Submitting Writing Samples

WHAT ARE EMPLOYERS LOOKING FOR WHEN THEY ASK FOR A WRITING SAMPLE?

The answer depends, or course, on the type of employment you are seeking. If you're looking for a writing-related job with a newspaper or magazine, employers want to see clips of your published work. These are more appropriate than academic papers or creative writing samples. For print journalism samples, the best approach is to xerox the clips, with the masthead of the publication, and paste them on to 81/2 by 11 inch paper. You can then xerox these as many times as needed. You want your clips to look as much like the original publication as possible. Do not send your only copy, as clips are almost never returned. In general, three to five clips are all that are required. Ideally you should send work that is solely your own, and not pieces on which you are a co-author or an assistant.

If you're applying for public relations or strategic communications jobs, you'll want to send samples appropriate to the work you hope to do. These can include brochures you have written or worked on, flyers you have designed, and most importantly, a copy of a press release or two. Press releases are a very specific type of document, with specific conventions about how to write them. If you are unfamiliar with how to write a press release, there are excellent sources on line. Do a google search on press release guidelines and you'll find sites that outline what you need to do.

For virtually all other employers who are not media-related -- these include think tanks, law firms hiring paralegals, non-profits, and research centers, among many others -- what they are looking for when they request a writing sample is a paper, or other document written by you, that is 3-5 double-spaced pages in length, highlights your ability to analyze ideas and materials, and showcases your writing skills. Employers are looking at how you take information and make sense of it, how you present or analyze complex problems and issues.

The sample can be self-standing, or a section of a longer paper. If you decide to use a section of a longer paper, you can indicate this at the top of the sample.  The sample can be an answer to a take-home exam or essay question that have you compare or contrast things.  It might be a paper in which you had to take a position on something and defend it, or one that looks at some type of evidence and analyzes its meaning. The materials should be accessible to someone who is not an expert in the field.  For example, an analysis of an obscure piece of music or a painting with which the reader might not be familiar may not work as well as a paper that examines something to which the reader can be presumed to relate.  The writing sample should engage the reader from the get-go, so that they want to read past the first page. Papers which are filled with citations to others' writing are  less effective than those that reflect your own analytical thought and creativity.

Counselors in career services are available to look over anything you're thinking of submitting, and advise you if it is appropriate.