Learn
13 min read

What is a Writing Sample?

Tiffany Ellis

October 15, 2022

This article will cover a writing sample, its purpose, what it should contain, how to create one, and more. If you’re just starting your writing career and have been asked for a writing sample, this will be a great place to get familiar with the concept. 

A writing sample is a piece of writing requested by a potential employer or academic institution that shows what you are capable of within the scope of their purpose. 

What is the purpose of a writing sample?

Within the scope of employment, the purpose of a writing sample is to provide proof to your potential employer that you can perform the writing tasks that you will be assigned. 

If you’re applying for a position with a specific type of company, such as construction, they may want a writing sample that proves you know how to write about that industry. If you’re applying for college, you may be requested to provide a creative writing sample, an argumentative essay, etc., specifically written for their admissions process.

Here are a few examples of what you may be asked to provide depending on the job that you’re after. 

Public relations: press release sample

Content writer: 1 to 3 samples of previous writing work in the field you’ll be writing in

Creative writing: short story sample

What is an employer looking for in a writing sample?

An employer that needs a writer is looking for high-quality content that is accurately informative and in some cases, lightly entertaining. You have to remember that your sample will be used to judge your ability to write the type of content they’re looking for, but it will also be used to judge how well you communicate and your intelligence level. 

Features of a great writing sample

In this section, we’ll go over what any great writing sample should have in it and a few things that it definitely shouldn’t. 

Perfect grammar and spelling

The last thing you want to do is turn in a writing sample full of grammar and spelling mistakes. If you don’t pay enough attention to detail when you send in your first writing sample to get the job, the person reviewing it isn’t going to have high expectations when they hire you. 

Be thorough and use software like Grammarly Pro to spellcheck and proofread your sample before you send it in. You may think you corrected everything as you went, but you’ll almost always be wrong. Don’t leave your potential employer anything to find. 

Well-researched and accurate

Any sample that you send in should be accurate. In specialized or technical fields, attention to this type of detail is extremely important. 

For example, if you’re writing content for a home builder’s website, you should either know a fair bit about construction already, or you should be able to research the topic well enough that your employer believes you can write about it competently. Specialized fields like this where things are facts and not opinions are likely to want to read any content before it’s published on their website, but it’s still critical to get it right the first time. 

Appropriate writing style

Your sample should be in a tone that is consistent with what the employer requests. If they don’t provide you with a tone to write in, you should ask if they have a preference. 

Sometimes the tone you should be writing in is obvious, though. If you’re writing for a website, look at the type of content already published there to get an idea of the tone you should be working in. 

Attention to detail

It has become increasingly common for employers to use “gotcha” type tactics to weed out people who don’t follow hiring directions. This is often seen on hiring platforms like Upwork, where a job listing will randomly contain a code word for you to write at the top of your proposal to prove to them you read the entire listing. 

If an employer includes instructions on what to do or include in your writing sample, pay close attention to them and ensure that you follow those directions to the letter. If not, it could be something as simple as not including the word “blue” in your introduction that gets your application axed. 

How long should a writing sample be?

Writing samples should be between 750 words and 2000 words, depending on the job ad or your interviewer's request. 500 words isn’t quite enough to get a grasp on what level your writing skills are, while 5,000 words would be overkill in most situations. 

If the job specifies that a writing sample should be a particular length, go with that. Sometimes they will want short writing samples of they go through a lot of applications. Other times, they’re more interested in longer samples, such as 3,000 words or more. 

What to submit as a writing sample

You should submit a writing sample that fits with the criteria that has been provided to you. This includes everything from length to subject matter all the way down to what format it should be in. Some may even request specific fonts or heading sizes. Whatever the request is, you should fulfill it or you’ll be wasting your time submitting a sample at all. 

If the writing sample requirements are vague or non-existent, then you could possibly use something that you’ve written in the past for a sample if it generally fits their needs. 

How to create a writing sample

You should create a writing sample that is on topic for the client’s purpose, fit well with their target demographic, length, writing style, and format. 

Creating a writing sample specifically for the job you’re applying for can be easy or difficult depending on how familiar you are with their requirements, their industry, and the type of content that they need you to produce. 

Step 1: Understand the requirements

We’ve already talked a bit about requirements, but let's break them down here. Here are some requirements that you may run into. 

