Exercise 5: Writing an informal letter/email (Ultimate Guide)

Exercise 5: Writing an informal letter/email (Ultimate Guide)

In this article, you will discover how to write an almost perfect informal email that impresses the examiner and gets you the highest band (even full marks if you take it seriously and practice well). By the end of this article, you will have an in-depth knowledge of writing an informal email for exercise 5 of the Reading and Writing paper of the IGCSE English as a Second Language (ESL) exam (0510/0511/0991/0993). This guide is suitable for the current syllabus (2022-2023) and the new syllabus (2024-2026). There are 3 main differences between the syllabuses regarding the Reading and Writing paper. In the new syllabus:

  1. There will be no core and extended versions of the exam; the Reading and Writing paper will be paper 1.
  2. The summary task will be removed from the Reading and Writing paper and replaced with a new multiple-choice question.
  3. The word limit for exercise 5 and exercise 6 will be changed from 150-200 words to 120-160 words.

The updated syllabus is for examination from June 2024 onwards and will not affect students sitting the upcoming October/November 2023 session.

It’s also worth noting that reading this article alone won’t guarantee you an A*; applying it will. So, are you ready? Let’s dive in!

First, you need to be familiar with the components of an informal email. Each component will then be discussed in detail. An informal letter is always made up of:

  1. Salutation or greeting (Dear/Hey/Hi and your friend’s first name only followed by a comma), for example, “Dear Ben,”
  2. Introduction
  3. Body
  4. Conclusion
  5. Signature (Love/With love /Lots of love/Best/Regards/Best regards/Your friend/Cheers followed by a comma and your first name on the next line), for example,

With love,

Ali

Introduction

The purpose of the introduction is to:

  1. Address your friend, the recipient of the email, in an informal style.
  2. Personalize the email.
  3. Tell your friend why you’re writing this letter (this will be mentioned in the question). Sometimes, you need a transition to start the reason why you’re writing this letter. Normally, the word used is “anyway” or “anyhow”. And please avoid writing the cliché “I’m writing this email/letter to…” as it’s obvious you are writing one!

Addressing your friend and personalizing the email can often be combined, for example, “Congratulations on winning the national Swimming competition! I knew you could do it!”. This introduction addresses your friend and shows the examiner that you know your friend well (you know that he/she entered a swimming competition and won).

Always remember that you should keep the introduction short and create an interest in the topic while maintaining a chatty style. Ideally, the reader should be eager to read the rest of your letter.

Here are some examples of effective introductions.

  • Congratulations on your award! So sorry I couldn’t write to you earlier; it’s been a hectic week over here. You won’t believe/imagine what happened yesterday! Prepare to have your jaw drop!
  • I’m sorry I haven’t written for so long, but I’ve been busy settling into my new house. Hope you’ve got over the flu. Anyway, I thought I’d drop you a line to let you know …
  • How’re things? It’s been ages since we last talked! I thought I’d share with you a once-in-a-lifetime experience I had yesterday. Trust me, you’re going to be amazed!
  • How’re you? I’m sorry I’ve been a little on the quiet side—you know how hectic life gets sometimes. Anyhow, …
  • I’m sorry I haven’t written (for ages/since we last met/for a long time), but I’ve been busy studying and haven’t had the time. Guess what! …
  • It was lovely to hear from you last week. Hope you’re feeling better after your injury. I can’t wait to tell you … // I’m dying to tell you …
  • It was good to hear from you. I’m glad you finally got your driving license! How about taking me for a ride next Friday? Anyways, …
  • I’m glad you convinced Aunt Sara to get you the new iPhone you wanted! How is it going so far? Anyway, buckle up because you’re in for some gripping news!
  • I haven’t heard from you in a bit. Things (are/have been) (okay/uneventful/super busy/pretty stressful/pretty exciting/up and down) on (my/this end). As you probably know, …
  • Just read your email and I’m terribly sorry to hear of the loss of your pet cat Luna; she was very special. So, I thought I might drop you a line to cheer you up a bit.
  • How’ve you been? We should get together soon to catch up on all the news. In the meantime, I have an interesting story to tell you.
  • I’ve been meaning to write since your graduation day, but what with one thing or another I’m afraid I just haven’t had the time. Anyway, you’ll never believe/guess …
  • I hope you’re doing well. Sorry for not replying sooner—I have been busy as a bee preparing for my exams. I know this may sound unbelievable but …

You’ll find many more examples on the samples page; however, try to be creative and original in your thoughts and don’t limit yourself to the examples suggested.

