Selecting and Submitting Writing Samples

What is a writing sample and why is it necessary?

In today’s competitive job market, applicants—even those applying to positions not related directly to writing—may be required to submit writing samples. These are primarily used to determine writing ability, show literary and grammar skills, and reflect one’s overall writing style.

What should I consider when selecting a writing sample?

  • Follow employers instructions; it is fine to ask for clarity if you are unsure.
  • If the employer does not specify, submit a sample that closely matches the subject matter or position.
  • If you have no relevant work experience (i.e., you are applying for an entry-level job), you may submit a school assignment. A lab report would work for a science-related position. An assignment from a business or technical writing class would also be appropriate.

Are certain samples inappropriate?

  • Submitting outdated samples (older than one year) is not a good idea.  Doing so communicates that you have not kept current.
  • Avoid samples that have no relevancy to your industry/expertise. For example, a creative or narrative writing sample would not be appropriate when applying to a scientific or technical position, whereas it might work well for other positions or graduate programs. Try to match your sample to the kind of writing you will be doing on the job.
  • Blogs are discouraged unless they are professional sounding and relevant to your field.
  • Avoid sending samples on political or religious topics.

What if I don’t have an appropriate, recent sample?

  • Write one! There is no rule that your writing sample must be something you wrote for work or a class.

How long should a writing sample be?

  • Samples should be concise and succinct: one to four pages are usually sufficient.  In many cases, reviewers are primarily interested in how well you convey your ideas (structure and grammatical accuracy) as opposed to content.
  • You may provide an excerpt of a longer paper, as long as the excerpt makes sense as a stand-alone document. If your sample is an excerpt of a longer work, be sure to note that on the first page.

Can I submit a sample I co-authored?

  • It is permissible to send a sample that was a collaboration between you and another person; however, it’s best to do so if collaborative efforts are a part of the position for which you are applying.
  • It is best to also include other samples where you are the sole author.

Are there any precautions I need to take when submitting samples?

  • Be sure to protect confidential information included in your documents. Change or remove names, company names, addresses, etc., to protect the identity of those referenced.
  • Edit your sample! Just because you received a good grade on a paper doesn’t mean it’s free from errors.

Start gathering samples now!

You never know when you might be asked to submit a writing sample. Consider developing a portfolio of well-written pieces so they will be accessible when needed. Choose samples that represent a full range of skills: samples of how well you summarize and convey complex ideas, research papers, editorials, articles, journals and blogs (relevant ones). You can keep a few of your best writing samples in Handshake.


Adapted from, “Tips to Get Your Writing Sample Right for a Job Application” by Margot Charmichael Lester)


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