Word count

We’ve already touched on how long a writing sample should be earlier, but it’s worth repeating that this is just as important as any other requirement your potential employer could list. Send something too short and it’s not enough to judge. Send something too long and they may push your application to the back of the list because they don’t have time to read your entire sample. 

If they list a specific word count range, stick to it. It’s important. 

Type of content

If the work you’ll be doing for them is producing blog posts for their website, then it would stand to reason that you should send a blog post as a writing sample. If you’ll be doing legal writing, you should turn in things like appellate briefs or bench memorandums. 

Topic

Your writing sample doesn’t necessarily have to be a freshly written one (unless requested), but it should definitely be on a relevant topic to the requester. If you’re being approached to write for a pet-related company, you shouldn’t turn in a writing sample about gardening. 

Style

What style a writing sample is written should be considered before you send it in. You should be sure that the style of writing that you’re going to send to your potential employer fits what they want for their purposes. 

There are 4 writing styles, which we will go over below. 

Expository

Expository writing is a style whose sole purpose is to recite facts in an order that makes sense. The writer’s own opinions on the subject have no place in this style and should not appear anywhere within the work. You should use this style if you’re going to be expected to produce written pieces that are factually based and impartial. 

Persuasive

Persuasive writing is used when trying to convince the reader of something. In these types of works, you’ll be expected to make a compelling argument for the reader to do (or not do) something or to change their opinion. This is especially useful in advertising and editorial journalism. 

Descriptive

A descriptive style is best for when you need the reader to focus on their senses while reading the work. Creative writing uses this to a great extent, but advertising has a definite need for this type of writing, and it is often combined with persuasive writing for this purpose.

Narrative

Narrative writing is storytelling. If you’ve ever read a novel, you’ve read a combination of narrative and descriptive writing. A narrative writing style would be needed when the purpose of the work you’re assigned is to take readers through a version of an event step by step. You’ll want to use this writing style when you’re applying for any position that will involve writing biographies, works of fiction, or other stories. 

Step 2: Know the company

When applying for a position with a company, you should know what type of writing they want you to produce and what their goals for that content are. There are typically only 2 basic goals for content: traffic and conversions. 

Once you know which one they’re most interested in, you can produce a writing sample that fits well with that goal. 

Step 3: Curate some ideas

When producing a fresh writing sample, you want to produce something that the company can use on their own site in the event that you do get the position. Choose a topic that fits their needs and goals, then search social media sites like Reddit to find things that people are asking questions about. 

Step 4: Choose the best idea

The best idea is the one that fits your potential employer’s goals, will fit the requirements they gave you, and that you are the most interested in writing about. You’ll have to determine on your own how to balance these three things, as something that fits your employer’s goals may not be something you’re too enthused about writing about. 

Whatever you choose for your writing sample, ensure that there isn’t already a similar piece of content on their blog. If there is, you can either avoid creating a duplicate piece of content or try to create a superior piece of content on the same subject. Err on the side of caution doing this, however, as it may be considered insulting by some. 

Step 5: Write your content

Keeping in mind the requirements you learned about in the job ad, it’s time to start producing your sample. 

Find similar piece of content on the subject and don’t be afraid to curate bits and pieces from them to put into your own writing. There is rarely a piece of content on the internet that covers all aspects of one particular topic in one article, so you’ll have to use anywhere from 2 to 6+ articles to pull information from. 

But don’t make the mistake of plagiarising anything. Copyscape and other plagiarism checkers exist and it would be wise of you to check your own work before you send it in, even if you know you didn’t copy anything. 

Step 6: Proofread and edit

Proofreading and editing is the final, but arguably most important step in the entire process of producing a fresh writing sample. You should have no grammatical or spelling errors in the entire piece. 

When you’re done with your sample, walk away from it for at least a few hours and let yourself forget the majority of what you wrote. You’ll pick up mistakes when you’re editing more easily this way, because you're looking at it with fresh eyes. 

How to deliver your writing sample

Turning in your content is the last step and while you may think that it’s not that important how you get the content to your potential client or employer, it definitely is if they specified how they want to receive it. 

If the company wants you to deliver it to them via email in a specific file format, do that. They could also request that you deliver it to them via a form or with a Google Docs link. Regardless of how they want it done, if you don’t comply with that request and make it easy for them to view your content, you’re drastically decreasing your chances of being considered for the position. 

