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Preparing and drafting formal emails of complaint through a process-genre approach
by Esther Ratcliff
- 1

Preliminary Information


Main aims;

  • To give practice in preparing and drafting formal emails of complaint through a process-genre approach.
  • To give practice at analysing formal register in complaints.

Subsidiary aims;

  • To raise awareness of the use of specific connectors used in formal register.

The level is advanced and corresponds to the C1 level on the CEFR. They normally use Straightforward Advanced by Roy Norris MacMillan 2013. These students have studied for a number of years at advanced level, and some have studied intensive courses at IH.All the students are working towards the Cambridge English Advanced exam in the near future. I would say that these students are slightly weaker than other students at the same level, perhaps due to the fact that they only have class for three hours a week.

Class Profile
There are five female students in this class ranging from mid-twenties to mid-forties who are studying a general English course. (1.5 hrs 2 days a week) They come to class after work, and it is the last class of the day. Consequently, they can sometimes seem tired and unenthusiastic. I find that the students can be a little quieter than other classes, as a result discussion activities or pair work can seem stilted. I also think that varying personalities within a small group also affect the dynamic of some activities. I have tried to overcome this by playing very low music in the background during pair work. They all have similar types of jobs and use English in their job.

Timetable fit
This class forms part or a series of lessons based around the topic of ‘The Voice’which includes lessons on speaking in public, different ways of speaking, talking about irritating things. By the time the students do this lesson, they will have learnt how to talk about complaints with a variety of phrases, seen a bad example of a letter of complaint that uses language that is far too direct to have a positive effect on the reader. The lesson builds on this idea by focussing on written discourse for complaints.


Communicative features of formal complaints

3-4 paragraphs
P1-Introduce writer and establish a relationship with the reader
P2-Express what was expected of the service or product
P3-Express dissatisfaction of the received service or product
P4-Express desire for compensation and/or acknowledgement of complaint

Layout/organisation - Aligned to the left hand side

Purpose - To express dissatisfaction with a service or product

Tenor (status) - Distant relationship between writer and reader. Writer assumes authoritative position over the reader

Cohesion - Evidence of formal connectors that guide the reader through the argument and help clarity Style Formal

Grammar - Passive voice to avoid direct culpability of the reader, inversion and cleft sentences to create emphasis, mixed and 3rd conditionals to talk about hypothetical present and past situations

Lexis Higher number of noun phrases rather that verb phrases, no phrasal verbs, more Latinised root words, lexical chains related to expected or received service or product

 The communicative features of a complaint letter include using appropriate textual discourse markers in a way that guide the reader through the ideas in the text, and also strengthen the clarity and arguments.

*However and furthermore usually only have a strong form in spoken discourse. Speakers might also decide to stress these words in the suprasegmental stress of a sentence to add emphasis to what is about to be said.

**Moreover is not normally used in spoken discourse as it is for very formal registers.

(Swan, Michael 2005 Practical English Usage 3 rd edition OUP pp.138-157)

The table below shows how the cohesive devices function in formal written discourse.

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The the lesson procedure - p3

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