These IELTS letter writing tips are essential to follow to get a good score in task 1 for the general training paper. The list of tips below will help you understand all the different types of letters, how to write them, how to structure you letter and how to fulfill the task for a high score. You will have 20 mins for this task. Remember only students taking the General Training Paper in IELTS will be required to write a letter for task 1.
You will be given instructions and three points to include in your letter. It is essential that you follow use the three points to structure your letter and provide the foundation for the information. If you fail to include all the points in your letter, your band score will be lower. Here is an example of the type of instructions you can get:
You recently had a holiday visiting your friends and you stayed in their house.
Write a letter to your friend. In your letter:
- thank your friend for staying with them
- tell them what you enjoyed most about the holiday
- explain you are sending photos of the holiday with the letter
Further instructions for all GT writing task 1 state:
- you must write over 150 words (aim for between 160 and 180 to be safe)
- you do NOT need to write an address on the letter
- how to begin your letter. For example Dear Sir/ Madam, or Dear …. When you see ‘Dear ….’, this means you should write a name for the person from your imagination – see below for tips on this)
2. Types of IELTS Letter
There are three different types of letters: personal, semi-formal and formal. Each type of letter will use different language. It will have a different beginning and a different way of signing off. Your first task, before you start writing, is to decide which type of letter you must write by identifying the task given. Below are examples of the three different types of letters.
You would like to invite a foreign friend to visit you for your birthday
Write a letter inviting your friend. In your letter:
- tell your friend about your birthday
- explain how much the visit would mean to you
- suggest that your friend stays at your house for the visit
A personal letter is to someone you know personally about a social situation or a personal situation.
Your friend has a travel company and would like you to come and work with him.
Write a letter replying to your friends offer. In your letter:
- explain what you know about your friends company
- choose whether you accept or decline the offer
- give reasons for your choice
A semi-formal letter is to someone you know about a formal or serious situation such as work
You are interested in applying for a scholarship program to study at a foreign University.
Write a letter to inquire about the course. In your letter:
- explain which course you are interested in
- tell what you know about the University
- explain why you should receive the scholarship
A formal letter is to someone you don’t know about a serious or formal situation
3. Letter Aims
Letters can be based on different content which will affect the style of the letter. Below is a list of some of the common contents for letters. Although there are hints about whether the letters are usually formal or not, please note that you will know the style by reading the instructions given to you.
- complaints (usually formal)
- invitations (usually personal or semi-formal)
- applications or resignations (usually formal)
- request (any style common)
- making arrangements (often formal)
- explanation (sometimes semi-formal or personal)
- informative / news letter (often personal/ semi-formal but formal can also appear)
- apology (could be any style)
4. Letter Openings
Letters usually start with an opening statement which explains the reason for writing the letter. This opening statement varies depending on whether you are writing a formal or informal letter. Below are two examples of an opening statement. Can you spot which one is formal and which one is informal?
A) I am writing this letter with regards to the scholarship program to study at London University which I read in Sunday Times on December 1st, 2014.
B) It’s been so long since we last were in touch but I haven’t forgotten all the wonderful times we spent together last year. It’s my birthday coming up and I wanted to invite you over to stay at my place for the celebration.
C) I’m just writing to say thank you for the offer of joining your company.Answer
A is formal, B is personal (informal) and C is semi-formal
5. Signing Off
Depending on the style and aim of the letter, you will need to adapt your final sentence or comment.
- Dear Sir / Madame = Yours faithfully,
- Dear Mr Robson = Yours sincerely,
- Hi Dave / Dear Dave = See you soon, / Take care, / All the best
Note: We use “Sir / Madame” when we don’t know the person’s name that we are writing to, for example when we write to the manager of a hotel. We use “Mr Robson” (with a title Mr or Mrs or without) when we are writing a formal letter but we know the name of the person we are writing to. We use no title and no last name when we write to a friend.
Below are some examples of final comments before signing off, can you tell which ones are formal and which not?
It’ll be great to catch up again soon. Give my best to everyone in the family.