We’ll discuss the different common ways to deliver content in another section below.

You can deliver your writing sample to your prospective employer in a few different ways. If they have a preference, you should deliver it to them that way. If they don’t, you can use either of the three methods below. 

Google Docs

Google Docs is great to turn in content, especially if you’ve had to write it specifically for an application. You can assign read-only access to the person who will receive your application and if necessary, revoke it any time you need to. Docs makes it easy to share, comment, suggest, and collaborate on pieces, so if your interviewer has questions about the document itself, they can leave comments on it. 

Files

Files are the “old fashioned” standard of the computer age and are still heavily used to deliver content samples. The only downside to using files is that they have to be downloaded and you need to ensure that you’ve put the documents in a file format that your interviewer can open on their computer. It’s best to stick with Microsoft Word’s .doc file format if possible, even if you use free writing software like OpenOffice. 

Links

Last but not least, you can send links to content that you’ve already published online. This is most effective when your content has been published on high authority websites and the content has an author box with your name and picture at the bottom. 

This shows employers that you have already been published and how good your content looks once its on a web page. 

Writing sample scams

Lately a new type of scam has emerged in online job hunting spaces where a potential employer will place an ad for a job and request a fresh writing sample for any candidate to be considered. This is sometimes a scam so the poster can get loads of free content from multiple candidates that they can use for their website and then they will close the job posting without hiring anyone. 

Beware job listings that specifically request fresh writing samples unless they’re tied to a well-established brand. You should still be wary of producing content that you won’t be paid for, however, because even though it’s unlikely that a popular brand would perform this type of scam, it does happen.  

Conclusion

When you’re applying for a writing job, you always want to turn in the best possible sample for that application. This may mean writing on a specific topic with a specific word count requirement or writing about it in a specific way. How you turn it into your potential employer also matters. The sample you send over can likely mean the difference between getting the job and not. 

Copy.ai has a variety of job-related writing templates, including job inquiry emails, resume summaries, and more. Get your 7 day free trial (no credit card required) of pro today!

Learn
13 min read

What is a Writing Sample?

Tiffany Ellis
October 15, 2022

This article will cover a writing sample, its purpose, what it should contain, how to create one, and more. If you’re just starting your writing career and have been asked for a writing sample, this will be a great place to get familiar with the concept. 

A writing sample is a piece of writing requested by a potential employer or academic institution that shows what you are capable of within the scope of their purpose. 

What is the purpose of a writing sample?

Within the scope of employment, the purpose of a writing sample is to provide proof to your potential employer that you can perform the writing tasks that you will be assigned. 

If you’re applying for a position with a specific type of company, such as construction, they may want a writing sample that proves you know how to write about that industry. If you’re applying for college, you may be requested to provide a creative writing sample, an argumentative essay, etc., specifically written for their admissions process.

Here are a few examples of what you may be asked to provide depending on the job that you’re after. 

Public relations: press release sample

Content writer: 1 to 3 samples of previous writing work in the field you’ll be writing in

Creative writing: short story sample

What is an employer looking for in a writing sample?

An employer that needs a writer is looking for high-quality content that is accurately informative and in some cases, lightly entertaining. You have to remember that your sample will be used to judge your ability to write the type of content they’re looking for, but it will also be used to judge how well you communicate and your intelligence level. 

Features of a great writing sample

In this section, we’ll go over what any great writing sample should have in it and a few things that it definitely shouldn’t. 

Perfect grammar and spelling

The last thing you want to do is turn in a writing sample full of grammar and spelling mistakes. If you don’t pay enough attention to detail when you send in your first writing sample to get the job, the person reviewing it isn’t going to have high expectations when they hire you. 

Be thorough and use software like Grammarly Pro to spellcheck and proofread your sample before you send it in. You may think you corrected everything as you went, but you’ll almost always be wrong. Don’t leave your potential employer anything to find. 

Well-researched and accurate

Any sample that you send in should be accurate. In specialized or technical fields, attention to this type of detail is extremely important. 

For example, if you’re writing content for a home builder’s website, you should either know a fair bit about construction already, or you should be able to research the topic well enough that your employer believes you can write about it competently. Specialized fields like this where things are facts and not opinions are likely to want to read any content before it’s published on their website, but it’s still critical to get it right the first time. 

