Useful Tips & Strategies for IELTS General Training Writing Task 1

                    Useful Tips & Strategies for IELTS General Training Writing Task 1 

When the IELTS marker looks at a Task 1 answer, he or she has three basic questions in mind:

• Does the letter do what the question asks? Or, is the content (die ideas and information) appropriate to the task?

• Is the letter written in a well-organized, logical way?

• Is the language accurate and correct?

Many candidates get lower band scores in the test because the content and organization of their writing are not good enough. It is important that you follow these steps when answering a Task 1 question.


Sample Question 1

The course director of your previous college has invited you to attend a party for new students, and he has also asked you to give a talk about studying overseas. You have an important examination on the same day so you cannot attend the party.

Write to the director to apologize and to explain why you cannot attend. Suggest another date when you could give your talk.

How to Answer

Step 1—Analyze the question

What is the topic?

Find out by underlining the key words in the question.

The course director of your previous college has invited you to attend a party for new students, and he has also asked you to give a talk about studying overseas. You have an important examination on the following day so you cannot attend the party.

You have been invited to go to a party and give a talk, but you cannot go to the party.

To whom am I writing?

The letter is to the course director of your old college. Although you know him it is unlikely that you know him very well. The style of the letter should in this instance be formal or semi-formal.

What is your purpose in writing the letter?

Write to the director to apologize and to explain why you cannot attend. Surest another date when you could give your talk or some other solution.

You can see that you arc given three things to do:

• apologize (for not being able to attend)

• explain (why you cannot attend)

• suggest (another date).

Step 2—Make notes of ideas

Make a brief note of any ideas which you might use in your answer.

In the following box, the student has written some notes. On the right side is an explanation of what these notes mean.

thanks                                    thank the director for the invitation

saw friends                           say that you saw some college friends last week

imp. train                              explain why the exam is important

dale fixed                               explain why the date of the exam cannot be changed

new coll.                                talk about your new college

family well                           talk about your family

all well there?                      ask how everyone is at the old college

party details?                      ask for details of the party

hope success                        say that you hope the party is a success

sorry                                     say you can’t come to the party and apologize

will talk about …….           explain what you will say in your talk about studying overseas

first time                              explain it is the first time you have ever been asked to give a talk like this

can come...                          say when you can come

my id.                                   tell the director how to contact you

Step 3—Make a plan

Decide which of these ideas you will definitely use in the letter. Organize them. The notes from step 2 are on the left side below. In the box on the right there a sample plan which is based on the notes. Each black dot represents a separate paragraph. Notice that not all of the ideas have been used.

Step 4—Write the letter

Follow the plan.

Step 5—Check for mistakes


Analysis and Practice

Step 1—Analyze the question

When analyzing the question, you want to know:

• What is the situation or topic?

• Who is the addressee? In other words, to whom is the letter addressed? (This determines how formal the letter should be.)

• What is the purpose of writing the letter? (c.g. to request, to complain, to suggest?)

Task 1 questions are usually in two parts. The first part describes the situation or topic. The second part tells you to whom your letter should be addressed and gives you a cask (or purpose).

The best way to identify these pieces of information is to underline the key words as you read carefully through the question. (Remember you arc allowed to write on die question sheet.) Look again at the sample underlining in Step 1 in the Demonstration answer.


Read Sample questions 2 and 3 carefully and underline the key words. Then complete the tables under each question.

Sample Question 2

You have just spent a weekend staying at the Lilo Hotel in Adelaide. When you get home you find that you have left a bag at the hotel.

Write to the manager of the hotel and enquire whether the bag has been found. Give any relevant information about the bag and its contents. Ask the manager to contact you immediately if the bag is found and tell him/her how the bag can be sent to you.

Topic/ Situation






Sample Question 3

You and some friends had dinner in a restaurant a few nights ago. The service at the restaurant was terrible and the food was bad. You and two friends had severe stomach-aches the following day. The food was also overpriced.

Write to the manager of the restaurant and explain these problems. Give any details that you think are relevant. Ask the manager to do something about the situation.

Topic/ Situation

Check your answers in the Answer Key.

Step 2—Make a note of ideas

Here you should make a brief note of any ideas which come to mind and which may be relevant. At this stage you do not have to decide exactly which ideas will be used in your writing. (Selecting which ideas to use is done in Step 3.)

The purpose of Step 2 is to help you think of information which is useful for the writing task. The process of quickly noting any ideas which come to mind will help you to access relevant information in your memory.

Remember also that these notes are for you only—the assessor will not see them—so the notes should be as brief as possible.


Quickly make notes of your ideas for both Sample questions in the previous activity.

Time target: 2 minutes for each question

Step 3—Make a plan

At this stage you must think about two questions.

• Which ideas will definitely be used in the letter?

• How will these ideas be organised?

The letter should be divided into paragraphs. When you are planning the letter you should try to put your ideas into logical groups. Each of these groups will then become one paragraph.

