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Tone is an important aspect of writing because it is a reflection of your attitude in your message to someone.  It can also have an effect on the person who reads your letter, so if not handled properly, it can have a negative influence.  In the IELTS Writing test, this is something that is very important in Task 1 of the General Training test, where you are asked to write a letter.  Let’s look at some useful tips to ensure you have an appropriate tone. 

Formality

One area where tone is important is in the level of formality in your letter.  If you are writing a letter to a friend, then the use of formal vocabulary would be inappropriate.  The same can be said if you use language that is too casual (e.g. slang) in a formal letter. 

 Let’s compare these two sentences when writing a letter to a friend:  

  1. I wish to express my gratitude for permitting me to accompany you and your family on your venture to Westside Lake last weekend. 

  2. I just wanted to say a big thank you for letting me tag along with you and your family on your little outing to Westside Lake last weekend. 

You will see that Sentence 1 is inappropriate as some of the language is too formal (e.g. ‘I wish to express my gratitude’, ‘permitting’, ‘accompany’, ‘venture’).  This could make the reader of the letter feel awkward as the mood you are displaying is distant and non-personal. 

Sentence 2 uses warmer language and some casual phrases in comparison, so the tone is more suitable and potentially has a positive effect on the reader. 

Alternatively, if casual language is used in an informal context, it can also appear inappropriate.  Here are two more examples to compare: 

  1. I understand that refunds are not standard policy, however, I was hoping to receive a refund given the circumstances

  2. I know you guys don’t normally give refunds, but I really wanna get my money back cos of what happened

Imagine you are the owner of the store where this person wants to receive a refund.  Would you be more willing or less willing to do this with the language used in Sentence 1 or Sentence 2? 

Because Sentence 2 is too casual and informal, the tone is affected and the store owner would be less likely to be accommodating as the attitude of the writer does not reflect well.  The mood of the writer in Sentence 1 is much more appropriate. 

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Functional language

In Task 1 of the IELTS Writing test (General Training test), you could be asked to write a letter for different purposes.  These can include: 

  • An invitation 

  • An apology 

  • A complaint 

  • Asking for information 

  • Making a suggestion 

  • Making an application 

  • A recommendation 

  • Making a request 

  • Making an offer 

  • Offering advice 

  • Thanking someone 

Remember that this type of task is linked with culture.  How someone complains in one culture can be different to how people do it in another.  For example, in some cultures, people are very direct when they are not happy about something, while in others, people are less direct.  Make sure you know the appropriate tone when dealing with the functions listed above. 

 Let’s look at some sample language when saying thank you (e.g. to a friend):  

  1. I just wanted to say thank you so much for giving me a helping hand yesterday to finish my class report.  I know you had a lot on your plate, so I’m really grateful you made the time to help me out of a tight spot.  I owe you big time! 

  2. Thank you so very much for helping me finish my class report yesterday.  You went above and beyond and showed me you have the virtue of a saint.  Your kindness and generosity were very special to me and I am forever in your debt. I can’t thank you enough for your help and I promise you I will never forget this for as long as I live.  Once again, a huge thank you from me and I sincerely appreciate your kind act and consideration of me.  You are one in a million. 

In Sentence 1, the writer is polite and thankful to the friend for what they have done to help.  The person is thanked twice (e.g. ‘thank you so much’ & ‘I’m really grateful’) and appreciation and understanding are shown twice (e.g. ‘I know you had a lot on your plate’ & ‘I owe you big time!’).  This is an example of an appropriate note. 

However, in Sentence 2, the person is continually thanked – this could make the friend feel uncomfortable.  But note that not thanking someone enough can also have a negative effect, so make sure what you have written in your answer is appropriate for English-speaking cultures.  Also, some of the language in Sentence 2 is over the top (e.g. ‘you went above and beyond’, ‘you have the virtue of a saint’, ‘I am forever in your debt’ and ‘I promise you I will never forget this as long as I live’).  Therefore, the tone in this letter is not appropriate. 

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How to prepare for IELTS

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Achieving a great IELTS score takes time and planning. You can’t just book and take your test in a matter of days – no matter how strong your English skills are. Successful test takers create a schedule to help them study everything they need to know before they sit an IELTS test. They make time to practise all four English skills – ListeningReadingWriting and Speaking – as the format of each part of the test is different.

If they have trouble with a topic, they attend a FREE Masterclass with an IELTS expert who can teach them how to improve. When they’re almost ready to take IELTS, they will complete as many practice tests as they can find. 

So, when there are hundreds of resources to help you study, where do you begin? Click here to access your go-to guide to IELTS preparation. All of our most important materials – both free and paid – are listed here, divided by category.

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