How to Master Letter Writing in English (Part 2)

stamps

Image courtesy of Chris (CC Flickr)

 

In the first part, we looked at the concept of tone and its importance in making your letter sound appropriate. To decide what kind of tone is suitable, we said it’s useful to consider who you are writing to (the recipient).

 

Another important fact to think of is the purpose, i.e. the reason for writing.

 

The purpose

How we write may change depending on why we are writing, even if the recipient happens to be the same person. To understand this better, let’s consider the following:

 

Situation A: Write a letter to your manager informing him/her about some problem you face at work.

Situation B: Write a letter to your manager inviting him/her to your house-warming.

 

Though you’re writing to the same person in both cases, situation B is personal, whereas A is work-related. Naturally, situation B may make use of language that’s less formal than the one in A.

 

Consistent use of tone

Once you identify the appropriate tone, how do you then ensure it is used consistently across a letter or email? Here are some ways to do this:

 

More formal Less formal
Do NOT use contractions

E.g.: We are pleased to…

Use contractions

E.g.: We’re really happy to…

Use long words / less common vocabulary

E.g.: hold a discussion

Use simpler vocabulary

E.g.: have a chat

Do NOT use abbreviations

E.g.: February, Monday, as soon as possible

Use abbreviations

E.g.: FebMon, asap

Complete sentences

E.g.: I am sorry about the confusion.

Incomplete sentences

E.g.: Sorry about the confusion.

Use one-word verbs

E.g.: Can you visit my office and collect the files?

Use phrasal verbs

E.g.: Can you drop into my office and pick up the files?

 

So, the next time you attempt a letter writing task, begin by identifying what tone is appropriate for the given situation. Then, use various language features (some are given in the table above) to keep the tone consistent throughout your letter.

 

 

 

GLOSSARY

 

concept
Form : noun
Meaning : an idea related to something
Example : Oliver finds it difficult to understand even the simplest concepts of science.

 

appropriate
Form : adjective
Meaning : suitable for a particular situation
Example : I think it isn’t appropriate to wear jeans to work.

 

abbreviation
Form : noun
Meaning : a short form of a word or phrase
Example : St is an abbreviation for the word ‘Saint’.

 

How to Master Writing Emails/Letters in English

postbox-med

Image courtesy of Davina Ware (Flickr)

 

Letters may seem outdated in this digital age, but the skills needed to produce one are still considered important. Naturally, many international language tests evaluate the test taker’s ability to produce pieces of communication, such as letters, memos or emails.

 

In the IELTS General Training format, the writing module has two tasks. In the first one, candidates are given a situation and asked to write a letter. Depending on the situation, they have to choose from one of three kinds of tone – friendly, semi-formal, or formal.

 

Tone Example situation
Friendly Write a letter to a friend inviting him/her to a party you are having next month.
Semi-formal Write a letter to your manager requesting him/her for one week’s leave.
Formal Write a letter to the general manager of a restaurant complaining about the poor service you received during your visit there.

 

So, what exactly is tone? Simply put, it is the style of writing that is most suitable for a given situation.

 

Identifying the appropriate tone for a letter can be tricky at times. In fact, it is not uncommon in IELTS for test takers to get the tone horribly wrong. As a result, the letter sounds rude or inappropriate, thereby affecting their overall writing score.

 

So, how can you identify the appropriate tone? Well, here’s one key factor to consider:

 

The recipient

Is the person you are writing to (i.e. the recipient) someone you know? What sort of relationship do you share with them ‒ formal or friendly?

 

If the recipient is unknown, or if they are much senior to you (in age or rank), the letter needs to have a respectful tone (semi-formal to formal). On the other hand, if it’s a friend you’re writing to, the letter will certainly be chatty, looking more like a conversation.

More about tone in the next part!

 

 

GLOSSARY

 

outdated
Form : adjective
Meaning : no longer useful or fashionable
Example : The computer systems in Kevin’s company are really outdated.

 

tricky
Form : adjective
Meaning : difficult to deal with
Example : Aged people sometimes find smart phones tricky to operate.

 

horribly
Form : adverb
Meaning : in a bad way
Example : He got injured when a karate move went horribly wrong.

 

chatty
Form : adjective
Meaning : describes writing style that is friendly 
Example : Judith sent me a bright, chatty letter about her life in Greece.

 

 

Pin It on Pinterest