Good writing ability is frequently one of the essentials employers seek in prospective employees; your writing sample, as well as your cover letter, are opportunities to demonstrate talent in this area. Select an example that strongly reveals your writing style, ability to organize your thoughts, powers of analysis, clarity, succinctness, and reasoning. Obvious rule of thumb: choose your best writing to date. Writing samples are designed to gain an understanding of your writing skills as they relate to the tasks of the position. If a writing sample is requested, here are some guidelines to help you prepare one:
- First and foremost, make sure the sample is well-written. Ask yourself if your sample has a clear, well-articulated thesis; is it concise and to the point; does it follow a logical structure; and can the reader easily understand and follow it.
- It is understood that as a student or recent graduate, you will likely use a section of a graded assignment from a class. If sending a graded paper, make sure you received a decent grade, but do not necessarily rule out your "B" papers. Some "B" papers may have potential if you revise them.
- Unless otherwise stated, a good length is four to five pages, double-spaced. If you want to send a sample of a larger document, select a four- or five-page section and introduce it with a paragraph that puts the selection into the proper context. Avoid sending ten or fifteen page research papers even if you received a good grade.
- Provide your own work; if it was a collaborative piece, make sure you state so and indicate which part was your responsibility.
- Assignments related to the industry or subject matter can significantly aid your job search. For example, a case study from a political science or law related course would be an excellent writing sample for a position in a law firm or with an elected official. If you are applying for a job in journalism, you may want to submit an article you wrote for the campus newspaper. For a job that involves research, submit a research paper. For nonprofits, you can submit a research paper relevant to the organization's mission.
Preparing the Sample
- Put your name on it!
- Do not try font or margin tricks to make a 2-page paper into a 5-page paper.
- Double and triple check for errors. If you wrote the paper for a class, incorporate any suggestions from your professor or peers.
- Submit a clean copy without a professor's grades or marks.
- If you cited works in the sample, include the bibliography.
- Include a brief note about the context of the sample. For example: "This writing sample is an excerpt from an essay I wrote for my Women's Studies class 'Gender and American Society.' I worked with a partner on this assignment, so I have included only the section of the paper on 'Gender and the Family,' which represents my individual work."
On rare occasions the employer may request a specific kind of writing sample. If you have to create one, stick very closely to the guidelines provided.
It is not uncommon for employers to request writing samples. You may want to start developing a portfolio of well-written pieces so you can quickly refer to them when needed. You might want to select pieces that show your full range of talents. Some samples might include how well you summarize complex ideas, research papers, editorials, critiques (be sure to omit names), articles, journals, and blogs.
Adapted from a document created by the University of California-Davis Internship and Career Center