Choosing a great writing sample

Many students visit the Career Center with concerns about selecting a writing sample for their job or internship application. The goal of this post is to answer some of the more general questions we receive on this topic.

Solid writing skills are important in almost all jobs and internships. Writing samples allow an employer to judge your ability to convey a message on paper, and they should be taken very seriously.

Overall, there are four major areas to keep in mind when picking a writing sample.

Style: An important consideration when choosing a writing sample is the type of writing you’ll do in the job or internship you’re applying to. For example, you should not submit a long research paper for a position that will require you to write issue briefs and policy memos. Consider the context and submit a piece that represents the style you’ll use in the position.

Content: In general, the employer’s main reason for requesting a writing sample is to see if you can write. But showing an understanding of a relevant issue area is also positive, and your writing sample can be a way to demonstrate this. If possible, submit a sample that addresses the issues you’ll work on in the position or that the organization is focused on.

Length: Many employers will specify the desired length of your writing sample. If no desired length is given, choose a writing sample that is 2-5 pages long.

One common question from students is whether their writing sample needs to be a complete piece of work. The short answer is no. If you’d like to highlight a short section of a longer paper, simply pull out your best 2-5 page selection. To provide context to the reader, you can start the sample with a brief paragraph about the topic of the paper and perhaps the course it was written for.

Spelling and grammar: There is no excuse for spelling and grammatical errors in a writing sample. Be sure to proofread the entire piece and have a trusted friend or colleague double check your work.

A writing sample can make or break your application, and it’s important to choose wisely. If you’re in need to further guidance on this topic, stop by the Career Center to meet with one of our trained peer advisors.