Aptis Writing: Informal and Formal Emails
One of the typical tasks in many written exams is writing informal and formal emails or letters. This task comes up in Part Four of Aptis ESOL General and Aptis ESOL for Teachers, and in Part Two of Aptis ESOL Advanced. It also forms part of the Trinity College London ISE Reading and Writing modules, as well as Cambridge First and Advanced.
In this post we’re going to show you how to do it well. The first step is getting to know the different language used in writing informal and formal emails. You also need to learn the typical expressions we use in each type of writing. So let’s get started!
We’ll begin by looking at an example of the tasks you have to complete in Part Four of the Aptis Writing Test. You’re given a scenario and asked to respond in writing. You have to write a short informal email to a friend and a formal email to a person in authority. Both emails are on the same theme, but you must use different levels of formality.
In the exam you have to write 40-50 words in the informal email, and 120-150 words in the formal email. However, we’re not following those word counts in these examples, as we want to focus more on the necessary language. (For more details of all parts of the Aptis Writing exam, go to our Overview of the Test.)
Informal and formal emails
In the exam you have to write to different people, as explained above. The content is also a little different. But here we’ve written the same basic email, one informal and the other formal, in order to focus on the language content.
Charlie Smith has sent out an email about a project. Read these email replies and look at the underlined language. Which email is from a person who is probably friends with Charlie?
Thanks for reminding me about the date for handing my project in!
I’ve attached a copy of my presentation and the handout that I’m going to give out to everyone who comes.
I’d be grateful if you can have a look at both docs for me and let me know what you think,
Dear Mr Smith,
Thank you for your email highlighting the deadline for submitting the project.
Please find attached a copy of my presentation and the paper that I intend to distribute to everyone who attends.
I would really appreciate it if you could read both documents and give me your considered opinion.
That’s right – the first email is informal, while the second is formal in tone. Now let’s look at the underlined language in these particular emails more closely.
reminding me about the date
handing my project in
I’m going to
I’d be grateful if you can have a look at
let me know what you think
Dear Mr. Smith
highlighting the deadline
submitting the project
Please find attached
I intend to
I would really appreciate it if you could read
give me your considered opinion
Focus on Language
Notice the different forms of greeting (Hi + first name / Dear + Mr. or Ms + surname) and signing off (Cheers / Kind regards).
We use short forms and contractions in informal emails (thanks, I’d), but full forms in formal writing (thank you, I would).
Phrasal verbs (hand in, give out) are more common in informal writing, while Latinate equivalents are used in formal emails (submit, distribute).
Look for more formal ways to use verbs in general (reminding me about = highlighting, I’m going to = I intend to, come = attend, be grateful = appreciate).
Note: If you’re sending an attachment with the email, the formal way of saying this is ‘Please find attached’.
Here are some more examples of language use in emails (and letters). This time you have to match the informal expressions with the formal expressions. (Answers at the bottom of the page.)
1) I’m looking forward to
2) Feel free to get in touch
3) Can you let me know
4) All the best
5) Sorry, but I won’t be able to come
6) I’m writing to answer …
a) Please do not hesitate to contact me
b) Yours sincerely or Yours faithfully*
c) I am writing in response to …
d) I look forward to
e) I would be grateful if you could inform me
f) I am afraid I will be unable to attend
g) due to the fact that
* Note that in formal emails and letters, we use ‘Yours sincerely’ when you know the name of the person, and ‘Yours faithfully’ when you don’t.
Now try these exercises to see if you remember the difference!
Finally, as before, let’s focus on the informal/formal equivalents in the rest of the emails:
I got / I received
I’ve got / I have
you’ll / you would
so that we can / in order to
if you want to ask me anything else / if you have any further questions
Well, that’s it for now – good luck in your writing tests!
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You’ll find lots more vocabulary practice, exercises and tests in our Guide.
1d, 2a, 3e, 4b, 5f, 6c, 7g
I’m writing to answer the email I just got from you.
Sorry, but I won’t be able to come to the meeting because I’ve got an exam that day. Can you let me know which dates you’ll be free so that we can arrange another meeting?
Feel free to get in touch if you want to ask me anything else.
I’m looking forward to hearing from you,
All the best,
Dear Ms. Jones,
I am writing in response to the email I received from you this morning.
I am afraid I will be unable to attend the meeting due to the fact that I have an exam that day. I would be grateful if you could inform me which dates you would be free in August, in order to arrange another meeting.
Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any further questions.
I look forward to hearing from you,