How To Submit A Writing Sample

By Chris Kolmar
Nov. 28, 2022

Find a Job You Really Want In

You have everything in place to submit your job application, and then you notice that the company is asking for you to submit a writing sample as well. This is a common scenario, and it can often cause some confusion.

Whether you have never done this before or simply need a refresher on best practices, we’ve put together this guide to help you choose and submit the perfect writing sample.

Key Takeaways

  • A writing sample is an original piece that showcases your writing and communication skills.

  • Most job applications require you to upload or email your writing sample.

  • Choose a writing sample that follows the application’s instructions and matches the job you’re applying for.

How To Submit A Writing Sample

What Is a Writing Sample?

A writing sample is any professional piece of writing that you wrote yourself, that you believe showcases your writing abilities. It is an additional document you may be asked to supply when applying for writing-intensive jobs.

Your writing sample can include pieces you wrote while in college — like research papers and articles — or work you have done in previous positions — like blog posts.

Here are some examples of writing samples you could submit:

  • Press releases

  • Whitepapers

  • Research papers

  • Articles

  • Newsletters

  • Website pages

How to Submit a Writing Sample

Usually, the employer will have included instructions on how to submit a writing sample along with your application. Here are the two most common methods:

  1. Upload it with your application. In an online application, you will likely be asked to upload your sample, in which case you will want to make sure you are uploading it with the correct title and in the correct format.

    If the application doesn’t specify what to name your file, try resaving your sample as “LastName_Writing_Sample.docx,” so the recruiter knows what they will be looking at before opening the file.

  2. Email it separately. When submitting an online application, you may also be asked to send your writing sample to an email. In this case, you will want to write a short email introducing yourself and instructing them to find the writing sample attached.

    When doing this, you end the email by thanking them for their consideration and including your contact information.

Choosing a Writing Sample

Deciding which piece you are going to send in is the hardest part of submitting a writing sample.

You want to make sure that the work you are submitting demonstrates the breadth of your abilities, but how do you decide which piece is best?

Should you submit a longer piece to show you can write more long-form, or should you submit something shorter to prove you are concise?

When submitting a writing sample, here are a few tips to follow:

  • Follow the employer’s directions. If you’re given clear instructions, follow them. Let the employer tell you what they are looking for before deciding what you will send in. If the employer asks for a specific piece or looking for a word count limit, make sure the work you submit meets these requirements.

  • Keep it short. Remember that hiring managers will have dozens, possibly hundreds of writing samples to read.

    So, unless you are asked to send in something longer, try to keep your writing sample to one to two pages. Just like with a resume and cover letter, it is better to be concise.

  • Match the sample with the job. Before you start going through your portfolio, take a look at the job listing. If you get this job, what sort of writing will you be doing daily? Try to match up the piece you are sending in with the work you would be doing.

    For example, if you are applying to be an H.R. manager, whose responsibilities include sending out company-wide bulletins, send in a piece that had a similar audience and purpose, like a branch-wide memo or a company newsletter.

  • Align with the company’s tone. Companies have worked hard to create an image and brand for themselves, and they want to make sure that anyone who will speak for them, such as a writer or a marketer, will adhere to the image they have created. So, it is your job to show them that you are capable of writing in the style they are used to.

    Take a look at the company’s website, social media, and other presences online. Analyze their overall culture.

    If they seem straight-laced and all-business, send in a piece that matches this tone, like a research paper or an article. If they seem more laidback and creative, send in a piece that shows off your personality, like a humorous blog post.

    Try to align the sample’s tone with that of the company. You want to show the recruiter your style of writing will fit in perfectly.

  • Include an intro paragraph. Add in a small paragraph at the start of your sample, no more than a few lines, explaining your sample and what it was meant to accomplish.

    If you are sending in an excerpt from a piece, tell them what the whole piece was and its purpose.

