FCE Writing – Formal letter – indirect questions

The aim of this post is to revise some indirect question forms in preparation for writing more formal texts – letters or emails…  Refer to Unit 2 grammar reference in the course book.

FCE Writing – paper 2 – part 1

In part 1 of the writing paper you will be asked to write either a letter or an email.  This task is compulsory and you should write between 120 and 150 words.

The question rubric will include an extract from another text with prompts / accompanying notes –  you must mention these points in your text in order to leave the target reader fully informed.  You will also need to analyse the situation and decide if the style should be formal or informal.  Think carefully about the situation.  Who is the reader?  How can your writing style create a positive effect on the reader?

A key way to achieving this positive effect in a formal text is to write questions in an indirect, polite style.  For example, if you are writing to the organiser of a course and one of the prompts tells you to ask for the price, which of the following would be suitably formal?

  • How much is it?
  • I don’t have much money.  Is it expensive?
  • What’s the price?
  • I want to know the price.
  • Could you tell me how much it costs?
  • Could you tell me how much it would be?

The last two examples would create a much more positive effect on the reader whereas the first four are far too direct.

Let’s look at an example which includes an advertisement about a painting course.

Advert:

UNLOCK THE ARTIST INSIDE

Ever wished you could unlock the artist hidden inside you?  If your answer is ‘yes’, look no further.  This summer, come to the heart of England and let your creativity run wild.  Set in beautiful countryside, our residential course takes place in a state of the art workshop in a converted barn and offers you the chance to develop your skills in painting and drawing as well as sculpture.  For only £950 per week, including accommodation, we promise you an unforgettable and rewarding experience.

Imagine you are interested in doing the course.  The advert has grabbed your attention but you have some questions you would like answered before you make your final decision.

Notes and prompts:

  • When does it start?  Monday?  I want to fly to England on Saturday – cost for an extra two nights?
  • Who teaches the course?  Training?
  • Cost of food included in total price?  If not, kitchen?  restaurants nearby?
  • Flying to Manchester – easy to get to Derbyshire?
  • Materials – need to take paints etc?
  • What else is there to do in the area?

The examples below illustrate some polite question forms that you could use.  Identify one mistake in each question.

  1. Do you think could you let me know how much an extra two nights would cost if I arrived on a Saturday and the course started on Monday?
  2. I’d really appreciate it whether you could tell me something about the teachers.  Do they have a lot of experience and training?
  3. Could you tell me if is also included meals in the price?
  4. If meals are not provided, I’d like to know  is there a kitchen on the site or a reasonably priced restaurant nearby.
  5. I can’t find your exact location on google maps so I would like to know how can I get to your location in Derbyshire from Manchester airport.
  6. Would you mind telling me whether do I need to bring materials like paintbrushes and paints?
  7. I would also be pleased you could tell me about local attractions I could visit during my stay.

Now read a complete text below and check your answers:

Dear Sir/Madam,

I am writing in order to get some more information about your summer arts course.  It sounds like a wonderful way of spending the summer from the description in the advertisement I saw so I’m really interested in knowing a bit more.

Firstly, to help me plan my trip, do you think you could let me know how much an extra two nights would cost if I arrived on a Saturday and the course started on Monday?  I have been doing a bit of research on the Internet but I cannot find your exact location on google maps so I would like to know how I can get to your location in Derbyshire from Manchester airport.  For example, are there buses or trains?

I know from your advert that accommodation is covered by the price but could you tell me if meals are also included in the price?  If meals are not provided, I would like to know if there is a kitchen on the site or a reasonably priced restaurant nearby.  Please bear in mind that I am a vegetarian.

Regarding the course itself, I have attended some painting classes before and found that the best ones have teachers who really know their subject.  I would really appreciate it whether if you could tell me something about the teachers.  Do they have a lot of experience and training?

In addition, would you mind telling me whether do I need to bring materials like paintbrushes and paints?  I would not have much space in my luggage as I am planning on spending 3 months in the UK but I could bring a few things if I needed to.

Finally, I have not been able to find much information online about things to do in Derbyshire so I would also be pleased if you could tell me about local attractions I could visit during my stay.

I think that is everything for now.

I look forward to receiving your reply.  Many thanks in advance.

Yours faithfully,

M.

Finally, the answer above is far too long – over 300 words.  In the FCE exam you would not have to respond to so many prompts so you should be able to say everything in around 150 words.  As a final activity here, you could try reducing the text above by finding anything you think is irrelevant or repetitive.

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