When do you need a writing sample?
Potential employers may occasionally ask for a writing sample to be included with the cover letter and resume, typically for jobs in research, the media, or advertising and public relations.
How long should it be?
Unless otherwise specified by the employer, choose a writing sample that is two to five pages in length.
If you wish to use a longer piece of writing, extract a two to five page section of the larger work and introduce it with a paragraph which puts the selection in context (i.e. that explains what the larger work is about and how the section you've provided fits in to that larger work).
How should you choose your sample?
Quality: This should always be your first consideration, before any criteria that follow below. Choose a piece that you feel is well-written over a piece that covers a topic related to the job but about which you have reservations.
Writing style: This is almost as important as the quality of the writing. For virtually any job, choose a piece which reflects the elements of good business writing.
- Based in reality and concrete terminology (versus abstractions).
- Concise, conveying meaning in as few words as possible.
- Does not require the reader to have any special knowledge of your topic.
Topic/Method of analysis: If you have written something which relates to the job in some way (be it content or the manner of analysis) and it is of good quality, choose that piece as your sample. For example, a case study from a business-related course would serve as a good writing sample for most management or business analyst positions. A research paper would be a good choice for virtually any research-oriented position.
- Journalism and advertising copy writing -- often require a "portfolio," a specialized collection of writing samples. Career Resource Library staff can provide you with publications that show you how to produce these.
- Public relations -- PR firms may want to see samples of press releases you have written, even if you need to make them up.
- Using "creative" samples -- Conveying the ability to think creatively can be important in certain fields. But even in "creative" fields, such as advertising or television, employers want to know that you can convey ideas clearly and succinctly. Seek advice from a career counselor before submitting a creative piece as a sample.