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IELTS General Writing Task 1: Types of Letters

What type of letter should I write?

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

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

Here you will learn how to identify the type of letter you are asked to write and what beginnings-endings and tone of letter you should use. You'll also see relevant sample letters under each type.

Types of Letters
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Before you start writing, it is essential that you fully understand which type of letter you must write.

Main differences

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)
Greetings: Dear Sir or Madam
Greetings: Dear Mr Smith, Dear Mrs Smith
Greetings: Dear Mom, Dear John, My dear friend
Letter endings: Yours faithfully
Letter endings: Yours sincerely / Sincerely yours (not Yours truly)
Endings: With best wishes, / See you soon, / Take care, / All the best,
Your name: Mr John Brown (always with a family name, but the title is optional)
Your name: John Brown (always with a family name, but the title is optional)
Your name: John (no title and no family name)
The tone of the letter is formal. Be polite. You can't use contractions (use 'I am writing' not 'I'm writing').
The tone of the letter is polite. Mostly formal language, however use a couple of phrases that are on the informal side.
The tone of the letter is informal. You can use contractions (I'm writing), but not abbreviations (see ya) and acronyms (OMG). Do not use academic language.

Formal Letter & Sample

Formal letter is usually written when you need to write to a company or organisation where you don't know the person to who you are writing to. For example, a bank, foreign university.

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

See a formal letter sample: Request Letter

Semi-formal Letter & Sample

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Semi-formal letter is usually written to someone that you know by name and with whom you have a business or professional relationship. So someone you know, but he/she is not a close friend. For example: teacher, trainer, neighbour, landlord, manager, work colleague etc.

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).

See a semi-formal letter sample: Complaint Letter

Informal/personal Letter & Sample

Informal letter is usually written to a friend or a family member or someone you know personally about personal situation.

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

See an informal letter sample: Informal Letter


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