Source: www.rubenvalero.com

FCE – formal letter or email

Paper 2 Part 1 – Formal letter or email

Formal letters may be written to an individual or to an organisation. The purpose may be, for example,

  • to apply for part-time or vacation work (application letter)
  • to apply for study or scholarship opportunity (application letter)
  • to complain about something (complaint letter)
  • to make suggestions about something
  • to request information (enquiry letter)

In many exam questions, you will be told what to include in your reply. Make sure that your reply answers any questions that you were asked in the task and takes into account any additional information that you have been told to mention. It is important that you include these in order to get a good grade.

How to write formal letters

Formal letter layout

[1] Greeting

  • (A) If you know the name of the person you are writing to use the title (Mr, Mrs, Miss or Ms) and the surname only. If you are writing to a woman and do not know if she uses Mrs or Miss, you can use Ms, which is for married and single women.
    Examples: “Dear Mr Simpson,” / “Dear Mrs Flanders,” / “Dear Miss Skinner,” / “Dear Ms Van Houten,”
  • (B) If you do not know the name of the recipient of the letter begin with “Dear Sir,” / “Dear Madam,” (if you know you are writing to a man or a woman) or “Dear Sir or Madam,” (if you do not know the sex of the person you are writing to).

[2] Body

[2.1] Opening

The first paragraph states the reason(s) for writing and, if needed, what you are responding to (an advert, a prospectus…). In addition, an opening paragraph is needed to make reference to previous correspondence.

Useful phrases for the opening

  • I would like to apply for one of the scholarships I saw advertised in your prospectus. (applying for a scholarship)
  • I am looking for an outdoor work during the summer holidays and I would like to apply for the position of hotel lifguard assistant which I say advertised in my university’s student newspaper. (applying for a job)
  • I have seen your advertisement for the post / vacancy / job of… advertised in the local newspaper on 16 June. I am writing because I would like to apply for the job.  (applying for a job)
  • I am the secretary of my college Science Club. I saw your advertisement for the exhibition “The Next 100 Years” and I am interested in organising a group visit. I was wondering if I could ask you some questions about it. (requesting information)
  • I am writing (in order) to complain about the advertisement for your new game. Having just played the game, I realise that the advertisement is misleading. (complaint letter)
  • I am writing with regard to … I am writing with reference to… I am writing in response to…
  • Thank you for /your letter of 9 May… /for your letter regarding…
  • In reply tor your letter of 8 May, …

[2.2], [2. .] Main content

The rest of the body will be organized in paragraphs: that will make reading easier and the effect on the target reader will be better. For example, an application letter may have this layout and paragraphing:

  • Salutation or greeting
  • #1 Opening (first paragraph)
  • #2 About you (age, where you live, education-training and/or work experience relevant to the job, languages …)
  • #3 Reasons for applying (why you are suitable for the job)
  • #4 Conclusion (availability for interview, further questions, … – if necessary)
  • Closing
  • Final salutation
  • Name and surname

For any type of formal letter, paragraphing is just a matter of common sense, grouping ideas logically (covering  two points or questions in one paragraph, two other points or questions in another paragraph…). You should aim for three to five paragraphs

Other useful phrases 

Asking politely

  • Could you tell me… ?
  • I would be grateful if you could …
  • I would be interested in having more details about…
  • I would like to know if/when/when/…
  • I would like information on…
  • Do you know if…?


  • I would like to complain about + noun or -ing
  • … is not what I expected / was expecting
  • I am not satisfied with…
  • I would be grateful if my money was refunded / if you could give me a refund

[3] Closing

The end of your letter is as important as the beginning. You usually state what you would like the recipient to do, make a reference to a future event, offer to help…

  • I look forward to hearing from you soon / I look forward to receiving your reply
  • I look forward to receiving a full refund (in a complaint letter)
  • I would like to know what you are going to do about this situation  (in a complaint letter)
  • I would like to thank you in advance for this information (in a enquiry letter -requesting information)
  • If you require/Should you need further information, please do not hesitate to contact me/feel free to contact me.

[4] Final salutation

Depending on how you started your letter (See above), you will end your letter with

  • (A) Yours sincerely,
  • (B) Yours faithfully,

[5] Sign your name and then print your name clearly underneath on another new line

Moe Szyslak
Moe Szyslak

Letter of application – useful phrases

Dear ……

I am writing to apply for a/the job of ….. which I saw advertised in “The Guardian” newspaper.

I am 26 years old and at the moment I am studying … at …. Having studied English for over seven years I am a fluent speaker of the language. My qualifications also include Proficiency certificates in both French and German. As far as experience is concerned, I have worked as …………. for ……….. As for my character, people tell me I am ……………

I feel I would be suitable for this job because ………… . This will give me the opportunity to ….. . I would also like the chance to….

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours …


Other things to consider

Range: It is important that you use grammatical expressions and vocabulary appropriate to the level of the exam. Even if there are no mistakes in your writing, you will not be able to get a good grade if you use only the language and vocabulary that you learnt at elementary level.

Formal language

  • Use full verb forms and not contractions (do not instead of don’t, would like instead of ‘d like…)
  • Formal vocabulary, usually not using phrasal verbs.
  • More complex sentence structure.

Connectors: All good writing makes good use of connectors. You need to use some of the connectors that are more specific to formal language.