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Creating Opportunity Worldwide

Pro-ELT Teacher Training MaterialsLevel: B1 and B2

1: What are the most common complaints people make?

Brainstorm in pairs/groups

Structural featuresRead these two complaint emails. What structural features do they have in common? Discuss in pairs/groups.Complaint late deliverySubject: Bamboo blinds

Dear Mr Ong

I am writing in connection with an order I made for 50 Eco Bamboo blinds measuring 210 cm by 250 cm with the reference number TN3456.When we discussed delivery dates, you assured me that you could deliver by 21st of February. However, the blinds are now two weeks overdue, and I have heard nothing from you to confirm a definite delivery date.

I urgently need these blinds as I have now included this product on my website and I am receiving a large number of enquiries about it. Your slowness is causing a great deal of inconvenience.

I would be grateful if you could look into this matter and arrange for delivery within the next three days.

I am afraid that if you are unable to deliver within this period, I shall be forced to cancel my order and purchase from another supplier.

Yours sincerely,

Complaint about poor goods and service

Subject: My wedding

Dear Ms Mansor

I am writing regarding the catering service you provided at my wedding on Saturday 25th of March.

I asked for 20, 3-course dishes to cater to my vegetarian friends.

I have only just learned that these were not available on the day and they were given a lettuce and mayonnaise sandwich instead which arrived long after the others had already finished their first two courses. I have been told that most chose not to eat them.

I spent a good deal of time with you going through the details of the types of gourmet dishes I wanted to be served and I paid you a lot of money to provide these dishes. Not only is this upsetting to know that my wedding day did not go according to plan after months of arranging important details, but I have received no apology or feedback from you about this. In addition, a lot of these guests were VIPs and very special friends and most of them had travelled very far to share this day with us. I would like you to provide me with a full refund for your catering services, as it did not deliver the standard and quality that were promised.

I look forward to your reply

The general structure of a formal complaint letter1. Set the scene

Usually a short paragraph describing what has happened before. Full details such as dates, amounts, invoice numbers etc. are often found here. I am writing....

...regarding my order KY870 which arrived this morning. draw attention to the negative attitude of . complain about the quality of a product I bought from your website.

I am writing to make a complaint concerning / regarding / about

I have just received a letter from you

.. regarding my mortgage. The account number is.

.. stating that I must pay 4000 ringgit to pick up boxes delivered to me from UK.

Last month I ordered 2. Make the complaintClear, concise information describing the problem. Effective complaints will be constructive and aim at improving the situation. Accusation, blame and abuse are generally not appropriate. Tone is all-important here because you need to convey negative feedback while trying to avoid making the reader lose face. Some problems can be lengthy with a long sequence of events which may require a couple of paragraphs or more. Try and make them clear.

Delivery mistakes

The items you sent were not the ones that I ordered.

Unfortunately, you have sent me the wrong items. I ordered , but you have sent me.

Damaged or defective goods

The items were (faulty/ damaged / defective / in poor condition).

The items you supplied to me are (faulty/ damaged / defective / in poor condition).

Incorrect information/ Misleading information There seems to be (an error in the invoice / a misunderstanding).

There appears to be a mistake in the debit amount you made to my bank account. The bank statement states that I received . However, I actually received

You assured us on the phone that we would have a room with a sea view; instead, you gave us a ground floor room next to a noisy lift.

You advertised your product as safe for toddlers but in fact it is hazardous to all ages.

Late delivery/lost items

The equipment I ordered has still not been delivered, despite my phone call to you last week to say that I need it urgently.

Unfortunately, our bags did not arrive on the same plane.

I have still not received the items, which we ordered on 6th of June.

Poor quality goods / service

I really must complain about the (quality of the goods / standard of service) that we recently received from you at your hotel.

The (product / service) I received was well below the standard I expected.

Your staff were very unhelpful when I called.

No one took responsibility to sort out the problem

The whole matter was treated by your staff as if it was completely unimportant.

3. Emphasise inconvenience

This brief section stresses any inconvenience the complaining party has had to suffer. It might also refer to costs incurred. It could be part of the previous section, or it could be a separate section. Your poor quality control / inefficiency / slowness is causing me a great deal of inconvenience.

I am not happy about the inconvenience this situation is causing me. Due to the stress of dealing with all the problems created by your company, our holiday was not a holiday.

I am sorry to have to remind you that this is the third time I have had occasion to complain of such mistakes.

