Task 1 General – Planning a Letter


You should always take a few minutes to plan your writing. You only have 20 minutes to write 150 words, but spending some time planning will help you write faster, and will make sure your writing is balanced.

These are the steps you should take when planning.

  1. Read and understand the question
  2. Decide on the tone of the letter – formal or informal.
  3. Think about how many sentences you want to write for each point.
  4. Write a few notes to help you start.

Understanding the question

Let’s look again at our sample question:

A friend has agreed to look after your house and pet while you are on holiday.
Write a letter to your friend. In your letter

  • give contact details for when you are away
  • give instructions about how to care for your pet
  • describe other household duties

Write at least 150 words.
You do NOT need to write any addresses.
Begin your letter as follows:
Dear …..

The English in this question is quite simple. Most task one questions are quite simple, so you should be able to understand them. If there are words you don’t know, try to guess what they mean. Don’t worry, you can probably answer the question even if you don’t know a few words. To practice your vocabulary, visit websites like this, which have many sample questions. Read the questions and make sure you understand them.

For this question, there are three points that we need to write about:

  1. give contact details for when you are away (contact details)
  2. give instructions about how to care for your pet (give instructions)
  3. describe other household duties (other duties)

Decide on the tone

The sample question tell you to write to a friend, so this letter needs to be informal. If the letter asks you to write to a colleague, or a manager, you probably want to write a formal letter. Here are some examples of what tone to use with different kinds of recipients.

  • Informal
    • Friend
    • Family
    • Class-mate
    • Pen-pal
  • Formal
    • Boss
    • Tutor
    • Stranger
    • Manager at a restaurant you’re complaining to.

Generally, just use your common-sense when deciding what tone to use. If it would be formal in your language, it’s probably formal in English.

Click here for more information on tone for task 1 general.

Planning your sentences

You need to write 150 words for IELTS Task 1. You should count some of your writing and find how many words you write in a normal sentence. With this information you can guess how many sentences you need to write for a task 1. Most people write around 15 words in a sentence. This means they need to write 10 sentences to reach 150 words. Knowing this makes your letter easier to plan.

I need to write an introduction sentence, which will explain why I am writing (read more about beginning your letter here). I will also need to write a closing sentence (more here). So that’s two sentences finished. The sample question has three points, and I need to write about each of these.

So, If I need to write 10 sentences for the sample question, I can plan like this.

  1. introduction sentence
  2. contact details (phone)
  3. contact details (email)
  4. instructions (dog food)
  5. instructions (dog walk)
  6. instructions (dog bath)
  7. other duties (rubbish)
  8. other duties (vacuum)
  9. other duties (food in fridge)
  10. closing sentence

Planning notes

Now I need to think what I will actually write. I need to create some information to complete the letter. For the sample question, I need to think of contact details, think of a pet and think of chores the person needs to do around the house.

It is important that I choose something that I can write a few sentences about. If I chose a cat for my pet, it would be strange to have a lot of instructions for taking care of a cat, because they don’t need a lot of help. So a dog would be a better choice.

Using this plan I should be able to write 150 words easily. Have a try and see how it goes!


Task 1 General - Planning

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