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EFL and ESL - Writing formal letters or emails




Writing formal letters is a necessary skill that you need for most ESL or EFL exams at Intermediate Level and above, for example, Cambridge First Certificate (FCE), Advanced (CAE) and Proficiency (CPE).

Note: Our Online preparation courses for these and all the major exams can be accessed here.

Below we offer English writing help, useful phrases and writing tips for formal letter writing.

4 Golden rules for all writing

  1. Read the question carefully and underline the important parts.
  2. Answer the question, and only the question.
  3. Spend 10-15 minutes planning your answer.
  4. Spend at least 5 minutes reading through your answer and correcting any mistakes.

Examples of formal letters:

a. You are given an article to read from a newspaper. You write to the newspaper disagreeing with the article.

b. You write to complain about something.

c. You write making suggestions about something.

d. You write requesting information.

e. You write giving information.

f. You write requesting permission.

Useful Phrases for writing formal letters or emails

a) Writing formal letters generally:

Greetings:

  • Dear Sir
  • Dear Madam
  • Dear Sir/Madam
  • Dear Mr Brown
  • Dear Ms Jones etc.

Reason for writing:

  • I am writing in response to your article/advertisement/letter
  • I am writing with regard to your article/advertisement/letter
  • I am writing regarding your article/advertisement/letter

Ending the letter:

  • I look forward to receiving your reply
  • I look forward to your reply
  • I look to hearing from you
  • I am, yours faithfully (if you don't know the name of the person you are writing to)
  • I am, yours sincerely (if you know the name of the person you are writing to)
  • Yours faithfully (if you don't know the name)
  • Yours sincerely (if you know the name)

b) Writing formal letters to complain:

Reason for writing:

  • I am writing in order to complain about
  • I am writing to complain about

Introducing the complaint:

  • Firstly
  • In the first place
  • First of all
  • My first complaint is
  • The first problem is
  • The first thing I would like to draw your attention to is
  • My first concern is

Introducing further complaints:

  • Secondly
  • In the second place
  • Not only .......but also
  • In addition
  • In addition to this
  • Added to this
  • .......was also unacceptable

Demanding action:

  • I suggest that you replace the item
  • I therefore suggest that I be given a full refund
  • I would be grateful if my money was refunded
  • I would be grateful if you could give me a full refund

Ending the letter:

  • I look forward to hearing from you
  • I look forward to receiving a full refund
  • I look forward to receiving a replacement
  • I look forward to receiving your explanation

c) Writing formal letters to make suggestions:

Reason for writing:

  • I am writing to suggest
  • I am writing to arrange
  • I am writing to offer suggestions
  • I am writing to make arrangements

Making first suggestion:

  • My first suggestion is
  • First of all I suggest
  • I would like to suggest

Making further suggestions:

  • Another possibility is
  • A further possibility is
  • I further suggest
  • I would further suggest
  • Secondly

Offering a choice:

  • Would you therefore mind choosing between ....?
  • Either......or
  • You might choose either ....... or

d) Writing formal letters to request information

Reason for writing:

  • I am writing to receive further information about
  • I am writing to enquire about
  • I am writing to receive more detailed information about
  • I am writing to receive further details about

Requesting first piece of information:

  • The first thing I would like to know is
  • First of all I would like to know
  • I wonder if you would mind telling me first of all ....?

Requesting further information:

  • Could you also tell me....?
  • Could you also inform me ....?
  • Would you also mind informing me ....?
  • Would you also mind telling me ....?
  • Do you know ....?
  • I would also like to know if
  • I would also like to know whether
  • I hope you might also let me know about ...

Thanking for information:

  • I would like to thank you in advance for this information
  • Thanking you in advance for this information
  • Thanking you in advance

e) Writing formal letters to give information:

Reason for writing:

  • I am writing to inform you about
  • I am writing to provide you with information about
  • I am writing to let you know that

Providing first point:

  • The first thing I would like to inform you of is
  • The first thing I would like to tell you is
  • The first thing I wish to inform you of is
  • I would like to begin by informing you

Providing further points:

  • I would also like to let you know that
  • I would also like to inform you that
  • You might also find the following information useful
  • It might also be useful for you to know that
  • Another piece of information that might be useful

Ending the letter:

  • If you require further information, please do not hesitate to ask
  • If I can be of further assistance, please do not hesitate to ask
  • I will willingly provide further information on request
  • I am at your disposal should you require further information
  • I am at your disposal should you need further assistance
  • Please do not hesitate to ask should you require further information

f) Writing formal letters to request permission

Reason for writing:

  • I am writing to ask permission to
  • I am writing to ask permission for
  • I am writing to request permission to
  • I am writing to request permission for
  • I am writing to ask if I might

Making first request:

  • Firstly, I wonder if you would
  • First of all I wonder whether you would mind
  • The first request I would like you to consider is

Making further requests:

  • I would be grateful if you would also consider
  • I wonder if it might be possible for me to
  • I would also like to request permission for
  • I would also like to request permission to

Thanking for permission

  • Many thanks for kindly considering my requests
  • Thank you for considering my requests

Writing Formal Letters - Sample Questions

Sample Question 1

Write 120-180 words in an appropriate style

You are helping to organise a visit to an English Language Academy in Manchester. You have received a letter from John Webster, the director of the Academy. Read the letter and the notes you have made. Then write a letter to Mr Webster using all your notes.

I am very glad to see that you are coming to our academy in July. I am sure you will all have a very enjoyable time and that you will learn a lot of English. You can either stay all together in a youth hostel, or individually with local families. Please tell me which you would prefer.

Tell me something about your group so that I can organise interesting spare time activities. What sort of things do they like doing?

Please ask if you need any further information.

Yours sincerely,

John Webster

Your notes:

  • Paragraph 1 - learning a lot of English is very important because .....
  • Paragraph 2 - say which you prefer, and why.
  • Ask what the weather's like in Manchester and what clothes you will need.

Write your letter. You must use grammatically correct sentences with accurate spelling and punctuation in a style appropriate for the situation.

Sample Question 2 - Letter of Complaint

Write 120-180 words or 250 plus words for Advanced students in an appropriate style.

You have just returned from a trip to Canada. You flew there and back with Maple Air. You decide to write to the airline to complain about your flight and ask for some money back.

Read the advertisement and the notes you made and then, using the information, write a letter to the airline. You may add other relevant points of your own.

FLY MAPLE AIR TO CANADA

We offer:

  • 3 flights a day
  • wide, comfortable seats
  • friendly, well-trained staff
  • a good choice of food - special diets no problem
  • the latest in-flight entertainment

Phone 0179 765893 now or see your travel agent for more details.

Your notes:

  • Late boarding
  • Staff quite rude
  • No vegetarian food for me
  • Old film

Write your letter of complaint. Do not include any postal addresses.

A reminder that we have online courses to prepare you for all the major exams including PET, First, Advanced, Proficiency, IELTS, TOEFL, TOEIC, BEC etc. These can be accessed here.

Ebooks with for PET and FCE writing can be downloaded on this page.

Success with your English.

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