I look forward to hearing from you.Answers
You should write a name at the end of your letter. You can use your name or you can invest one.
- Dear Sir = Yours faithfully, John Brown (always with a family name but with or without a title)
- Dear Mr Robson = Yours sincerely, Mrs Susan Harper (always with a family name but with or without a title)
- Hi Dave or Dear Dave = See you soon, Brian (not title and no family name because it is informal)
6. Grammar: Formal and Informal
Formal and informal (friendly) letters contain different language and style of writing. While informal letters can contain contractions (I’m writing …), these contractions are unacceptable in formal writing so you need to write the words in full (I am writing …. …).
In a formal letter, you could write “I am writing with regards to ….”. whereas for a semi-formal letter you can write “I’m writing about…” or “I’m writing to say..” or “I just want to let you know that..”. So, it is important to adapt your writing to suit the style of the letter. Also remember to use a range of different sentence structures in order to get a high score.
7. Vocabulary: Formal and Informal
For vocabulary, be very careful using academic language in a personal letter. This would be inappropriate and will reduce your band score rather than increase it. Here are some examples of the difference between formal and informal language:
- You will be collected at the airport = I’ll pick you up at the airport
- The next available appointment is on Thursday = how about we meet up on Thursday?
- I would like to invite you to visit my house on…. = Why don’t you pop round to my place on …..
- I highly recommend that you come in August = it’d be great if you came in August
- Please respond at the earliest convenience = Get back to me as soon as you can
- Unfortunately I will not be able to attend on … = Sorry, but I won’t be able to make it on ….
8. Spelling and Punctuation
The examiner will check your accuracy in your spelling and your punctuation (this means your use of commas and full stops). If you make frequent errors in spelling or in punctuation it is unlikely to get over band score 6.
9. Structure and Paragraphs
You must also organise your letter into paragraphs. This is an essential part of your letter writing and the examiner will be marking you on your ability to use effective paragraphing. In IELTS writing task 1 (GT), the letter structure below is most common as it usually follows the three points which you must include in your letter. However you must adapt it to suit the task given to you by IELTS. So spend time reading the instructions and deciding your paragraphing.
- opening statement – reason for writing
- body paragraph A (one point with detail)
- body paragraph B (another point with detail)
- body paragraph C (final point with detail)
- closing statement (if needed)
- signing off
- name (choose a name or use your own)
10. Planning Your Letter
You should spend at least 3 or 4 minutes planning your letter. Covering all the points in your letter, adding details, using the appropriate style of letter writing and using paragraphs well count for about 50% of your marks. So it’s worth taking time to plan your letter well. Follow the points below for a well planned letter:
- read the instructions
- identify what style of letter you must write
- read through the points you must include in your letter
- think about how many paragraphs you will have and where to put each point
- plan what information you will add to each point
- decide how to open the letter
- think about the language you will use (both grammar and vocabulary) – it must suit the style of the letter
- decide how to close the letter
- plan the content of each body paragraph
- start writing
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Hayley Capp, winner of the 2013 QS Leadership Scholarship, shares her top tips on how to write a winning scholarship application essay.
There is no one way to write a winning scholarship application. If you gathered together all the scholarship entries that have ever won a prize, you would find it difficult to identify what made them the same. Each would offer a distinctive style employed by the author; a unique insight into his or her past, present and future aspirations.
This uniqueness is the key, and the first point to remember when you pick up your pen to write. Make your scholarship application essay exclusive to you, personalize it, delve deep into your passion and drive to study your subject, and create a response that could only ever relate to you. It is this individuality that stands out, and that’s exactly what catches a judge’s eye and defines a winner.
I won the 2013 QS Leadership Scholarship, so will base my guidance on my own thought process when shaping my application essay. However, the basic principles that I highlight with this example can be extracted and applied to other scholarship essay writing processes.
1. Read and re-read the essay statement you are being asked to respond to, and identify the key themes.
From my own example, the essay statement was: ‘Where I have demonstrated responsible leadership, or innovation, and how it made a difference either in my community or in my work’. I identified the key themes as ‘leadership’ and ‘community impact’.
