Writing Samples

Writing samples are used by employers to evaluate your writing skills, tone and style. If you are applying for positions that require strong writing skills, you might be asked to submit a writing sample.

While some employers might ask you to email or upload your writing sample as part of your application, others might ask you to bring it to your interview or possibly email it after your interviews to help employers make a decision. In this guide, we discuss what employers look for in a writing sample, how to choose a writing sample, how to write one and how to submit it.

What is a writing sample?

A writing sample is a supplemental document for a job application often requested for jobs that include a significant amount of writing, like those in journalism, marketing, public relations and research. Employers might also ask for a writing sample if you will be responsible for writing and communicating important information or correspondences. For example, if you are applying for a job in HR at a small company, you might be responsible for sending company-wide information. In this case, the employer will look for candidates with strong writing skills who can clearly communicate important information across the company.

What do employers look for in a writing sample?

Different employers look for different details in your writing sample depending on the job, company and industry. Every employer, however, will look for tone, style and writing skills including content, grammar, spelling and punctuation. While the specific writing style of the company can often be learned on the job, employers might be looking to hire someone with a certain level of writing skills at their first day on the job.

How long should a writing sample be?

In most cases, your writing sample should be around 750 words or between one and two pages. Like your resume, employers have a limited amount of time to review your writing sample. A brief, impactful writing sample is better than a long, less impressive one. Often times, employers will provide a specific page or word count they require from your sample. If you decide to submit a research paper or other lengthy document, you can make it shorter for the employer by selecting a certain passage or section.

How do I choose a writing sample?

While some employers might give you a writing assignment with a specific prompt, others might simply ask you to provide a sample from your past work. Choose a writing sample that is relevant for the job you’re applying for. Here are some examples you may want to consider:

  • Research papers from a job or class
  • Narrative papers from a job or class
  • Other writing assignments
  • Blog posts
  • Press releases
  • Articles or other contributions

When deciding which piece of writing you should submit, consider the following ideas:

Follow the employer’s instruction

The employer might ask for a specific type of writing like a research paper or a piece covering a certain topic. Read the employer’s instructions carefully before making a writing sample selection.

Consider relevant writing samples

When deciding on a writing sample, you should consider only those writing pieces that are relevant to the position. For example, if you are applying for a scientific research position, you should select a research paper from your most recent position or highest level of schooling. If you are applying for a position in PR, you should submit a press release or other relevant documents.

Find relatable topics

Along with selecting a relevant writing style, you should try to find a sample that also relates to the subject matter of the position. Submitting a sample with content similar to what you’ll be writing about on the job will help employers relate your writing skills directly to the job.

Align your writing with the company’s tone

You should select a piece of writing that is relatable for the company. For example, you should not submit a sarcastic, irreverent writing sample for a company with a professional, helpful brand image. Alternatively, you might not submit a modest, simple writing sample to a company that’s sole focus is risk and creativity. You can find clues about a company’s tone by researching their website, Company Page and recent news articles or press releases.

You should also read several pieces of writing that the company has already published. This could include reading their company blog, website or research papers.

Make sure it is up to date

Selecting a writing sample that is older than one year might contain out of date or irrelevant content. If you are selecting an old writing sample, be sure to carefully review and update it to reflect the most recent ideas. You also want to demonstrate that you have recently had to use your writing skills—if you send an employer a writing sample from several years ago, they may assume that you have not done any writing since then.

Avoid sensitive subject matter

Unless specifically requested by the employer, you should avoid sensitive content like politics, religion or personal information. You should also review your writing sample to exclude any confidential information like third-party contact information or private company information like financial or other data.

What if I don’t have a writing sample?

You might not have a writing sample if you have no professional experience or have not previously held a job where you produced applicable pieces of writing. If this is the case, it is acceptable to write a new sample for the employer. This way, you’ll be able to write a fresh, relevant passage that is specific to the position you’re applying for.

Pay close attention to the employer’s direction regarding the writing sample, research the company for clues on tone and style and review your document carefully for grammar, spelling and punctuation mistakes.

How to submit a writing sample

Before submitting a writing sample, you should proofread it several times to ensure it is free of errors. It is critical to achieve as close to perfection as possible in a writing sample, as your writing skills are the key focus of this document. It might be helpful to read your document backward—doing so presents the words in a new order and makes it easier to catch mistakes. You might also consider asking trusted friends or family to review your writing sample.

Whether you submit an entire piece or part of a writing sample, it can be helpful to write a short introductory paragraph for context. You might include it directly on your sample, on a cover page or in your email. For example:

“Please find my writing sample for the Sr. Product Research position attached to this email. This sample is a passage from a larger study about how product simplicity impacts consumers. I believe it showcases my ability to clearly communicate results from an important project that lead to key achievements for the company.”

After you’ve polished your writing sample, you should follow the employer’s instructions when submitting it. You might be asked to upload your sample on an online application, email it or bring it to your interview. If you are bringing your sample to an interview, you should bring at least five hard copies in case you have multiple interviewers. If you are applying to several writing jobs, you might consider creating an online writing portfolio that you can easily send to employers.

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By Yale Office of Career Strategy
Yale Office of Career Strategy