There are a lot of reasons a writer will need to create a writing sample. You might be applying for a job, trying to land a freelance client, or simply creating a portfolio to showcase your skills.
A good writing sample can help you stand out in a crowded marketplace and give you a real shot. It’s not something you want to treat lightly and you’ll want to make sure you put your best foot forward every time you put one together.
No matter what kind of writing you choose to do with your career, you’ll always need to be able to showcase your work and show your talent.
We’ll go over what writing samples are, why you might need to craft one, and the best ways to go about writing one.
What is a writing sample?
For the most part, you will see requests for writing samples for jobs where you will be writing often such as blog writing, journalism, internships, public relations, or research positions. It gives employers a good idea of your writing skills and overall tone.
Writing samples can be anywhere from a few sentences to a few pages, depending on what is required. Sometimes writing samples are paid but often they’re not.
While they can be time-consuming, a successful writing sample can make you stand out from other applicants.
Why do you need a writing sample?
You’ll often see writing samples with specific writing requirements, formatting, and topics for job applications. You will see them in both traditional jobs and also for freelance writing jobs.
Sometimes, you’ll need to craft a writing sample from scratch with set guidelines or you might be able to send in previous things you’ve written.
Writing samples can sometimes also be interchangeable with your writing portfolio as well. Not every job application will require a unique writing sample, sometimes they just simply want to see your past work.
In that case, you’ll want to pick the most relevant samples from your portfolio to represent your writing.
Once they see your writing style, they will be able to see if you’re a good fit for the position.
However, they may choose to have you create a new writing sample from scratch, and let’s go over what you need to keep in mind before writing one.
What others are looking for in your writing sample
No matter what you’re using a writing sample for, you must make sure it is as error-free as possible.
The top thing that will disqualify you as an applicant is having a writing sample with a ton of grammatical errors, typos, or ignoring the guidelines they gave you.
Potential employers or clients want to see that you know what you’re doing and leaving in errors shows that you don’t pay attention to the small details. With any submission you make, you need to take the time to go through it and check all of your sentences to make sure there aren’t any issues.
Not only do you need to make sure there aren’t errors in your writing, but you also need to make sure that you’re following every single instruction in the guidelines.
Your writing sample will also show your overall writing style and if you can match the tone or voice they need.
Clients or employers will often give you some information about their target audience, but if not, you can search their website or social media for a general idea on the tone they want from their publication.
How to craft a writing sample
If you’re putting together a unique writing sample for a specific job, or you’re putting together some general samples for your portfolio, this will guide you through the steps from start to finish.
#1 – Know your guidelines
If there are specific requirements for the sample, such as word count or formatting options, you’ll need to follow them exactly.
However, if you’re just creating some general writing samples, you’ll want to make your own guidelines. Some examples could be a specific type of writing, such as blog writing, and in a certain industry.
Rarely will employers or anyone else want to see random writing samples from your personal journals, unless you’re trying to sell something such as a memoir. Keep your samples focused and relevant.
#2 – Have a clear idea for success
Once you know your guidelines, you need to know what the ultimate goal of your writing sample is. It might be to showcase your writing style, depth of research, or convince someone to pick you.
For example, if you’re simply creating writing pieces for your portfolio, you should know what industry and type of writing you want to do. That way, you know that your pieces need to reflect those skills to the best of your current ability.
If you’re creating a writing sample for a potential new position, you also need to know what success looks like in your sample. What would make you feel confident that you’re giving them everything they’re looking for?
If you don’t know what success looks like with your writing samples, you can always look through content that the company already published. That will give you an idea of what they look for and approve of on their team.
#3 – Know your intended audience
When it comes to writing your writing sample, you’ll want to keep your audience in mind while you craft your submission.
Knowing who you are writing to, whether it’s for blog posts or B2B marketing, you need to make sure you’re using language that is targeted toward that audience. The last thing you want to do is write to the wrong audience with your writing sample and disqualify yourself as a writer.
You want to always make sure you’re using the same language as your intended audience. If they use technical language, you’ll want to include some. If it’s on the simple side, you’ll want to make sure your writing isn’t too complex.
#4 – Look at other samples online
If you get stuck during your writing process, it might help to do more research and see what other people are creating in the industry you’re writing about.
This can help you understand what you need to publish and can help guide your tone or choice of words. You will be able to tell if your writing blends in with other work in this industry or not.
#5 – Edit your work
As mentioned above, you’ll want to make sure your writing sample doesn’t have any errors. You will want to check it for grammar issues, typos, or any parts that don’t flow well.
If you submit a piece with tons of spelling errors, there is a good chance your application will be immediately discarded. Making sure your sample doesn’t have any errors is far more important than making it have the perfect tone.
Tone and voice are things that can be refined with time, but basic grammar errors are often something they won’t take the time to teach you. They expect you to know those rules already.
Editing your writing sample also means going through the guidelines one more time to make sure you didn’t miss any required parts.
#6 – Stand out from the other applications
One thing you might consider doing with your sample is to include a few sentences explaining why you wrote your sample the way you did.
Instead of just a simple sample, you’re giving them a deeper understanding of how you approach writing. You can explain what you did for research and why you used the words you did.
#7 – Submit your writing sample
You will need to know the exact type of format you need to submit your writing sample. Some places are fine with newer options such as Google Docs, but more traditional places may want Microsoft Word or even printed versions of your writing samples.
What to do next
Download the Pitch Checklist and start submitting your writing samples.