This is having/will have a negative effect on our work/life balance

4. Request action

This usually contains a concrete, constructive statement of what the writer wants the reader to do. An effective request must be polite, but assertive and should appeal to a sense of justice.

I would be grateful if you could look into this matter and. Please replace the items you delivered with the correct ones.

I would like you to provide us with a full refund.

I trust that you will arrange for a new . to be issued as soon as possible.

I must insist (that) you replace the faulty goods.5. Make your position clear (optional)

In this section you may want to mention what you will do if the request isnt granted. The most effective strategy is to stay calm and not threaten too much, especially if you dont intend to act.

Unless I receive the goods by the end of this week, I will have no choice but to cancel my order.

If you do not refund all of the money we have paid, we will have no option but to seek legal advice on this matter.

.otherwise I will be forced to take the matter further.

I regret that unless you can, I will be (forced / obliged) to Further delays in delivery (will / may/ might / could) result in us cancelling our order.

I am considering closing my account with you and opening up a new account with ...Practice Activity: Language and organisation of complaints

a) I hope that you will deal with this matter promptly as it is causing me considerable inconvenience

b) I am writing in connection with the negative attitude of a member of your staff.

c) I believe that I am entitled to an immediate refundd) I am writing to complaint about the quality of a product I purchased online from your website.

e) The equipment I ordered has still not been delivered despite my phone call to you last week to say that it is needed immediatelyf) I am writing to draw your attention to a problem in your customer services section.

g) I wish to complain in the strongest possible term about the service I received from a member of your staff.

h) Although you advertise yourself as a top-quality brand, the product I received was well below the standard I expected.

i) I would appreciate it if the faulty goods could be replace as soon as possible.

j) I am writing to express my strong suggestion with the new proposal by the department.Write the letter of each sentence according to its function here:1. Set the scene: ___b___g___f____________________________________

2. Make the complaint: __________________________________________

3. Emphasise inconvenience: _____________________________________

4. Request action: ______________________________________________

5. Making position clear: _________________________________________

Practice activity: Conjunctions and discourse markers

Match the beginnings with the endings in the box

there were only 7 in the boxof the 8 that I orderedthe fact that I paid for 8.

Therefore, I am not prepared to pay your I am not prepared to pay for this.

but there were only 7 in the box.

However, there were only 7

in the box.In addition, two of the covers were


aYou only sent 7 DVDs, instead .

bYou only sent 7 DVDs, despite .

cEven though I paid for 8 DVDs, .

dI paid for 8 DVDs. ...

eI paid for 8 DVDs,

fFirstly, the quantity of DVDs was incorrect. .

gYou have still not resolved the problem with the DVDs,

hYou have still not resolved the problem with the DVDs.

Practice Activity: Common grammatical errorsProofread the complaint below. There are some common grammatical mistakes highlighted in bold. Suggest corrections for as many errors as you can.

Dear managerI would like to make a complain about the poor customer service and inefficiency I was received from your company.

In March 30th, I spoke to one of your staffs in your customer service department by phone and ask to end my contract with Mobocom with my last payment to be made at the end of May. 2 days later, I received a contract termination form to fill out which I promptly completed and sent back to you signed with the above information.

On July 1st, I check my bank statement and noticed that I am still being charged for this mobile phone service. I called again to discuss about the issue with one of your staffs. After wait a long time, I got through to a staff who not understand my problem and she hung up the phone. On July 2nd,

I went to your shop at Mahkota Parade where your staffs told me there was no record in the system of my contract cancellation with you despite I had a copy of the termination form with me as proof. They then asked me to fill in another form to cancel the contract at the end of July to which I refused.

The result of your companys inefficiency has caused me a great deal of inconvenient and a lot of time has been wasted on a process that should be simple.

I would like you to give this matter your urgent attention as I am leaving Malaysia at the end of July and do not wish to continue dealing with the same inefficient from other country. I would also like you to refund me the money you have charged me for July since I am no longer using your mobile phone service.

Please contact me as soon as possible so that this matter can resolve.

I look forward to your reply

Activity: Focusing on tone


Teachers receive an email from their head, Zara Hussein, informing them that a decision has been made by the department that all teachers are required to attend compulsory professional development courses every week. She has decided that 4 hours a week, twice a week for the next ten months after classes is a reasonable amount of time to do these courses and will benefit the institution as a whole. The teachers are very upset about this, and decide to write to her explaining this and requesting a meeting to discuss it.

Responding to Ritas emailRead the following emails to Zara and decide which one you think would be best to use. Be prepared to support your decision with reasons.

