GT Writing letter 6: Explaining, requesting (semi-formal style)

You wish to apply for a new college course, but you are unsure about the details of cost, duration and subjects posted on the college website. Write an email to the relevant person in admissions at the college, asking them to clarify these points for you.

In this email,
Say what your interest is
Explain why the website is unclear
Request the information that you need
Begin your letter ‘Dear ——–’

Do not write any addresses
Write at least 150 words

Explanation of the Task

Recipient This is a letter to a person you do not know; however, in reality, you would probably know their name from the website, and this Task says ‘the relevant person,’so it cannot be ‘Dear Sir or Madam.’

Style Occasionally, a task will give you a situation which is between formal and personal, which the examiners call ‘semi-formal.’ This will usually be to a person you do not know well, but there is no need to be highly formal.

In this situation, the recipient would be familiar with getting many queries such as this; you are not complaining or insisting on a refund or a change; the recipient is probably not senior to you in age or authority. For these reasons, you can use a slightly less formal style than we saw in Model letters 1 and 3 in this book.

In the exam, think about these points, to decide if the Task may be asking for a semi-formal letter; if you are not sure, write it in a formal style – that’s better than writing in a style which is too personal!

Remember that formal and personal letter tasks are more common than semi-formal letter tasks.

Content The Task asks for explaining (your interest and the problems with the website) and requesting (the information you still need.)

Band 9 model letter 6

Dear Mr Smith,

I’m interested in the photography course this year, and I have seen your name on the college website as the contact for admission queries. I have several questions for you, and I hope you can help.

Firstly, regarding the cost of the course, is the fee of $99 per month or for the whole course? Is it possible to pay in monthly instalments, or is the fee paid in full up front? The website says that ‘other payment methods are possible,’ but there is no explanation.

Secondly, can you tell me what the exact dates of the course are? Your website says ‘Summer to Autumn,’ but I can’t see any specific dates relating to this. I would be grateful for the precise dates,
including when I need to pay for the course and buy the books and so on.

Finally, I’d appreciate some information about the course content itself, including details of the equipment to be used and the wording of the certificate I will receive at the end. The website says
that I should contact you for this.

Thank you for your help, and I look forward to receiving the information requested.

Kind Regards,

Aftab Iqbal

(200 words)

Why is this a Band 9 letter?

Recipient: The letter is addressed and concluded in a suitable formal style, because this person is a stranger; however, the content is written in a semi-formal way, for the reasons explained above.

Style:The style is a mix of formal and personal.

The formal elements are:
The greeting and ending, with a formal ‘call to action.’
Using ‘firstly/secondly/finally’ to introduce the paragraphs.
Using an indirect question (‘Can you tell me . . .’) to make a request.
Using ‘I would be grateful for’ and ‘I’d appreciate’ to make a request (In a purely formal letter, this would be ‘I would appreciate.’)
Using formal words including ‘monthly instalment/specific/course content/wording.’

You can use all of these elements in a formal letter.

The personal elements are:

Using a small number of contractions (‘I’m interested/I’d appreciate’) to make the communication less strong and more friendly.
Using direct questions (‘is the fee . . ./is it possible . . .’) to request information.
Using the simple word ‘help’ rather than ‘assistance’ or ‘attention.’
Using ‘and so on’ instead of ‘etc’ or ‘and other such matters’ or similar.
You can use all of these elements in a personal letter.
When the two styles are mixed in this way, the recipient sees that the letter is serious and professional, but also that the writer is trying to be friendly and ‘on the same level.’ This is a common feature of writing letters in English in real life.

Content: This is a task where the writer has had to invent quite a lot of details. These are realistic and the vocabulary is relevant. If the candidate asked for details of, for example, the student restaurant or the furniture, the examiner would probably think this was irrelevant to the task.

The writer has combined the ‘explaining’ and ‘requesting’ content in the three main body paragraphs.

Normally, it is safer to keep the content ideas separated in different paragraphs; in this case, however,it is combined effectively because in each paragraph the candidate has asked for information and explained in a realistic way why this is not clear from the website. This ensures that the Task is fully answered.

This was an example of a semi-formal letter in a professional situation, showing you both formal and personal elements, and how to combine them. Model letter 9 in this book shows you a semi-formal letter in a social situation.

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