GCSE English Language: How to write a Formal Letter

You may be asked to write a formal letter in the Writing section of your English Language exam.

Here is an example from a previous exam paper:

The following is an extract from a letter from a pensioner to your local newspaper:


Dear Editor,


Isn’t it about time we considered raising the legal age for driving from 17? Statistics show that a large proportion of accidents involve drivers aged 17 or 18. The number of casualties is really shocking and, as a result of this, it costs huge sums of money to insure young drivers. Many other countries set the age at 18 and it could make sense to raise it to 20 or even 21.


This may not be a popular suggestion with young people, but it will be for their own good in the long term. I didn’t drive until I was 25 and it didn’t do me any harm.

You decide to write to the newspaper giving our views on this subject.

Write your letter.

 What to do

 1. Jot down the following ‘ingredients’ in your answer booklet, so that you don’t forget them:

  •  Facts / statistics
  • Anecdote
  • Criticise the opposite opinion
  • Rhetorical question

(If you are the kind of person who finds it hard to think of things to say, this can be really helpful. You could even have one paragraph for each ingredient…)

 2.      Decide what your views are going to be. It doesn’t matter what they really are; think about which point of view you will be able to write about most easily.

 3.      Plan what you will put in each paragraph. This might just mean adding some details to the list of ingredients you wrote at the beginning, like this:

  • Facts / statistics – research shows that the majority of RTAs involve drivers aged 22-30. Make up some statistics…
  • Anecdote – tell a personal story about the time my older sister passed her driving test…
  • Criticise the opposite opinion – Explain one of the main reasons people think teenagers are dangerous drivers, and say why it’s not true…
  • Rhetorical question – Could start with this: If we treat teenagers as if they are irresponsible, won’t we ultimately be sending the message that they are?

 You should also number these in the order you think makes the most sense. It’s quite nice to start with a rhetorical question, for example…

 4. Write your letter.

  •  Start a new page in your answer booklet.
  • Write your ‘address’ at the top right hand corner. Write the date underneath.
  • Write the address of the recipient a little way down on the left.
  • Begin formally:

 Dear Sir / Madam,

Dear Editor,

To whom it may concern,

Dear Mr. Codswollop,

 You may want to include a ‘subject’ next, a bit like you would in an email:

 Re.: Raising the legal age for driving

  •  Write 3 – 4 paragraphs, following the plan you made at the beginning. Whatever it is you are writing about, sound as if you are an expert. It should give the reader the impression that you know exactly what you’re talking about. Pay attention to your vocabulary. Some good ways of beginning your paragraphs include:

 I don’t wish to be dogmatic, but I believe…

There are many erudite arguments for / against…

There is a substantial / extensive amount of research indicating that…

The need for action is exigent.

  •  Sign off:

 Yours faithfully, (if you don’t know the name of the person to whom you are writing)

Yours sincerely, (if you do)

Best regards,

 Click on the link below for an example, written by the lovely people in year 11:

 How to Write a Formal Letter


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