Body

The following guidelines should be considered when writing the body of an informal email.

  • Read the bullet points CAREFULLY. Take care of the tense (Are they past events or future events?). Some bullet points will have 2 parts. You should cover both.
  • Draft a plan for your letter in the blank space below the question using a pencil. Write briefly and in bullet points. Jot down any ideas you get for each bullet point and any interesting vocabulary or expressions suitable for the task that came to your mind. Spend no more than 5 minutes on the plan.
  • You may use the pictures in the question, but you will gain more marks if you use your own ideas. Try to be imaginative so that your email will be more interesting but keep it realistic and convincing (do not mention things that are impossible to happen in the real world).
  • Write 2-3 body paragraphs. It’s best to write 3 paragraphs, each covering a bullet point in the order given in the question. However, you can still combine bullet 1 and bullet 2 in the 2nd paragraph and write bullet 3 in the 3rd paragraph.
  • Keep to the topic (don’t wander away from the main subject of the email). Remind yourself constantly by looking again at the question.
  • Develop your Content very well by:
  1. Adding more details
  2. Expressing your thoughts and feelings using a wide range of vocabulary, for example,
  • I was surprised to see that…
  • I was amazed to find that …
  • I was disappointed to realize that …
  • We were delighted to learn that …
  • We were horrified to hear that …
  • To my astonishment/delight/horror, …
  1. Giving explanations where appropriate, for example, “I couldn’t pull myself together. You know me—I always panic in emergencies.”
  • Personalize your email. Personalizing creates interest in your writing and shows the examiner that you are friends and know each other well. Personalizing phrases make the reader feel that he/she is included in your thought as you write and that his feelings and opinions have been considered. You should aim to use 3-4 personalizing phrases in your letter.

You can personalize by:

  1. Mentioning something you know about your friend

E.g. I know you’re a nature lover, so why don’t you come along?

  1. Mentioning something your friend knows about you

E.g. You know me—always the adventurer!

  1. Mentioning previously shared experiences where relevant

E.g. Do you remember that orphanage we visited?

  1. Just including your friend in your thoughts

E.g. I wonder what you would have done.

Here are some useful personalizing phrases:

  • As you probably know, …
  • As you can imagine, …
  • As you might have guessed, …
  • Wait until you meet/see/taste …
  • You’ll be glad/pleased to know that …
  • You’ll really enjoy …
  • I know you love football, so I’ve…
  • You know how I’m afraid of being alone/you know how scared I am of heights
  • You know me—I always …
  • I don’t need to tell you how excited I was when…
  • I wish you’d seen the look on my grandma’s face when…
  • Don’t you wish you’d been there?
  • I wonder what you would have done.
  • I was delighted to hear that you got your driving license.
  • By the way, have you heard about Karim’s car accident?
  • Use time sequence phrases to organize the events of your story (if applicable). Here are some examples:
  • We’d just sat down at our desks when the fire alarm went off.
  • The moment I walked into the room I noticed something strange.
  • Just as we were about to catch the bus there was a deafening noise.
  • As I opened the door, I heard a scream.
  • I was driving at top speed when, to my horror, I noticed my brakes were not working
  • When my mother and I were at the City Centre Mall last night, I happened to notice…
  • Anyhow, last Friday turned out to be totally different. It all started when my brother Peter went out to buy groceries and…
  • We were waiting for the school bus this afternoon and as the bus drew up at the usual place near the school’s main entrance, we heard a deafening noise.
  • After what seemed like ages …
  • Later that afternoon …
  • Shortly after that …
  • The minute I walked in the door…
  • It wasn’t until sometime later…
  • By this time …
  • In the end …

Conclusion

The purpose of the conclusion is to indicate to the reader that the email is coming to a close. It should address the recipient of the email and personalize the whole piece. And it should be very brief.

