Most of my students are adept at writing formal and informal letters. It is only when it comes to writing semi-formal letters do they falter a little. The tone of semi-formal letters can be a bit complicated, according to a few students of mine. Most of my students have asked, “how to begin the semi-formal letter” at least once when learning about IELTS Letter Writing.
To understand the whole procedure better, consider the following example.
You should spend about 20 minutes on this task.
You have decided to leave your job even though you enjoy it.
Write a letter to inform your manager about the decision.
In your letter,
Write at least 150 words
You do NOT need to write any addresses
Begin your letter as follows:
A semi-formal letter is written to someone who you know well, but do not share an emotional bond with. This could be your boss or colleagues. This could also be an acquaintance or a mutual friend. Therefore, you do not need to introduce yourself – they already know you! Remember that depending on the reader, your letter might lean towards being a little more formal or informal in your choice of words.
Now, since the reader is just someone you know, it is always safe to address these people by their last names. Now, many students ask, “Should I choose an English name? What if I choose a surname from my native? Would the IELTS examiner understand?” Well, the examiner will understand. But to be safe, you may always fix an English name—this way you need not worry about the name while writing the letter in the exam.
However, in the given task, you are writing a letter to your boss. In most of the office around the globe, it is common to address your supervisor by the first name. In such a case, you use the first name of the reader. Here you could simply begin with “Dear Sam”.
With the recipients of the semi-formal letters, you have had previous interactions. You can mention those in your follow-up. You may have even spoken to the reader about this topic before so you can write about that as well.
If your friend has suggested that you write to Mr Thompson (an example of an acquaintance) who you know but have never talked to, you can probably say something like “I am sure *insert friend’s name* has told you about my situation.”
If you are writing to your boss, you could mention a previous email, or a task he had given you. The context of the situation you are following up is dependent on you. Just make sure that it is somehow connected to the topic of the letter. The purpose of the letter will be written in the same paragraph so there should be some connection.
In the given task, you are, in fact, writing to your manager. So you could note the first sentences as follows.
Thanks for your guidance in the last meeting about my career prospects.
Now that you have set the context in the first sentence, you can get to the main topic of the letter. Mentioning the purpose of the letter right in the beginning is vital so that the reader has some idea about what is about to come.
Being bombarded by that information in the first few sentences itself is not good writing. Remember that IELTS Letters are about letters you might have to write in real life, so treat them as such.
Based on that, I am writing to inform you about my decision to part ways with the organisation.
Thanks for your guidance in the last meeting about my career prospects. Based on that, I am writing to inform you about my decision to part ways with the organisation.”
This is a straightforward two-sentence introduction that shows the relationship that the writer shares with the reader, and gives the purpose of the letter. Openings don’t need to be fancy or complicated; they just need to do their job.
Let us consider another example.
You are having a graduation party next Sunday evening. You have invited over 25 people to celebrate in your garden, which may continue late into the night.
Write a letter to your elderly neighbour.
In your letter:
Write at least 150 words. You do NOT need to write any addresses.
Begin your letter as follows:
“Dear Mr Kulligowski,
As you are aware, I have completed my course this week. I am writing this letter to tell you that to celebrate this achievement I will be throwing a small party at home.”
Many may think since the letter is written to the neighbour, there is no reason why the writer would discuss their graduation with the reader beforehand. However, they would have had a separate interaction, which the writer mentions. The rest of the letter would be about the party, and the writer could always invite the neighbour before discussing other details.
Semi-formal letters are written to acquaintances, and the exact tone of the letter will depend on the precise relationship between the writer and the reader. Some may be a little more on the formal or informal side as well. In the introduction paragraph, the writer must mention some reference to a previous interaction they have had and then introduce the purpose of the letter. This is not to make it overtly curt or casual either.