General Writing Task 1

 – IELTS Letter Format – 

The first step to getting a high score for Task 1 is to understand the IELTS letter format. This page covers all the basic information you need to know.

It includes:

  • Key information
  • Formal & informal
  • Letter topics
  • Assessment & marking criteria
  • Letter structure
  • Sample questions

You can learn more about each of these topics in the in-depth lessons listed at the bottom of this page.

IELTS Letter Format – Key Information

1)  You must write 150 words or more.

If you write less than 150 words, you are unlikely to get more than a Band 5 for ’task achievement’ as you won’t have fulfilled the marking criteria.

2)  You have around 20 minutes to plan and write your letter.

3)  Task 1 contributes half as many marks to your score as Task 2. So, Task 1 is worth 33% of the total mark in the Writing test.

IELTS Letter Format  – Formal & Informal

You are required to write a letter requesting information or explaining the situation in relation to a specific circumstance.

The letter must be in one of the following styles as appropriate to the situation:

  • Formal – to someone you don’t know or don’t know well.
  • Informal – to a friend or close family member.

It is essential that you are able to identify whether a question is formal or informal as you will use different language to create a different tone in each style of letter.

Many students get stressed about this but it is very simple. Follow this rule:

  • If the question includes the word ‘friend’, use informal language.
  • If the question does not include the word ‘friend’, use formal language.

The only exception is if the letter is to a close family member, when you would also use an informal tone, but these are not common.

Here is an example of each style of question.


Your friend has written a letter to you asking for advice for his/her parents who will visit your area.

Write a letter to your friend. In your letter, you should:

  • suggest the places they can visit
  • recommend a place where they can stay
  • offer to do something with them.


Your company is going to give a special training course for staff. Your manager has asked you to find out if the local conference centre has the right facilities to hold this course. 

Write a letter to the manager of the conference centre. In your letter:

  • give details about the course
  • describe what equipment you will need for the course
  • ask some further questions about the facilities at the conference centre.

Should a semi-informal tone ever be used?

My advice is to use only a formal or informal tone as appropriate. I believe in keeping things simple and having a third style option only complicates matters.

Many questions require you to write to a colleague or manager in your business, both of whom could be friends. In this instance, assume that they are not and write the letter in a professional style, that is, in a formal tone.

The other situation that can be confusing is where the person you have to write to is a neighbour. Again, assume that you do not know them very well and keep the letter formal.

If you follow the general rule of only writing an informal letter when the question contains the word ‘friend’, you won’t go wrong.

IELTS Letter Format
 – Letter Topics

Your exam question will be on one of these 7 topics:

Click the links to study the lesson on each type.

IELTS Letter Format – Marking Criteria

As with all other parts of the IELTS exam, General Writing Task 1 is marked according to four criteria.

These are:

  • Task Achievement – appropriate response to the task
  • Coherence & Coherence  – the ability to present a well-structured essay or letter
  • Lexical Resource  – the ability to use a range of appropriate vocabulary and to use it correctly
  • Grammatical Range & Accuracy  – the ability to use grammar correctly and to use a range of grammar forms

Each carries 25% of the marks.

Understanding exactly what the examiner is looking for when they assess your letter is so important to that I’ve written a whole lesson on it. You’ll find it here: Understand Task 1 Marking Criteria


For now, here is a brief overview of what you’ll be assessed on.

Skills Assessed

Your letter will assess your ability to engage in personal correspondence and will be assessed in relation to one or more of these skills:

  • Elicit and provide general factual information
  • Express needs, wants, likes and dislikes
  • Express opinions (e.g. views, complaints)

IELTS Letter Format – Letter Structure

Before we look at how to structure your letter, we’ll first examine the structure of the question.

The structure of the question will always be the same.

Question structure

Part 1 – The topic.

Part 2 – The person you must write to.

Part 3 – What you should write about (listed as 3 bullet points).

Here’s another sample question. I’ve used the same colour-coding as above to highlight the 3 different parts.

You are going to attend a 6 week training course at Trinity College, Bristol. You need somewhere to live while you are there.

Write a letter to the accommodation officer at the college. In your letter,

  • explain your situation
  • describe the accommodation you require
  • say when you will need it.

Knowing this will help you to quickly analyse the question and plan your answer.

Letter structure

The layout of your letter should essentially follow the structure of the question and consist of four paragraphs with a greeting at the beginning and a signoff at the end.

Here’s the easy to remember 6 part structure.

1)  Dear .....

2)  Paragraph 1: Purpose – why you are writing

3)  Paragraph 2: Write about 1st bullet point

4)  Paragraph 3: Write about 2nd bullet point

5)  Paragraph 4: Write about 3rd bullet point

6)  Signoff


Now that you understand the Task 1 IELTS letter format, you are ready to learn how to plan your letter and what to write. The lessons below will take you through each step of the process and show you how to write high-scoring letters. They include many model answers.


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IELTS General Writing Task 1 – All Lessons

IELTS General Writing –  A summary of the test including important facts, test format & assessment.

Letter Format – The format, the 7 topics, letter structure, formal & informal, assessment & marking criteria, sample questions. Essential information you need to know.

Letter Writing Tips – Learn top tips on how to meet the assessment and marking criteria and achieve a high score.

Letter Writing Structure – Find out how to use this easy to learn letter structure to write a high-scoring letter. Includes a model answer.

How To Plan a Letter – Learn a simple 5 step process & 6 part letter structure. Also, help to understand the question & generate ideas.

Formal or Informal – How to decide what type of letter to write. Sample questions & 2 model letters.

Letter Writing Vocabulary – Learn useful phrases to help you achieve a high score. Also, know how to start & end your letter.

How To Write an Informal Letter – Step-by-step instructions, simple 4 step plan & 6 part letter structure, model letter.

How To Write a Formal Letter – Step-by-step instructions, simple 4 step plan & 6 part letter structure, model letter.

Letter Topics – Learn the 7 most common letter topics & other popular subjects. Includes 20 sample questions.

Common Letter Topics

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