Here are some effective examples of conclusions (some might not be suitable for every topic such as the 1st example):

  • I really wish you were there! You would have loved it! Give my regards to James and Uncle Joe. Reply soon!
  • That’s it for now. See you soon!
  • Catch you soon.
  • Speak soon.
  • Shoot me an email soon.
  • I must dash now. Update me on your trip to London!
  • I’ve got to go. Write back!
  • I must go now. Stay blessed!
  • Don’t you wish you’d been there? Must dash to see if there is anything about it on the local news.
  • What are your plans for later this week? Let’s grab a coffee on Friday if you’re free.
  • Before I close, did you see the new exhibit at Ithra? Want to check it out sometime?
  • Time to stop. I have my assignment to complete; the last day of submission is tomorrow.
  • Well, I must stop now. My annoying brother is banging on the door. Got to open it before he breaks it down.
  • My mum’s calling for dinner, so I’ll cut this letter short. Take care!
  • I’m looking forward to seeing you soon/ hearing from you soon.
  • How’re things on your end? Let me know what’s been going on with you.

Important points to keep in mind

Dos:

  • Organize your letter into 4-5 paragraphs. Leave a line between paragraphs or indent the first line of each new paragraph. Don’t do both!
  • Take care of spelling, punctuation, and grammar. This is important as the examiner will look at the accuracy of your language.
  • Use informal cohesive devices and linking words. Here are some examples.
  • Transition: anyway, anyhow
  • Addition: and, also, plus, next, what’s more, not only that, but that’s not all, above all, and best of all, and one of the best things …
  • Contrast: but, yet, though
  • Reasoning: because, so
  • Other: fortunately, luckily, you know, well, by the way, you see Ben (or your friend’s first name), etc.
  • Use contractions, for example, you’re, haven’t, I’ll, etc.
  • Use phrasal verbs, figurative speech, and informal expressions. The use of idioms can be appropriate but be careful not to use too many of them as it can make your writing sound unnatural (1-2 idioms are ok). They also need to suit the task and be used accurately. If you’re unsure, it’s better to avoid using them completely.
  • Use questions and question tags to engage with your friend, for example, “What would you have done?”, “How does that sound?”, “What do you think?”, “That’s terrifying, isn’t it?”, “Sounds exciting, right?”, etc.
  • Use a combination of simple, compound, and complex sentences. A series of long sentences will make your writing difficult to read, and a series of short simple sentences will make your writing boring to read. Balance is the key.
  • Use a wide range of vocabulary, including some advanced and less commonly used ones. Don’t use common adjectives such as happy, nice, bad, sad, etc. Try to think of more advanced and interesting alternatives such as ecstatic, pleasant, terrible, heartbroken, etc.
  • Use advanced punctuation sparingly (1-3 in the whole letter), for example, colon (:), semicolon (;) and em dash (—).
  • Write in an active voice (not passive). For example, write “We had a wonderful time”, instead of “A wonderful time was had by us”. Writing in an active voice is natural, but I mentioned it just in case.
  • Aim to complete towards the maximum word limit (approximately 200 words for the current syllabus and 160 words for the new syllabus). Exceeding the word limit slightly (15-20 words) is fine as long as you write accurately and complete the task within the correct time. If you exceed the word limit by any number of words, be it even 100, no marks will be cut directly, but you increase your chances of making more mistakes which may result in deducting marks. If you write towards the lower limit or below, you are highly unlikely to achieve the highest band for Content as your content is not well developed.
  • Spend about 30 minutes on this exercise: the initial 5 minutes for planning and the last 2-3 minutes for checking your work for simple spelling and grammatical mistakes.

Don’ts:

  • Don’t use abbreviations and slang (texting language) such as how r u, OMG, BTW, etc. Remember: this is an international exam.
  • Don’t use formal vocabulary, for example, I apologize, I wanted to inform you, etc.
  • Don’t use formal linking words, for example, firstly, secondly, furthermore, moreover, in addition, additionally, finally, lastly, however, in conclusion, etc.
  • Avoid listing (firstly, secondly, thirdly, etc.). If necessary, you might use other informal alternatives to “firstly”, such as “To start with”, “For a start”, or “For starters”, but listing is not preferred whatsoever.
  • Avoid repetition of vocabulary and beginning your sentences with the same words. Sometimes, students write 3 or more sentences in a row starting with “The” or “I”!
  • Don’t waste time writing an address or a subject. They are not necessary.