1. Dear Zara

This decision is really unacceptable. How are we supposed to do our jobs and take care of our families if we have to attend 8 hours of professional development classes per week? I would like to meet to discuss this immediately. Is now OK?

2. Dear Ms Hussein

Thank you so much for agreeing to an 8-hour course per week for us. Its really very good of you to do this with so little consultation. What we appreciate most, of course, is no longer being able to do our jobs effectively and spending time with our children. Could we possibly meet at your earliest convenience for me to thank you in person?

3. Zara

This is COMPLETELY UNFAIR!!! It doesnt benefit us!!! It stops us doing our jobs properly and spending time with our family. A meeting is urgently sought. I am really upset!

4. Dear Zara

I am concerned about the 4 hour, twice a week classes you have agreed to and the impact that it might have on our effectiveness as teachers and our work/life balance. Could I come and see you to explore possible ways to seek a solution or better outcome for us?

5. Dear Zara

I am shocked at the suggestion of an 8 hour a week compulsory course. Are you mad??! Could I come and see you to explain the problems that your lack of sensitivity to us is going to cause?

What is tone?

The tone of your writing is the general mood that it creates in the mind of your reader. Its about with how you make your reader feel about you and the organisation you represent.

Tone depends on:

the level of formality or informality you use.

the attitude you take towards your topic.

In general, you want your reader to feel as good as possible about you and/or the company you represent, no matter what the situation is. This is so you can get the result you seek but still maintain relationships and not create a negative, defensive reaction in your reader.

The skill of building and maintaining good relationships in writing depends on your ability to control certain features.

Using Indirect / diplomatic language

Here are some examples of how you can use indirect/diplomatic language to minimise or avoid making a negative impact when you need to communicate a negative message such as in the case of a complaint letter.

It is(It seems/appears to be

As far as Im aware, it is

very (a bit / a little / quite / rather

Is it ?(Might it be?

Do you think it might be?

It will(It might be

It may be.

We should(Perhaps we should

Do you think we should

It might be a good idea to.

Lets.(Perhaps we should think about




Its a bad idea.(not very happy

not very good

not very cheap

Im not sure its a good idea.

When communicating a negative message in a formal context, impersonal structures and often passive voice might achieve a better result.Look at this example:

Accusing / threatening toneNeutral tone

(According to our records, you owe us $25,550.

(According to our records, the amount of $25,550 is due from your company

(You didnt fill in your claim form properly.

(Some information appears to be missing on your claim form.

(You havent done next months staff roster yet.

(I cant find next months staff roster.

(You have not paid for your parking bay number B2112.

(It appears that we have not received payment for your parking bay number B2112.

You might have noticed that the rewritten examples with a more appropriate tone are often longer. This is because more words are often necessary in order to not sound accusatory or threatening.


( Try to make any complaint as constructive as possible.

( Support your complaint with any evidence you have.

( Avoid using an abusive, negative tone; use a polite, optimistic tone.

( Avoid emotion and personal attacks ( Threaten no more than you are prepared to carry out.

Practice Activity: Redraft poorly written complaints.

Look at the following sentences taken from poorly-written complaints. Rewrite each one in a more acceptable and less emotional tone.

a. Quite clearly, your packaging is useless. If youd packed the furniture properly, they wouldnt have arrived smashed to pieces.

b. I am sick to death of the wild dogs in this neighbourhood. They bark all night, they eat out of the rubbish bins and weve already had one attacking one of the kids!! When are you actually going to do something about it?

c. Why should I have to pay for your gross inefficiency?

d. Your standard of service was shocking. Your customer service staff should be shot!!!!!!

e. When are you actually going to provide a bus that turns up on time?!!

Construct your formal complaint email here using this template. Write between 120-150 wordsDear _____________

Set the scene

Make the complaint

Emphasize inconvenience

Request action

Make your position clear. Optional. Is it needed in this case?

LEVELS of FORMALITY in writing


This is the style you will need to use in part 4 of the Aptis test. Ideas are generally presented politely and carefully (tone!). The language is generally impersonal, with much use of fixed expressions and often passive verb forms. Careful attention should be made to your grammar. Your sentences should be written with full words and no contractions.


Informal style is closest to speech, so there are everyday words, contractions and conversational expressions and some words are left out entirely, particularly in the case of sms messaging. ( [Ill] speak to you later, [Are you] sure [it was] from our website?, Next week [would be] better than this week etc.) and some abbreviations may even be appropriate (asap, pls etc). The reader may also be more tolerant of poor grammar in this informal style. You have to know the rules first in order to break the rules here.

