Crafting Writing Samples for Job Applications

When Do You Need a Writing Sample?

In some instances an employer will request you include a writing sample in addition to your cover letter and resume (and in some cases in place of a cover letter). A writing sample is typically a short piece of writing or excerpt (1-5 pages) that an employer uses to assess your writing and communication skills. Additionally, an employer will use writing samples to assess your ability to work within specific genres of writing, such as marketing communications, report writing, or grant writing in different positions. Make sure to follow any specific requirements that an employer specifies regarding writing samples, such as content or topic, formatting, page length, or genre.

Writing Sample Length

Unless asked, do not send an employer a long essay or report. Most employers find writing samples that are 10 pages or more to be too long. Typically employers will expect samples to be around 1 to 5 pages. A single-page memo can also suffice if that genre of writing is frequently used in the position for which you’re applying. If you only have longer samples to choose from, send the employer a shorter excerpt of the longer piece and make sure to explain that the sample is excerpted from a longer sample.

Choosing and Tailoring Your Writing Sample

Seeking Help on Your Writing Sample

You will have to weigh a number of factors when considering how much help and feedback to seek from others on your sample. If the employer asks for a pre-existing writing sample, then it’s fine if the sample received feedback and some editing help from others.  If the employer is asking you to write a new sample in response to a scenario they provide, you will need to follow the employer’s guidelines on whether you may seek feedback from others.  Some employers will specify that your writing sample (provided new on request) should not be edited by others; others may not provide any guidelines.  If you are not sure and there is no way to find out for certain, then it’s best to err on the side of caution. In most cases, employers are seeking writing samples that are representative of how you write, so they’re not looking for samples that have been heavily edited or revised by others because then it would not be representative of your writing.

Formatting Your Writing Sample

Be Aware of Confidential Information

If some of your writing is from client-based projects, be aware of possible breaches of client confidentiality.  Information in client reports may be considered company property. Ask your professors, previous employers, or current clients for permission before submitting a writing sample using projects from a previous position or class project. When in doubt, be sure to change individual’s names, locations, company names, and remove logos to keep your writing confidential.

Howe Writing Initiative ‧ Farmer School of Business ‧ Miami University

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