ask about the format of the IELTS letter. You may write letters or emails everyday but the IELTS letter is part of an exam so it’s important to be clear about what is expected. Knowing the most effective way to organize your ideas will improve your score.
The good news is that you already know a lot about the correct structure. In your letter to me, you began with a greeting. You used “Dear Sir or Madam” which was suitable because you did not know my name. You also ended with the complimentary closing “Yours faithfully” which signaled that the letter was finishing. Finally, to close, you ended with your signature. IELTS candidates lose points for forgetting these little details, so excellent work!
Between the salutation and closing is the body of the letter and it is made up of short paragraphs that are organized simply and logically. In fact, if your letter focusses on each of the bullets from the task assignment in a separate paragraph, you can be sure that your letter will be easy to read.
To help you a little more, I am providing you with some useful pointers for organization and a model letter.
If you have more questions, please call me at my office and we will set up a face to face appointment.
I hope you find this information useful and good luck with your exam.
Mrs. Angela Rutherford
Here are some pointers for organizing your ideas in IELTS letters:
- Think about how each sentence relates to the one before and after. Choose words that clearly guide the reader from one thought to the next.For example, where appropriate:
- Use sequencers – “To begin with . . . Finally, . . .”
- Use phrases to signal your ideas – “The reason why I need time off . . . The solution to this problem is . . . “
- Use specific linking words to show contrast, similarity, cause – “similarly, however, as a result . . .”
- Avoid repeating key words in your answer. Don’t be boring and repetitive – you want to demonstrate that you have a variety of words in your vocabulary bank.
- Think of synonyms for words that you are repeating (the problem, this issue, these complications, another annoyance . . .)
- Use pronouns (she, them, these . . .)
- Each task bullet point can be used to create the body paragraphs.
- Let the first sentence of the paragraph communicate the subject in some way.
- Either indent the first line of each paragraph or separate the paragraphs from each other with a space.
- Be sure the main purpose of the letter is clear from the beginning to the end.
- Open the letter with a short explanation of the purpose and close the letter with a call to action that relates to this purpose.
Open the letter with a short explanation of the purpose and close the letter with a call to action that relates to this purpose.
Sample Question and Model Answer
You recently ordered a small item online but when it arrived it was unusable.
Write a letter to the company that sold you the item:
- give details about the order you made
- explain what was wrong with the item
- tell the company what you want them to do about it
Dear Sir or Madam:
Three weeks ago I ordered a cover for my Samsung phone from your online store. I was excited when it arrived but very disappointed to find that the product was poorly produced and unusable. I am hoping you will replace it.
In relation to the specifics of the order, I purchased this leather wallet/phone case through your website called Phone Fun on January 14th using my PayPal account. The order number is 257380 and I am attaching a copy of my receipt.
The issue with the cover is that the credit card pockets are sewn shut and I am unable to store my cards inside securely. The picture of the item on your website clearly shows cards safely stored in the little pouches so I’m sure this is a manufacturing flaw.
As a solution, and because I really like the functionality of the cover, I am hoping that you will agree to send me another one for free. Otherwise, I would like a full refund and I will be contacting PayPal complaints if I do not hear back from you in regards to this within a week.
Thank you for giving the matter your attention and I hope to hear your reply soon.