IELTS Letter Writing: Formal and Informal

IELTS Letter Writing: Formal and Informal

This post will go through some fundamentals about these two letter types, along with an example of each to highlight their distinctions.

There are specific contexts that IELTS uses to create letter types, these are:

  1. Informal letter
  2. Business letter
  3. Complaint letter
  4. Job application letter
  5. Request letter
  6. Advice letter
  7. Apology letter

From these letter examples, think about which of them would be classified as informal and formal.

The key is to think about who the recipient is. If we do not know the recipient, or only know them by association and therefore do not have a close relationship with them, then they would be in the formal category. So, a business, complaint, application, and request letter are all examples of a formal letter. Contrastingly, a. advice or apology letter would be informal. For the same reason but in reverse. If you are giving advice or apologising, then the assumption is that there is a relationship in place and you know someone well enough to communicate in this manner. This would therefore make it an informal letter.

Let's cut through what the key differences are between formal and informal styles.



Can use colloquial language

Cannot use colloquial expression

Can use contractions

Cannot use contractions

Write in reference to both first and third person

Write in reference to third person

Use imperative voice

Avoid use of imperative voice 

Use active voice

Use passive voice 

Shorter, more simple sentences

Longer, more developed sentences

Can use an exclamation mark

Cannot use exclamation mark 

Let's apply examples of the above to see these differences in action.


Informal: Why don't you pop round?

Formal: I would like to invite you to my house

Semi-formal: I'd like to invite you round to my house

Sentence structure:

Informal: Saw the landlord at the weekend. Lots to catch you up on.

Formal: I saw the landlord at the weekend. I have a lot to tell you about.

Semi-formal: I saw the landlord at the weekend, there's lots to tell you about.

Mode of address:

Informal: Dear + Name of the receiver and ends with Best Wishes or Regards + Your Name

Best wishes,


Formal: Dear + sir/madam and ends with Yours Faithfully + Full Name

Yours Faithfully,

Joe Blogs

Informal letter example


Paragraph 1- say why you are writing to them

Paragraph 2- point one and supporting details

Paragraph 3- point two and supporting details

Paragraph 4- point three and supporting details

Sign off- All the best + name

Letter Prompt

You have recently moved abroad and left your hometown.

Write a letter to your friend. In the letter:

  • explain why you moved abroad
  • describe your new home (city/place, as opposed to your accommodation)
  • tell them any other news

Dear Jess,

I am just writing to tell you I've moved to Rome! It was a fairly last minute decision, I'll be here for the next three months as a trial run.

You know how stuck at home I felt and needed a change, so I decided to give Rome a try. I didn't reach out earlier because I knew it was a now or never situation. I had to take the leap before sharing the news with anyone.

The city is so different to home in every way possible. The buildings, food, people, sounds and smell couldn't be any more different. I've moved into a neighbourhood that is close to the University, so I've been meeting new people here there and everywhere. Can you believe I've actually made the move?

I also have some other news! I've just landed a small part-time gig at a local cafe. I start next week. It's been a real whirlwind of a start but I guess things seem to be falling into place.

Let's keep in touch!


Formal letter example


Paragraph 1- say why you are writing to them

Paragraph 2- point one and supporting details

Paragraph 3- point two and supporting details

Paragraph 4- point three and supporting details

Sign off- Yours faithfully/sincerely + full name

Letter prompt

You recently purchased a product that turned out to be faulty.

Write a letter to the store manager, complaining about the issue and requesting a replacement or refund.

  • explain why you are writing to them
  • describe the problem with the item
  • suggest a solution to the problem

Dear Sir/Madam,

I am writing to inform you of a recent purchase I made that has arrived as faulty. When initially purchasing this item, I expected to receive a working, faultless item. This was sadly not the case. I am disappointed that this item does not meet the quality of other items I have previously bought from your store.

I would like to explain what the issues are with the product. Firstly, one of the buttons (volume increase) does not work and the sound is barely audible. Secondly, the antenna has a dent and the signal is therefore patchy and muffled. These issues make the item itself near redundant.

Considering the circumstances, I would like this problem to be addressed in the following ways. I believe it is appropriate to request a replacement as in accordance with your returns policy. I also implore you to improve your customer service procedures, in order for this problem and alike, to be avoided in the future.

I expect a timely response to this matter and kindly request that you tend to this matter within the next 14 days, as per your returns policy.

Thank you for your immediate attention on this matter. I look forward to a swift resolution.


Mr Smith

Final tips

  • Write out the writing structure in your exam. It will help to create the structure you need, and it will prompt ideas that are relevant to the question
  • When you have written it, make sure each of your main paragraphs link to the prompts that are given in the question
  • Skim through your work and make sure you have a range of vocabulary (make sure you have not copied any of the sentences or sentence parts from the question)
  • Include separate paragraphs
  • Check for spelling and grammar