Types of letters in IELTS Writing: General IELTS, Task 1

In the previous lesson, we learned some basics about the letter asked in IELTS Writing Task 1 for general test takers. In this section, we will learn about different types of letters in IELTS General Writing, their function, and go through some examples of each type of letter.

In Writing Task 1 (IELTS General), there are three types of letters:

  • formal letter
  • semi-formal letter
  • informal letter (also known as a personal letter)

What are the differences between these types of letters asked in IELTS writing task and how to identify them?

Types of letters in IELTS Writing

To outline the main differences between formal, semi-formal and informal letter and also help you decide which letter style you should use, see the following table:

You don’t know the person’s name you are writing to (e.g. bank, foreign university)
You know the person, but he/she is not a close friend to you (e.g. teacher, landlord, manager, colleague)
You know him or her personally (e.g. friends, family)
Letter TypeExamples
Formal You have just started a course in a college which has no sports facilities of its own. Write a letter to the manager of the nearest private sports club. In your letter
introduce yourself
say why you are interested in this sports club
ask some questions about the club e.g. facilities, members, costs
Begin as follows: Dear Sir or Madam,
Semi-formal You have had a problem with your next-door neighbour. You have not been able to speak to your neighbour about this. Write a letter to this neighbour. In your letter:
Explain the problem
Suggest a solution
Say what action you will take if the situation does not improve
Begin as follows: Dear … ,
Informal Write a letter to your friend from a different country. Invite him/her to a party at your home and include the following:
what the party is about
give directions how to get to your place
suggest how to accommodate him/her
Begin as follows: Dear … ,

Formal Letter type & Sample

Among three types of letters, You write this when you write to a person or someone in a company you do not personally know and the situation is business, professional, or official. You need to begin the letter by addressing ‘ Dear Sir or Madam’ (since you don’t even know if the person is a male or a female) and write the letter in a formal language. You sign off the letter by saying “Yours faithfully”, and then write your full name.

Common formal letters are: complaints, applications, resignations, business, making arrangements.

Semi-formal Letter & Sample

Semi-formal letters are meant to address your acquaintances, whom you personally know but who are not your friends, for instance, your landlord, relatives, neighbors, and family members. The tone of the letter should be friendlier than a formal letter but not too casual like when you write to a friend. Start your letter as “Dear (Surname/second name of the person), and sign off writing your full name. These letter types are more common in IELTS.

The surname should be used when addressing them. The topic of the letter will be more on the formal side as it is usually focused on a problem to solve.

Common semi-formal letters are: invitations, explanations, informative letter (all these could be personal as well).

Informal/personal Letter & Sample

Informal letters are also known as personal letters as you write such a letter to a friend. The tone of the letter should be less formal and more casual. However, do not use curse words, slang, or abbreviations that you use on an online chat room like wanna, gonna, LOL. You begin your letter using Dear (your friend’s first name) and then sign off writing your last name only.

Common personal letters are: invitations, explanations, informative letter, apology (all these could be semi-formal as well).

After identifying the types of letters in IELTS general writing task 1, you should find its Function.

Letters are written for many different reasons/functions. However, some letters are more common than others, and such letters are asked often in IELTS.

Depending upon the content of your letter, function is to be designed and delivered accordingly. To understand different function, let’s practice this short exercise.

Activity 3.1: Choose the correct type of letter from the box.

  1. You’re too busy to attend your sister’s birthday.
  2. You want to borrow your friend’s vehicle.
  3. You borrowed your friend’s car but had an accident.
  4. You’re trying to find out the opening and closing hours of your local library.
  5. Your English teacher helped you to get a good score in your IELTS exam.
  6. You’ve received a surprise present from your fiance.
  7. Your neighbor plays his music too loudly.
  8. You went to a restaurant where the food was terrible.
  9. You·are telling your friend that a mutual acquaintance is getting married.
  10. You’re having a party and you want your classmate to come.

It is important to think about these functions of the letter you are writing, because this will affect the language that you use. In English we tend to use a number of fixed phrases in particular situations. One of the most difficult aspects of letter writing for non-native English speakers can be using these phrases appropriately and accurately according the types of letters and their function.

Activity 3.2: Decide the function of this IELTS Question

You should spend about 20 minutes on this task.

You have recently moved into a new house. You want to tell your friend about your good news.
Write to your friend. In the letter:-
• Describe the house.
• Describe the neighborhood.
• Invite your friend to come and see the house.

Write at least 150 words. You do not need to write any addresses. Begin your letter as follows:
Dear ———-,