Advice When Internships/Job Applications Ask for a Writing Sample

What is a writing sample?

A writing sample is an example of how well you summarize complex ideas, research papers, editorials, critiques (be sure to omit names), articles, journals, etc.  Make sure that what you send in with your internship or job applications best exemplifies the spectrum of your writing abilities.

What should I consider when selecting a writing sample?

  • Follow employers’ instructions; it is fine to ask for clarity if you are unsure.
  • If the employer does not specify, submit a sample that closely matches the subject matter or position. Assignments related to the industry or subject matter can significantly aide your job search. For example, a case study from a political science or law-related course would be an excellent writing sample for a position in a law firm or with an elected official. If you are applying for a job in journalism, you may want to submit an article you wrote for the campus newspaper. For a job that involves research, submit a research paper. For non-profits, you can submit a research paper relevant to the organization’s mission.  Choose samples that demonstrate the type of writing you would do on the job.
  • If you have little to no relevant work experience (i.e., you are applying for an entry-level job), you may submit a school assignment. A lab report would work for a science-related position. An assignment from a business or technical writing class would also be appropriate.

Writing Sample Checklist

First and foremost, make sure the sample is well-written and of the highest quality! Ask yourself if your sample has a clear, well-articulated thesis, is it concise and to the point, does it follow a logical structure, and can the reader easily understand and follow it. Other suggestions and tips:

  • Graded Assignments. As an undergrad student or recent graduate, some applicants choose to use a section of a graded assignment from a class. If sending a graded paper, make sure you received a decent grade, but do not necessarily rule out your “B” papers. Some “B” papers may have potential if you revise them before using them as your writing sample.
  • Length. Unless otherwise stated, a good length is 2-5 pages. If you want to send a sample of a larger document, select a 2-5 page section and introduce it with a paragraph that puts the selection into the proper context. Avoid sending a 10-15 page research paper even if you received a good grade.
  • Your own work. If it was a collaborative piece, make sure you state so and indicate which part was your responsibility.
  • Paper Genre. Unless otherwise specified by the employer, and if possible, make sure that your samples match the genre of the writing that the position would involve.  For example, if you are applying for journalism positions, submit “clips”—actual articles that have been published in a campus newspaper, blog, or other publication.  For a research position, submit an in-depth analysis of an issue or a topic.  For a PR position, submit a press release that you have written from a previous internship or as the marketing chair of a campus group.  If you don’t have any, you can write a press release for an upcoming event (just make sure you specify that it has not been published).
  • Your best writing.  If you are deciding between two papers you have written, and one is better written than the other but your weaker paper is topically more relevant, choose the paper that is better written to submit. The other option is to rewrite the relevant paper to be stronger before you submit it. Remember, it’s your writing skills that the employer is assessing, and being topically relevant is just an added bonus.
  • Excerpts. Most employers will specify how many pages or how many clips they want. If they don’t, then submit 2-5 pages of writing, usually double-spaced (unless it is a clip). This can be a combination of 1 or more writing samples. If you want to use a paper that is longer than 5 pages, provide an excerpt with a notation at the top that tells the employer that it is an excerpt from a [number]-page paper on [topic] and where in the paper this excerpt is from. You might share the introduction, sections of the body, and your conclusion, so the reader is still able to follow your thought process.
  • Clean copies. Make sure that you send in papers that do not have your professor’s comments. Provide clean copies of your writing and revise them as necessary. Proofread your document to avoid errors or typos.
By Malakia Silcott
Malakia Silcott Associate Director