There are several common patterns of letter organization. You should learn these patterns so that your writing will then be organized in an English style. Firstly, all letters should have an introductory paragraph and a closing paragraph.

The introductory paragraph

In the introductory paragraph, there are several things you can do.

The closing paragraph

The concern of the closing paragraph depends on what you have written in the rest of your letter, but some possibilities are listed in the following table.

The ‘body’ of the letter

The body is the middle pan of the letter which contains most of the important information. There are several standard patterns for organizing the body of your letter in an English style. Look at the following examples.

Type of letter Plan
If your letter is making a request
  • introductory paragraph
  • explain the situation
  • details of your request
  • closing paragraph
If your letter is giving an apology
  • introductory paragraph
  • explain why you must apologize
  • alternative plan (if appropriate)
  • closing paragraph
If your letter is making a complains
  • introductory paragraph
  • explain problems
  • say what you think the addressee should do
  • closing paragraph
If your letter is giving information
  • introductory paragraph
  • information
  • offer more information (if appropriate)
  • closing paragraph
If your letter is making suggestions
  • introductory paragraph
  • make first suggestion
  • provide an alternative to this suggestion or make a second suggestion
  • closing paragraph

Note that the above plans arc examples only. Sometimes, the test question(s) will give you more than one purpose for writing the letter. If this happens you will have to choose from two or more of the above plans. For example, the Demonstration letter on page 107 combines apologizing and suggesting.


The following is an example of notes of ideas for Sample question 2 on page 108. The notes are in the box on the left and their meaning is explained on the right. The notes are followed by three plans.

Which is the best plan based on the notes? What is wrong with the other two?

not valuable                           explain that the bag and contents are not valuable in dollars, but are important to you

bag lost                                   say that the bag is missing

found?                                     ask whether the bag has been found

send                                         ask the manager to send the bag

when at hotel                         say when you stayed at the hotel

room no.                                 say which room you stayed in

enjoy hol.                                say that you enjoyed your holiday

bag size                                   give the bag’s size and colours

contents                                  describe the bag’s content

stolen?                                    explain that you think the bag may have been stolen

police?                                    ask if you should tell the police

reward                                   tell the manager you will offer a reward

contact me                            ask the manager to contact you

thanks                                    thank the manager for helping you

Plan 1                                      Plan 2                               Plan 3

* bag lost                              when at hotel                     * when at hotel

stolen?                                  room no.                                room no.

call police?                           contact me                            bag lost

reward                                  thanks                                    found?

* contact me                        bag lost                                * bag size

send                                      contents                                 contents

not valuable                        send                                        not valuable

* enjoy hol.                          bag size                                * contact me

room no.                              found?                                     send

when at hotel                      not valuable                        * thanks

* thanks


Based on your notes from Activity 25, write a plan for a letter to answer Sample question 3. Remember to keep the plan as brief as possible.

Time target: 1 to 2 minutes

Note: Do not check the Answer Key yet. Wait until you have finished Activity 28.


It is important that you include in your letter all the things that the task tells you to do. Look for key words like write, explain, ask, give, tell. Following are two sample plans for Sample question 3. Both of them omit some important information that is specifically required by the task. Read each plan and say what is missing in each case.

Plan 1                                                Plan 2

* when had dinner                    * when had dinner

   want to complain                      want to complain

* service bad                              * food bad

   no menu                                     over – cooked

   long wait for food                     too spicy

   long wait for bill                       small quantity

* food bad                                     expensive

   too salty                                  * my demands

   not fresh                                    free meal

   stomach – ache                         free drinks

* expensive

* won’t come again

Now re-check the plan you did in the previous activity. Does it omit anything? Compare your plan with the sample plan for Activity 27 in the Answer Key.

Step 4—Write the letter

When you write a letter using your plan, you should think about how to expand the points you have noted. For example, in the Demonstration letter the writer is supposed to explain why he/she cannot attend the party. Instead of just saying that he/she has a test, the letter says what kind of test, wiry it is important, and how the writer tried—unsuccessfully—to reschedule it. The task also instructs the writer to suggest another date or some other solution. In the letter, the writer gave a choice of dates and gate several ways to be contacted.

You should give information that is relevant and realistic. Remember also that you cannot give too much information about any one point because you have to finish all the main points of the question.

For the beginning and the ending of your letter, there are a limited number of options:

Beginning Ending
If you don’t know the name of the addressee
  • Dear Sir,
  • Dear Madam,
  • Dear Sir/ Madam,
       Yours faithfully,
If you know the surname of the person but he/she is not a close friend
  • Dear Mr Jenkins,
  • Dear Ms Lang,
  • Dear Dr Spock,
       Yours sincerely,
If the person is a friend
  • Dear Sue,
  • Dear Michael,
       Best regards,

Best wishes,



Appropriate Language

In English, there arc certain standard words and phrases that can be used when you want to make a request, suggestion, complaint, and so on. These are called functions. You should learn some of the common functions. Some examples are featured in the table below.

