Writing an Informal letter. Image by Josh Humbert

Writing an Informal letter. Image by Josh Humbert

ZIMSEC Personal/Informal Letter

Instead of a report, formal letter,speech or article questions, you might encounter a question asking you to write a personal/informal letter in Section B of the ZIMSEC English Language Paper 1 exam. The question might not directly ask you to write an informal or personal letter but still require you to “write a letter.” You should write a personal letter if the stated receipt is someone with whom you have a personal relationship that is a formal or semi-formal relationship.

Examples of people to whom you can write personal letters are relatives for example parents, aunts, uncles, in-laws, cousins or grandparents. This also includes guardians and acquaintances such as teachers and pastors although with these it would depend on the intended purpose of the letter. Personal letters are also common among friends.

Format of a personal letter

[Your address] For example:

38 Greendale Avenue



[Skip a line] [Date] For example:

17 March 2014

[Skip a line]

Dear [name/relation] For example

Dear Father.

[Skip a line] [Body of letter] [Skip a line]

Yours sincerly,

[Your name/relation] For example:


Things to note

  • It is usually considered bad form to put greetings in the first paragraph of the letter although in practice such rules are often ignored. You should instead state the purpose of your letter in the first paragraph. For example you can begin by saying: ” I have written this letter to inform you about the developments that have taken place in our neighborhood during the five years you have been gone.”
  • Instead put the greetings in the last paragraph so as not to offend those old-fashioned examiners, for although they will not penalize you for including the greetings in the first paragraph, you will gain nothing by offending them.
  • If you are writing in response to an earlier correspondence state this in the introductory paragraphs of your letter. For example: “It was pleasant to hear from you after so long, we were begging to think that you had forgotten us.”
  • Your language and tone should be warm and friendly but you should use contractions (words like don’t instead of do not, wasn’t instead of was not etc) sparingly for although they are becoming more and more accepted they are still to be universally accepted as being proper.
  • Avoid slang and colloquialisms like “gwan” for story, “skwa” for school and “shacking” for going. The examiners will most likely not be familiar with the meanings of these words and even if they do it is still not proper English and you will be penalized accordingly.
  • Avoid mannerisms for example most people like to use phrases like “it’s like ….” and “basically …” ¬†as well as others when either beginning sentences or trying to put forward a point. It is wrong and annoying.
  • Do not use pet names for example Pa/Dad/Daddy for father, Ma/Mum/Mummy for mother, Grandpa/Grandma for your grandparents. Use the proper forms like father.
  • You may use other appropriate forms to sign off instead of the plain Yours sincerely for example: Your son, Your friend etc.
  • You may also have to come up with an excuse for ending your letter, for example,” I will write to you soon if anything changes.” etc.

NB: As I have noted elsewhere with the rise in the uptake of technology letters are becoming rare and are being replaced by messenger apps like Whatsapp and Social Media messages on platforms like Facebook. Emails however are the only close thing that still remain.

Go to the English Notes Home to learn about other guided composition formats.