Appropriate writing style

Your sample should be in a tone that is consistent with what the employer requests. If they don’t provide you with a tone to write in, you should ask if they have a preference. 

Sometimes the tone you should be writing in is obvious, though. If you’re writing for a website, look at the type of content already published there to get an idea of the tone you should be working in. 

Attention to detail

It has become increasingly common for employers to use “gotcha” type tactics to weed out people who don’t follow hiring directions. This is often seen on hiring platforms like Upwork, where a job listing will randomly contain a code word for you to write at the top of your proposal to prove to them you read the entire listing. 

If an employer includes instructions on what to do or include in your writing sample, pay close attention to them and ensure that you follow those directions to the letter. If not, it could be something as simple as not including the word “blue” in your introduction that gets your application axed. 

How long should a writing sample be?

Writing samples should be between 750 words and 2000 words, depending on the job ad or your interviewer's request. 500 words isn’t quite enough to get a grasp on what level your writing skills are, while 5,000 words would be overkill in most situations. 

If the job specifies that a writing sample should be a particular length, go with that. Sometimes they will want short writing samples of they go through a lot of applications. Other times, they’re more interested in longer samples, such as 3,000 words or more. 

What to submit as a writing sample

You should submit a writing sample that fits with the criteria that has been provided to you. This includes everything from length to subject matter all the way down to what format it should be in. Some may even request specific fonts or heading sizes. Whatever the request is, you should fulfill it or you’ll be wasting your time submitting a sample at all. 

If the writing sample requirements are vague or non-existent, then you could possibly use something that you’ve written in the past for a sample if it generally fits their needs. 

How to create a writing sample

You should create a writing sample that is on topic for the client’s purpose, fit well with their target demographic, length, writing style, and format. 

Creating a writing sample specifically for the job you’re applying for can be easy or difficult depending on how familiar you are with their requirements, their industry, and the type of content that they need you to produce. 

Step 1: Understand the requirements

We’ve already talked a bit about requirements, but let's break them down here. Here are some requirements that you may run into. 

Word count

We’ve already touched on how long a writing sample should be earlier, but it’s worth repeating that this is just as important as any other requirement your potential employer could list. Send something too short and it’s not enough to judge. Send something too long and they may push your application to the back of the list because they don’t have time to read your entire sample. 

If they list a specific word count range, stick to it. It’s important. 

Type of content

If the work you’ll be doing for them is producing blog posts for their website, then it would stand to reason that you should send a blog post as a writing sample. If you’ll be doing legal writing, you should turn in things like appellate briefs or bench memorandums. 

Topic

Your writing sample doesn’t necessarily have to be a freshly written one (unless requested), but it should definitely be on a relevant topic to the requester. If you’re being approached to write for a pet-related company, you shouldn’t turn in a writing sample about gardening. 

Style

What style a writing sample is written should be considered before you send it in. You should be sure that the style of writing that you’re going to send to your potential employer fits what they want for their purposes. 

There are 4 writing styles, which we will go over below. 

Expository

Expository writing is a style whose sole purpose is to recite facts in an order that makes sense. The writer’s own opinions on the subject have no place in this style and should not appear anywhere within the work. You should use this style if you’re going to be expected to produce written pieces that are factually based and impartial. 

Persuasive

Persuasive writing is used when trying to convince the reader of something. In these types of works, you’ll be expected to make a compelling argument for the reader to do (or not do) something or to change their opinion. This is especially useful in advertising and editorial journalism. 

Descriptive

A descriptive style is best for when you need the reader to focus on their senses while reading the work. Creative writing uses this to a great extent, but advertising has a definite need for this type of writing, and it is often combined with persuasive writing for this purpose.

Narrative

Narrative writing is storytelling. If you’ve ever read a novel, you’ve read a combination of narrative and descriptive writing. A narrative writing style would be needed when the purpose of the work you’re assigned is to take readers through a version of an event step by step. You’ll want to use this writing style when you’re applying for any position that will involve writing biographies, works of fiction, or other stories. 

Step 2: Know the company

When applying for a position with a company, you should know what type of writing they want you to produce and what their goals for that content are. There are typically only 2 basic goals for content: traffic and conversions. 

