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How to Choose Writing Samples


When applying for jobs, fellowships or proposing articles, writers are often required to submit writing samples. These samples are used to determine writing ability, to prove past publication experience and to help potential employers determine if the writer's style will be a fit for the publication. As such, writing samples are an important qualifying factor for any writer's job search or querying process. The samples should be chosen with great care and attention to detail.

Determine the format. Read the job or querying requirements to see if the company requires a particular format. Some may require a certain number, type or format. Pay attention to detail. Be sure to follow instructions. If there are no listed guidelines, look at other job postings for similar positions to establish a baseline standard.

Pick published pieces. When possible, choose writing samples that have been published. This demonstrates your experience with the interviewing, drafting and editing process. It gives the reviewer a chance to see a final piece. If you do not have any published pieces, be sure that your chosen samples are written and edited to the highest level of quality.

Follow style examples. Choose three to five writing samples in the style of the publication or position you are targeting. Editors and reviewers need to evaluate your writing skills in terms of professional needs. If you are applying for a position that may benefit from cross-genre writing skills, however, it is appropriate to submit a writing sample from a complementary genre. A technical writer for a marketing firm, for example, might have an advantage if he can demonstrate advanced creative writing skills.

Choose the most developed pieces. When choosing writing samples, pick your best work. Submit pieces of writing that have been through several stages of drafting, review and rewriting. No matter how good your first draft is, it is never appropriate to use as a writing sample until it has been edited at least once. In the excitement of a strong first draft, it is easy to overlook issues in continuity, grammar and flow.

Go easy on the reviewer. Unless specifically requested or exceptionally relevant to the position, do not choose pieces that are over five pages in length. Most reviewers do not have time to read long pieces.

Tip
  • Submit the exact number of samples requested. Submitting less suggests you do not have enough experience. Submitting too many suggests you lack respect for the reader's time.
Warning
  • Don't choose based upon your own personal favorites. Sometimes judgment is skewered when we love a certain topic or publication.
About the Author

Elizabeth Smith has been a scientific and engineering writer since 2004. Her work has appeared in numerous journals, newspapers and corporate publications. A frequent traveler, she also has penned articles as a travel writer. Smith has a Bachelor of Arts in communications and writing from Michigan State University.