CAE Mon/Weds Tues/Thurs – advanced writing – focus on letters (1)

The idea behind the post is to look at letter writing for the Cambridge Advanced Exam.   It will pay particular attention to register and give some useful phrases for writing letters to organisations which describe an experience, suggest ideas which could improve the service and ask for action to be taken.

The post links to an activity and a reference document on  You can access the links without having to log in.

A quick overview

Letters at CAE can focus on a variety of scenarios.  Here are a few examples:

  • You might be asked to write a letter to a friend who wants advice about something you have experience of.  Remember, if the compulsory part one task asks you to do this, there’ll be some information provided for you containing key points that must be included in the letter.
  • You may be required to write to a company manager recommending someone for a job.  An example of this letter or statement of reference can be found in Unit 1 of your book, CAE Result.
  • You may need to write a letter describing both the positive and negative examples of an experience.  For example, the letter to the manager of a spa in Unit 5 of the book.
  • You may have to write a letter of application for a job detailing why you are suitable for the position.
  • You may be asked to write to a college principal perhaps explaining a situation, describing a problem, and asking for and suggesting appropriate action.

You can find examples of 3 different letter types by downloading some official practice material from the official Cambridge Advanced website (look for the link under “FREE materials” halfway down the page) and read some sample answers with examiner comments by looking at pages 35-46 on the link here.

Getting the right register and some useful phrases for letter writing

As with all writing tasks at this level it is important to consider how you phrase your letter.  Keep in mind the effect your letter will have on the reader.  Ask yourself, ‘what register is most appropriate?,’ ‘Should I write a formal letter?’  ‘Is what I have written too direct or too formal?’

Here is an activity designed to help you find the right register in your letters.

Let’s look at the register that might be used in a letter to a company manager about an experience you had.  Let’s say you are writing to a company because you bought a book online and were disappointed in the service.

Here are the content points you need to include:

  1. You have used the company before because you think the website is excellent.
  2. Normally the books you order arrive quickly but this time you had to wait over a month.
  3. When you sent an email after waiting two weeks nobody replied – suggest they look into this.
  4. When the book finally arrived it was badly damaged – what action will they take?

Take a look at the extracts for this letter/email on this linoit.  They are classified according to whether they are too formal, too informal or direct, or just right for the situation.  Can you identify what words/phrases in the extracts put them in these categories?  What is it about the tone that is right or wrong?

You can also add some sticky notes to the page which deal with the other content points above in the appropriate register.  You should have permission to add new sticky notes without needing to log in or register.
Finally, for now, another link to linoit which gives some useful phrases for writing letters describing an experience with a company/organisation.

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Filed under C1 / CAE Writing, C1+ Vocabulary

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