C1 Advanced writing: letter of complaint

C1 Advanced writing: letter of complaint

Even though it may be tempting to grab that pen and start writing your C1 Advanced writing paper without thinking through the topic… That is not a good idea.
5 to 10 minutes spent on coming up with ideas and planning your answer will save you a lot of time.
It is crucial to have a plan before you start, as this way, you will not run out of the ideas during the writing process.

Today we will show you how to write a letter/email of complaint.
This lesson will help you compose a great piece of writing that will help you gain high score at your upcoming exam. Let’s get started!

Look at the example of a writing task and underline the key points you should keep in mind when writing your answer.

Writing task

Read the fragment of a conversation that you had with your friend:

“The food was awful. It was not fresh, and I could not force myself to eat that dry steak.
I also noticed that my plate had some brown stains on it. When I tried to speak to the manager, the waiter just rudely mumbled some silly excuse and disappeared. At this point, I had enough and left that place without paying a bill.
I will never again eat at The Spoon and Knife!”

Your task is to write an email of complaint to the manager of this restaurant.

REMEMBER: You were asked to write an email. When writing an email/ a letter in the exam, you are NOT asked to include:

Subject lines (as you would do in real life when writing an email).
Address and dates (as you would do when writing a letter in real life).

1. First, grab a pen and quickly jot down the answers to the following questions:

a. Who is going to read your email? The manager at the restaurant.

b. What register to use? Use formal or neutral register. Remember to be kind. As it is an email, you can use “I, me, my” and it is suitable to express your opinions.

c. What is the purpose of this text? You probably want to make the manager of the restaurant aware of what happened to you so that he or she can prevent these things from happening again. You do not need a refund, as you did not pay for a meal. You may ask for an apology etc.

2. Now, you are ready to start your writing. Remember to include all the elements typical for an email/a letter. These are:

A. Greeting (in this case use formal greeting. As we don’t know the name of the person, we are writing to “Dear Sir/Madam”. When you know the person’s name use:

“Dear < Mr/Mrs insert person’s name>”

B. Reason for writing:

  • I am writing to complain about …
  • I am writing to express my: concern about / dissatisfaction with / disappointment with / disapproval of…

C. Body: The information included in the task will help you to build this part of your letter. We were given the following data:

  • The food was not fresh
  • The plate was not clean
  • The customer service was poorYou may want to state when you visited the restaurant and a what time. You may invent the name of the waiter. All these details are likely to appear in a complaint that you would write in real life.
    Remember to use grammatical structures and vocabulary on a high level. You can even write down in your notes what you are planning to use (some related to the topic, high-level vocabulary, grammar, etc.). This way, you will remember for sure to include these in your writing.

D. Conclusion:

In this part you will ask a person you are writing to for some action or follow up.

You may ask for an apology or a refund. In this case, we can ask for an apology as we did not pay for a meal.


  • I would appreciate it/be grateful if you would…
  • It seems only fair that you should…
  • I look forward to receiving/seeing…
  • In light of the above, I would ask for… (a refund/an apology)

E. Closing: Sincerely/Your faithfully <name of the person sending a letter>

SUMMARY: These are the most important things to keep in mind when writing for C1 Advanced:

✓ appropriate register (formal/neutral/informal)
✓ various grammatical structures that show your ability at C1 level
✓ effective use of linking words
✓ good organisation (a text has a logical flow, and it has features typical for that kind of writing
✓ a task is fully completed (you did everything you were asked to do)
✓ errors/ spelling mistakes are corrected
✓ rich vocabulary (on C1 level)

You will quickly realise that spending a short time planning makes a huge difference. It prevents you from ‘getting stuck’ in the middle of writing.

Good luck!