You’re probably very familiar with sending emails (and sometimes letters) in your first language. But how about in English? Writing in another language is not always so simple. If you want to pass your B2 First Certificate exam (FCE), this is an essential skill to have.

In the B2 First exam you must produce two pieces of writing in 1 hour and twenty minutes. One of the pieces will be an essay (part 1). And the other, students get to choose from a list of three options (part 2). These could be a report, a review, an article, or perhaps an email/letter.

Today we’re going to look at how to write an informal email/letter. Cambridge may also offer you a formal email/letter. But we’ll save that for another time!

 

Three steps to write an excellent informal email/letter

 

First thing’s first. What’s the difference between writing an email and writing a letter? Although there are some slight differences, essentially the tone, structure and language stay the same.

These days, an informal email question is much more likely to crop up in the B2 First exam than a letter. So let’s see what that question might look like:

You have received this email from your English-speaking friend David.

Email example

Write your email. (You should write between 140 and 190 words)

Question taken from Cambridge Assessment English sample paper 1 for B2 First

 

Step One: Make a plan

Once you’ve turned over the B2 First Writing paper, and read the email question, ask yourself these questions first. Addressing them will help you spark some initial ideas.

  • Who are you writing to? Is it a friend, a family member or a classmate?
  • What is the purpose? Maybe they’re asking for suggestions, advice or a favour
  • What is the topic or theme? A holiday, party, cinema trip or city recommendation?

Next, it’s important to consider the content of your informal email/letter. Make sure you spend the first fifteen minutes of your time thinking about these things and make some notes:

Tone

The tone depends on who you’re writing to and the purpose. In this case of David, we know he’s an English-speaking friend. So you want to keep the tone relaxed, chatty and informal.

Vocabulary

Brainstorm some good, B2 level, topic-based vocabulary related to holidays, your town, history and travel, e.g. cable car, football stadium, monuments, sightseeing, views.

Think about any engaging, descriptive adjectives that could make your informal email or letter more interesting, e.g. unmissable, bustling, the oldest, the best, the most spectacular, the fastest, the cheapest.

Phrasal verbs e.g. get away, set off, get back and colloquial expressions e.g. Guess what! will also help your B2 First informal email or letter sound natural and fluent. And if you can use some idioms, then you’ve really hit the jackpot!

Grammar

Good grammar is key when doing your B2 First writing exam. And there are a few grammar tricks to writing an informal email in English. Contractions are common for example. We’re much more likely to say I’m than I am or We’d than we would.

You could also try using the second conditional to give advice such as If I were you… This is sure to score you top marks in your Writing paper.

Punctuation

In a B2 First informal email/letter you can also be a bit more experimental with punctuation. Try using exclamation marks, dashes (-) or ellipsis (…). If you’re making a list for friends, why not use bullet points?

Structure

The best thing about writing informal emails and letters is that the layout more or less stays the same every time. Your work should be clearly organised into paragraphs. And emails in particular work well with short simple sentences. An ideal structure for any email or letter is Opening, Main body and Closing, which we’ll look at in more detail now.

 

Step Two: Write it

Now you’ve made your plan, you should be ready and raring to go! Here’s how to put it all together and write the perfect B2 First informal email/letter.

Opening

There are a few different ways to start an informal email/letter in English:

  • Hi David,
  • Hello David,
  • Dear David,

Hi is much more common in an informal email. Whereas Dear is more appropriate in an informal letter. After you’ve written the person’s name, always remember to write a comma then start a new line.

Introductory sentence

The opening is normally followed by an introductory sentence. This sets the tone of the email, shows your interest in the reader or refers back to a previous correspondence.

  • How have you been?
  • How are things?
  • Thanks so much for your last email/letter.
  • Sorry I haven’t been in touch for such a long time.

Main body

This is where you introduce the topic of your B2 First email/letter. Remember to look back at the question and answer any questions from the sender. In the case of David, he’s writing to ask for recommendations for his friends. So you want to include lots of language for making suggestions. Here are some phrases you could use:

  • It’s great to hear that…
  • You must tell them to visit…
  • Why don’t they visit…?
  • They should definitely go to…
  • I’d really recommend (+ verb ing or subject + base infinitive)

Connecting ideas

To keep your informal email flowing and natural sounding, use some informal connectors to link your ideas. Here are some examples:

  • And
  • But
  • Well,… (to introduce a new topic)
  • Anyway,…(to go back to a previous topic)
  • Oh, by the way…(to add additional information)
  • As for…

Final paragraph

The closing paragraph of your B2 First informal email/letter should be one or two sentences before you sign off and say goodbye. It could be to make an excuse to finish the letter/email, or leave the reader with some kind of action they need to take.

  • I hope they have a nice time on their trip!
  • Let me know if they need any more information.
  • I look forward to hearing from you again soon.
  • Have a good one, and let’s catch up soon.

Closing

This is where you end your informal email/letter and write your name. Remember, never end with the word Bye. Instead use one of the informal and neutral phrases below. And don’t forget to write your name underneath.

  • Take care!
  • See you soon!
  • All the best,
  • Best,
  • Lots of love,

Step Three: Check it

Always take five minutes to check your informal email/letter at the end. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Have I answered all parts of the email question?
  • Is the tone friendly and informal?
  • Do I use enough topic based vocabulary?
  • Is my spelling, grammar and punctuation correct?
  • Does it look like a letter/email?
  • Have I opened and signed off appropriately?

 

If you’d like more help in preparing for your B2 First Writing exam, why not sign up to one of our B2 First Cambridge preparation courses? We’ll give you all the training you need, plus free mock exams to get you ready for the big day.

Glossary for Language Learners

 

Find the following words in the article and then write down any new ones you didn’t know.

crop up (pv): to appear unexpectedly.

spark (v): to cause an idea or an event.

hit the jackpot (exp): to have great or unexpected success.

layout (n): the way in which text or images are arranged on a page.

ready and raring (exp): really ready and enthusiastic for something.

flow (v): to move smoothly and continuously.

sign off (pv): to end a letter or an email with your name.

Key

n = noun

v = verb

exp = expression

pv = phrasal verb

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