The IELTS writing module has two tasks. For candidates taking the academic module, the first task could be a letter or a report. For general training candidates, it is always a letter. How do you improve your band score in the writing module? Here are some tips for writing impressive letters.
1. Answer the whole question
The IELTS letter question usually contains three bullet points. Your letter must address all three of them. If you leave out one of them, your band score will suffer. Note that some of these points may be more important than others. You need to write more about important points and less about not-so important ones.
2. Be neither too formal nor too informal
Before you start writing, think about who you are writing to. If you are writing to someone you don’t know, your letter has to be written in a more formal style. The tone of your letter should be less formal when you are writing to a friend or a family member.
The problem with this approach is that it is not exactly easy to define what is formal or informal. So, aim for a relatively neutral style.
3. Think about the purpose of the letter
IELTS letters tend to have quite predictable purposes. They usually fall into the following categories:
- Letters of complaint
- Letters making a request
- Letters asking for an explanation
- Apology letters
- Application letters
- Letters making a suggestion
Each type of letter uses specific vocabulary. Therefore it is important that you familiarize yourself with them.
4. Use sentences and paragraphs of various length and structure
It is not a good idea to write really long, complex sentences in your letter. The problem with this approach is that when your sentences are too long or complex, you are more likely to make grammatical mistakes. Remember that grammatical accuracy is extremely important to get a good band score. That, however, doesn’t mean that you have to use only simple and short sentences. Variation in the length and structure of sentences is quite desirable and necessary. A short sentence after a long one will afford variety and relief to the eye as well as to the mind.
5. Learn how to start a letter
In formal letters, we explain the reason for writing right at the beginning. A common phrase that you can use to begin a formal letter is ‘I’m writing to…’. This approach makes it easy for the reader to understand what the purpose of the letter is.
Personal letters, on the other hand, should be written in a familiar and intimate style, depending up on the degree of intimacy you have with the person addressed. The sentences should be short and simple, rather than formal and elaborate. Start the letter by talking a little about the relationship you have with the recipient of the letter. A common phrase that you can use to begin an informal letter is ‘I was delighted to find your letter in my mailbox’ or ‘It has been ages since we’ve seen each other’. Note that in an informal letter, you can use conversational idioms and contracted forms like don’t, hasn’t and let’s.
6. Learn how to end a letter
There are conventional ways to end letters. In formal letters asking for more information, you might write:
‘I look forward to hearing from you soon.’
In a letter to a friend, you might write:
‘See you soon, I hope. And please don’t forget to give my love to all your family.’
7. Write at least 150 words
Your IELTS letter must have at least 150 words. If you write less than 150 words, you will be penalized. Ideally, you should write about 175 words. I am saying this because sometimes you may have directly copied words from the question. The examiner may or may not count them. If you write only 150 words and the examiner chooses not to count those words, you will be in real trouble.
8. Check your spelling and punctuation
Letters are less formal than essays but that doesn’t mean that you can make spelling and grammar mistakes. After you have finished writing your letter, read it again. Look out for silly grammar and spelling mistakes. Even in informal letters, begin your sentences with capital letters and end them with full stops. In informal letters, you can use contracted forms like don’t and can’t. You must, however, avoid using expressions like ‘gotta’, ‘ain’t’ or ‘cos’.
9. Learn standard letter writing phrases
Letter writing is an art that can be mastered with little difficulty. You can improve the quality of your letters by learning standard letter writing phrases.