Neutral is still quite informal as it still uses everyday expressions and contractions but sentences will still mostly be written using correct grammar. This style might be appropriate in frequent email exchanges between people you work with and in personal emails depending on your relationship with the reader.

The style that you select will depend on:

who your reader is. (a colleague? a client? text message reader? A manager?a friend?) how well you know your reader. (a close friend? a complete stranger?) why you are writing. (wishing your staff a nice holiday? Writing a complaint?)

In the example below, the same message is written in two contrasting styles. Can you identify them?

The writer has adapted her style according to the target reader.

Who is the target reader?

Identify specific differences.

!. ________________style

I am afraid I will not be able to attend the meeting on Friday. I would be grateful if you could send me a copy of the minutes. I will also write to Sabina to inform her that I will not be there. Once again, I apologize for this. I can assure you that I will be at the next meeting.

2. _________________ styleSorry, cant make it Friday. cd you send me a cpy of the minutes? Will also write to Sabina & tell her I wont b there. Sorry abt this & promise Ill b at the nxt mtng.

N.B In your informal email in the Aptis test, do not use this extremely informal style seen above in number 2.

Here is a very informal email message

Sample 1:Tks 4 yr email of 25 Jan asking 4 help on how to order online. Need to know yr a/c no. b4 can deal with this. Pls cd u also provide details of which version of Windows ur using. Dont forget our special online offers are only available til Feb 7, so suggest you do this asap.

In your groups/ pairs, rewrite this message to the following target readers:





Full sentences vs abbreviated sentences

Look again at these excerpts from the informal email above:

Need to know yr a/c no. b4 can deal with this.

our special online offers are only available til Feb 7, so suggest you do this asap.

The same word is missing directly before each of the words highlighted in bold.

What is the missing word? Why is it missing?

Missing out words is common in more informal communication, both in speaking and in writing. This often happens when people know each other very well and the situation is relaxed and friendly. The meaning is clear from the context so the full grammatical form is not necessary.

However, its important that you realise that you are dropping words. This is because when you need to write in a professional, FORMAL style, you need to be able to use the full grammatical form.

( Look at the examples in the box. Match them to the descriptions underneath.

a. (Thats a) good idea!g. Just read (the) email about (the) packing cartons.

b. (Did you) get my last email?h. Your suggestion (is) good, but needs clarification.

c. (I) think your idea may work.i. (Are you) coming with us on Friday?

d. (It) seems OK to me.j. (I) hope youre well.

e. (I am) looking forward to seeing you.k. (Its a) pity we missed you yesterday.

f. (Ill) speak to you later.l. (I would be) grateful if you could.


The subject I or We can be left out, especially with mental verbs like hope, think etc.

..... / ..

In a question, the subject you and the auxiliary verb (be, have, will etc.) can be left out.

.. / ..

The subject I and the auxiliary verb can be left out.

.. / ..

The subject I and a form of be can be left out when be is the only verb.

The words that or it can be left out, often with a form of be as well.

.. / ..

A form of be can be left out on its own.


The articles a/an or the can sometimes be left out...

Practice Activity

Redraft the following brief emails into a FORMAL style by writing them out in full. At the same time, make any other changes that you consider necessary.

aAppreciate your assistance in providing update asap.

bGrateful if you could reply by end tday.

ccfm updated sys accdly & amend record.Tq

dSubject: Hotel and transportation arrangements

Confirm room reserved in RENAISSANCE HOTEL as per my previous message. Driver will meet you at airport arrival hall in front of Burger King, 18th / 1125 hrs.

eSubject: Thx for yr msg

Re yr msg left on my voicemail yes, am free 4 lunch Weds nxt wk. Btw, gd news abt yr promotion. Hv 2 wk now. CU, Jinko.

Construct your informal email to a friend here using this template (50 words)

Construct your formal email here. 120-150 words.Poor quality of goods and service


Public nuisances

I would like to draw your attention to an incident that took place at (place) this afternoon.

I wish to complain about the level of noise from the Rockfest music festival last night.

A group of teenagers were shouting and yelling on the bus and intimidating fellow passengers.

PAGE 5Contributed by: Glenda Thomas

The British Council, 2013

The British Council is the United Kingdom's international organisation for cultural relations and education opportunities.

British Council Malaysia is a branch (995232-A) of the British Council, registered as a charity in England and Wales (209131) and Scotland (SC037733)