Once you know which one they’re most interested in, you can produce a writing sample that fits well with that goal. 

Step 3: Curate some ideas

When producing a fresh writing sample, you want to produce something that the company can use on their own site in the event that you do get the position. Choose a topic that fits their needs and goals, then search social media sites like Reddit to find things that people are asking questions about. 

Step 4: Choose the best idea

The best idea is the one that fits your potential employer’s goals, will fit the requirements they gave you, and that you are the most interested in writing about. You’ll have to determine on your own how to balance these three things, as something that fits your employer’s goals may not be something you’re too enthused about writing about. 

Whatever you choose for your writing sample, ensure that there isn’t already a similar piece of content on their blog. If there is, you can either avoid creating a duplicate piece of content or try to create a superior piece of content on the same subject. Err on the side of caution doing this, however, as it may be considered insulting by some. 

Step 5: Write your content

Keeping in mind the requirements you learned about in the job ad, it’s time to start producing your sample. 

Find similar piece of content on the subject and don’t be afraid to curate bits and pieces from them to put into your own writing. There is rarely a piece of content on the internet that covers all aspects of one particular topic in one article, so you’ll have to use anywhere from 2 to 6+ articles to pull information from. 

But don’t make the mistake of plagiarising anything. Copyscape and other plagiarism checkers exist and it would be wise of you to check your own work before you send it in, even if you know you didn’t copy anything. 

Step 6: Proofread and edit

Proofreading and editing is the final, but arguably most important step in the entire process of producing a fresh writing sample. You should have no grammatical or spelling errors in the entire piece. 

When you’re done with your sample, walk away from it for at least a few hours and let yourself forget the majority of what you wrote. You’ll pick up mistakes when you’re editing more easily this way, because you're looking at it with fresh eyes. 

How to deliver your writing sample

Turning in your content is the last step and while you may think that it’s not that important how you get the content to your potential client or employer, it definitely is if they specified how they want to receive it. 

If the company wants you to deliver it to them via email in a specific file format, do that. They could also request that you deliver it to them via a form or with a Google Docs link. Regardless of how they want it done, if you don’t comply with that request and make it easy for them to view your content, you’re drastically decreasing your chances of being considered for the position. 

We’ll discuss the different common ways to deliver content in another section below.

You can deliver your writing sample to your prospective employer in a few different ways. If they have a preference, you should deliver it to them that way. If they don’t, you can use either of the three methods below. 

Google Docs

Google Docs is great to turn in content, especially if you’ve had to write it specifically for an application. You can assign read-only access to the person who will receive your application and if necessary, revoke it any time you need to. Docs makes it easy to share, comment, suggest, and collaborate on pieces, so if your interviewer has questions about the document itself, they can leave comments on it. 

Files

Files are the “old fashioned” standard of the computer age and are still heavily used to deliver content samples. The only downside to using files is that they have to be downloaded and you need to ensure that you’ve put the documents in a file format that your interviewer can open on their computer. It’s best to stick with Microsoft Word’s .doc file format if possible, even if you use free writing software like OpenOffice. 

Links

Last but not least, you can send links to content that you’ve already published online. This is most effective when your content has been published on high authority websites and the content has an author box with your name and picture at the bottom. 

This shows employers that you have already been published and how good your content looks once its on a web page. 

Writing sample scams

Lately a new type of scam has emerged in online job hunting spaces where a potential employer will place an ad for a job and request a fresh writing sample for any candidate to be considered. This is sometimes a scam so the poster can get loads of free content from multiple candidates that they can use for their website and then they will close the job posting without hiring anyone. 

Beware job listings that specifically request fresh writing samples unless they’re tied to a well-established brand. You should still be wary of producing content that you won’t be paid for, however, because even though it’s unlikely that a popular brand would perform this type of scam, it does happen.  

Conclusion

When you’re applying for a writing job, you always want to turn in the best possible sample for that application. This may mean writing on a specific topic with a specific word count requirement or writing about it in a specific way. How you turn it into your potential employer also matters. The sample you send over can likely mean the difference between getting the job and not. 

Copy.ai has a variety of job-related writing templates, including job inquiry emails, resume summaries, and more. Get your 7 day free trial (no credit card required) of pro today!

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