2. Understand the meaning of the key themes.
After identifying the key themes, it is important to understand what each of these ideas really means, beyond the initial level. For instance, I acknowledged that the meaning of ‘leadership’ involved identifying the effects my leadership had – the actions taken and results achieved under my leadership – and not simply describing the position I held and my responsibilities. The more depth you bring to your understanding of the meaning of each theme, the more examples you will be able to identify to demonstrate your abilities.
3. Fill your scholarship essay with keywords/synonyms of keywords used in the scholarship statement.
Using the keywords from the scholarship statement throughout your essay will demonstrate your commitment to addressing the question being asked. For instance, I made a special effort to ensure references to ‘leadership’; ‘innovation’ and ‘impacting communities’ ran throughout my essay.
4. Make an engaging start to your essay.
If you are struggling to start your scholarship application essay, why not include a quote or statement that relates to your intended course, and which you can later link to the main body of your text. Showing wider knowledge and aptitude for your subject will help convince the judges that it is a worthwhile investment to support you in your chosen course.
5. Understand the criteria used by the scholarship committee to evaluate application essays.
Based on my own experience, I have outlined what I believe to be the key criteria used by scholarship committee judges for evaluating scholarship application essays on the themes of leadership and community impact. My advice would be to address all of these areas in your essay, whether the question explicitly asks for it or not.
What to include in scholarship essays about leadership:
- The extent of the leadership experience and degree of accomplishment. What were the results? Did you manage to grow a society from 10 to 100 members through your tenure?
- Why you got involved in the leadership experience. What was your initial inspiration and how did the experience make you feel? This is a very important aspect as it allows you to show your sincerity and demonstrates your passion.
- What obstacles did you face and how did you overcome them? Inspirational stories of perseverance despite adversity make readers (especially judges) want to help you succeed. It also shows that you have great leadership qualities: the ability to adapt to new situations and the determination to not give up.
- What did you learn?How did these lessons shape you as a leader? Every experience brings new lessons and personal growth opportunities and the best leaders are humble and realize this. Speaking about these lessons indicates that you have truly reflected on your experiences and that you understand what leadership is. (In other words, you know that leadership isn’t just about getting a title like “President” or “Executive Director”.)
- What does this mean for the future? A scholarship isn’t just an award; it’s an investment in your future. So if you plan to continue being involved in your particular leadership activity in the future, tell the judges.
What to include in scholarship essays about community impact:
- How much time did you dedicate to the activity? The scholarship committee is likely to be looking for applicants who made a fairly long commitment to a community activity.
- Why was it important to you? Joy from helping others? Excitement of trying something new? Opportunity to form relationships with others? Having a genuine reason helps build a convincing essay.
- Why was it important to the community? Ask the question: What would be different for your community if you didn’t do what you do? It is most important to show that you recognize the real needs in your communities, and act to address these.
- What did you gain yourself through giving to the community? It is important to show that you understand how through giving, you end up receiving more in the end. Sharing what community service has taught you and how it helped you develop demonstrates that you have truly gained from your participation and suggests you will continue doing so in the future.
My final point of advice when writing your scholarship application essay or cover letter is to really show that you know who you are. What are the relevant past and present experiences that demonstrate your abilities and where are you headed? Use carefully selected language to emphasize your passion, ambition and enthusiasm and remember to adopt a positive mindset, in which you believe in all the great things you have done and plan to continue achieving in the future. If you don’t believe in yourself, why would the judges?
You can browse our various scholarship listings here, and QS also offers its own scholarships. Also, you can download our free guide for more advice on how to find scholarships to study abroad.
Hayley Capp is the winner of the 2013 QS Leadership Scholarship. Covering up to US$10,000 of course fees for a graduate program, the scholarship is awarded to the applicant best able to demonstrate his/her ability to use entrepreneurial and leadership skills to make a positive impact on a community.
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