                                                Formal                                                      Less formal

Apology                      • I’m terribly sorry, but…                           • I’m very sorry but…

                                     • I am afraid I…                                            • I am sorry about (not) ____ ing …

                                     • I must apologize about (not) ing…

Complaint                  • I must complain about…                           (no informal forms)

                                     • I am not satisfied with…

                                     • I feel something should be done about…

Request                      • Could you please…                                     • Could you…

                                     • Could you possibly…                                 • Can you…

                                     • Would it be possible to…                          • I’d like you to…

                                     • I would be grateful if                                 • Would you mind ___ing ……..

                                     • Would you mind ____ ing…

                                     • I wonder if you could…

Making                       • I’d like to suggest that…                           • How about…

suggestions                • May I suggest that…                                 • What about…

                                     • Perhaps we could…                                   • Why don’t we…

                                     • Could you please…                                    • Let’s…

Many English textbooks will teach you functions suitable for different situations. You should look at the books you have available (a list of recommended books is on page 156) and learn a wide range of functions for use in Task 1.

Be sure to note whether a function is used in formal or in less formal situations. For most Task 1 questions you will use formal language, but you may be asked to write informally, for example to a close friend.

Making changes and alterations while you write

Most students write in pencil when completing the test and make changes by using an eraser. However, this wastes time. The quickest way to make changes is to cross out (draw a line through) the unwanted words and write the new words after or above. The marker will ignore any words that are crossed our.


For Sample question 2, write a complete letter using the best plan from Activity 26.

Time target: 15 minutes

Step 5—Check for mistakes

Under the pressure of writing in exam conditions, most students make errors they would not usually make. These errors are often very basic, and they do not give the marker a good impression of your knowledge of English. Consequently, it is very important that you save a few minutes at the end of the test time period to check your writing and correct any mistakes you find.

The check-list in the next activity includes the most common grammatical errors made by candidates. You should use this reference to check your own work. These corrections could make a difference to your final score.


Correct the grammatical errors in the samples below by crossing out the mistake and writing in the correct form.

a) Subject/Verb agreement

        If one of those dates are convenient, please let me know.

        They doesn’t gets enough exercise.

b) Plurals

        A party for all new student will be held on Monday.

        Both children and adults are affected.

        There are many new problem for individuals.

c) Subject/Verb/Object

        I afraid that I have lost your invitation.

        There are various negative effects on families or society.

d) Tenses

        Many of the TV programs in my country are coming from overseas.

Yesterday, I ask my lecturer about the test results.

Individuals can be negatively affect by television.

e) Modals

       Therefore, I must have to spend the day studying.

       Watching too much TV can to make people lazy.

       Governments should exercising more control.

f) Word form

        I hope that your party will be success.

The cat died, causing great unhappy.

g) Possessives

        Thank you for you kind invitation.

        My supervisor party was great.

h) Spelling, capitalization and punctuation

        The ceremony is on the 5th and 6th of february.

        I am dreading my first semester elconomi exam.

        I like listening to peoples problems.

i) Articles

        This is the complicated subject.

        He comes from another part of country.

Check your answers with the Answer Key.

If you found it difficult to make these corrections, you probably need to study some more English grammar. In addition to the categories of mistakes mentioned in the check-list, you should also make sure that you can use the following grammar points correctly:

• pronouns

• connecting words (conjunctions)

• conditional sentences

• relative clauses

• prepositions


Below is a sample letter for Sample question 2. The letter has some mistakes in functions and grammar. Find the mistakes, cross them out and write the corrections.

“Dear Mr Simpson,

        I stay in your hotel on the 23rd and the 24th of october. I was stay in room 603. When I have arrived home I discovered I had left one of my bag at hotel. Could you please checking your Lost and Found department and see if my bag is there?

           The bag is the small black leather document case will the narrow strap. Inside the bag you can find several business card, Mont Blanc fountain pen, small adress book and three copies of business proposal. Also a silver pocket calculator. These things is not very value in money terms, but they have a lot of personal value to me.

             I would appreciate it if you could contact me as soon as possible, since I particularly need the proposals for a presentation this week. If you could send the bag to me by courier service I am most grateful. I have arranged payment for the service on delivery here.

        Thank you for you help.

Yours sincerely,

Fatima Ferrangites

Check your answers with the letter in the Answer Key.


Read through and check the letter you wrote for Activity 29. Make corrections by crossing out the old words and writing the new ones above or after.

Time target: 2 minutes


Using your own plan for Sample question 3 (from Activity 27), write a complete letter. Then check what you have written and make changes as necessary.

Time target: 20 minutes

Compare your letter with the sample letter in the Answer Key.

Assessing your written work

The best way to assess your written work is to ask someone with a higher level of English than yours to read it Remember that grammar is not the only criterion. The content and organisation of your letter are also very important, so make sure thar whoever comments on your writing also considers these two aspects.

You can learn more about these things from books about writing in English. You should also use the guide Assessing Your Own Writing at the end of Writing Task 2.

Useful Tips & Strategies for IELTS General Training Writing Task 1
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