Final note

Practice a lot of past papers and get feedback on your writing. If you don’t have a teacher, reread these notes and check for what you have done right and what you haven’t.

Good luck! Go get that A*!

25 responses to “Exercise 5: Writing an informal letter/email (Ultimate Guide)”

  1. Ayaan Yousuf avatar
    Ayaan Yousuf

    Dear Esl Kings Team,

    This morning, I gave my english exam. Overall, it went really great but I can’t tell you how much your notes and samples helped, it was a real clutch saver! I am sure I will get A+.
    At the end, I just want to say that thank you really much for your resources, they’re a game changer!
    Warm regards,
    Ayaan.

    1. ESL Kings team avatar

      Dear Ayaan,

      Thank you for sharing this great news! It’s wonderful to hear that your exam went well! Congratulations! Your hard work certainly paid off, and we’re glad our notes and samples could play a part in your success! Keep up the fantastic work, and good luck with all your other exams!

      Best wishes,
      ESL Kings team

  2. Ayaan Yousuf avatar
    Ayaan Yousuf

    Is it okay to extend word limit in ex.5 and 6 by a lot (like finishing the whole page) because based on me I can make around 230+ words in that page and I still find difficulty to fully place my email there while now the word count is 120 to 160 which is wayy to hard. I know it is allowed to pass the word limit but I really want someone’s advice.

    1. ESL Kings team avatar

      We understand that abiding by the new word limit is difficult, so we suggest at least trying to reduce it to around 200 words. Analyze a few pieces of your writing and see where you tend to write excessively. Maybe you write an overlong introduction or conclusion when just two to three lines are enough. Maybe you mention a lot of ideas when just a few well-developed ideas are enough. If you still aren’t able to reduce it, don’t worry; shift your focus to other more important aspects that we mentioned in the notes, such as grammar, vocabulary, organization, etc. Good luck!

    2. Alessia avatar
      Alessia

      I understand, and I am happy to inform you that you can pass the word limit and there will be no problem. It is actually recommended to use the whole page.

  3.  avatar
    Anonymous

    Hey, can i get my writing marked by any chance?

    1. ESL Kings team avatar

      Hi, unfortunately, we have suspended our marking service since it requires a lot of time and effort which we can’t provide at the moment. Please accept our sincere apologies for this.

  4.  avatar
    Anonymous

    so detailed and helpful! Thank you

    1. ESL Kings team avatar

      Thank you for your kind words! We’re delighted to hear that you found them helpful!

  5.  avatar
    Anonymous

    Words can’t show how grateful I am, Seriously. Will always be remembered in my prayers. My teacher gave us those notes giving herself credits and calling it HER guidebook, but such phenomenal notes will never get out of her. Incredibly grateful!!

    1. ESL Kings team avatar

      Thank you so much for your heartfelt comment! We really appreciate your kind words and remembering us in your prayers! It means a lot to us!

  6. yara avatar
    yara

    thank you so much this was so useful appreciate it

    1. ESL Kings team avatar

      Thank you for your kind words! We’re glad it was helpful!

  7. Rabia Akram avatar
    Rabia Akram

    it is very helpful.

    1. ESL Kings team avatar

      Thank you! We are glad it was helpful 🙂

  8.  avatar
    Anonymous

    noice

  9. AAHH avatar

    Really useful but can you do one for formal writing?

    1. ESL Kings team avatar

      Thank you! We’re glad it helped. Regarding your question, we have already made notes for article writing and report writing. Please check out our notes page. We are also working on adding notes for essay and review writing, which will be available soon.

  10. Manmeet avatar
    Manmeet

    It really made my task easier!

    1. ESL Kings team avatar

      That’s great to hear! We’re so happy it was helpful!

  11. Eman ali avatar
    Eman ali

    Amazing tips! Thanks alot💞

    1. ESL Kings team avatar

      Thank you for your kind words! We are glad you found them helpful!

  12.  avatar
    Anonymous

    top notch!!!!!!

    1. ESL Kings team avatar

      That’s great to hear! We really appreciate your comment!

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