    You can even use this paragraph to explain why you have chosen to send in this piece. Maybe you chose this piece because you believe it is the work that best demonstrates your skills or because it is a piece you are particularly proud of and enjoyed writing.

    The idea of adding this paragraph is to give a little bit of context to recruiters that will help them better understand why you sent in this specific piece and why you wrote it in the first place.

    Again, hiring managers have many samples to read, and if they cannot figure out why you sent in a piece within the first few lines, they will put your application in the “No” pile.

  • Avoid controversial topics. You don’t want to include anything that may be off-putting to a potential employer, so when submitting a writing sample, make sure you avoid potentially sensitive subjects altogether.

    You’ll also want to avoid including any confidential data. Carefully comb through your piece and remove anything that your past employer wouldn’t want you sharing, like financial information and other data.

  • Make sure the piece isn’t outdated. If you wrote the piece a year or more before, take a look at the piece and make sure there is no outdated information or anything that could indicate it was written so long ago. Keep the information updated and relevant.

    Having an up-to-date sample shows that you haven’t let your writing skills go rusty and that you have been continually improving your writing skills, rather than allowing them to stagnate.

  • Proofread! There is nothing worse than submitting a piece with a grammatical or spelling error. It makes you look inexperienced and unprofessional.

    To avoid this, proofread your piece multiple times. Take the time to read your writing sample out loud. You can also use the “Read Aloud” function in Microsoft Word to help you hear your writing in someone else’s (slightly robotic) voice.

    Plus, robots will not skim, which prevents them from missing errors humans might overlook.

What If I Don’t Have a Writing Sample?

There are plenty of reasons you may not have the perfect writing sample ready to go. Maybe you have little experience in positions that required writing, or you don’t have much professional experience at all.

Luckily, it is perfectly fine for you to write a piece, from scratch, specifically for this application. What’s even better is you’ll avoid all the possible pitfalls of submitting a piece that may not align well with the job or with the company, as this piece will be tailored specifically for this position.

When starting from scratch, make sure that you review what sort of writing sample the job application is looking for and ensure that the piece you are writing fits the desires of the hiring manager. Use their instructions as a jumping-off point to get you started.

Why Employers Ask for Writing Samples

An employer usually requests a writing sample because they want to get a preview of how you write, the level at which you write, and how you effectively communicate information with others.

Employers will want to see your communication skills in action before deciding whether or not you are a good fit for the position.

Who Has to Submit a Writing Sample?

It is not just writers who have to worry about submitting writing samples, as many jobs will require exceptional writing skills.

Many different jobs will need exceptional writing skills, and hiring managers may request a writing sample be included with your application.

Here are a few examples of jobs that may require a writing sample:

Writing Sample FAQ

  1. How long should a writing sample be?

    A writing sample should be about one to two pages long. Other experts say around 750 words is usually about right.

    Sometimes employers will list length requirements, so pay attention to this when submitting your sample — you may have to choose a selection from an article or paper to submit rather than the whole thing.

  2. What do employers look for in writing samples?

    Employers typically look for tone, style, and grammar in writing samples. The details of what they want to see will vary based on the industry, company, and position, but they’re all typically looking for some version of these three things.

  3. Where do you put writing samples?

    You put writing samples on your online portfolio, on social media, and on your application. Posting your writing samples on a digital portfolio can be a great way to both store them and make them available for potential employers to find when they search your name.

    The same goes for social media profiles like LinkedIn — posting your work there can help it reach the right eyes.

    Many job applications also ask for writing samples, so choose one to submit that aligns well with what you’d be doing in the job you’re applying for.

Final Thoughts

Submitting the perfect writing sample is daunting, especially if you do not have a lot of experience with professional writing. Finding the right piece to send in can be especially difficult, whether you are new to writing or have extensive experience in it.

Your writing sample should be as carefully put together as your resume or cover letter, and you should review it with particular attention to detail.

If you are careful and calculated in choosing a writing sample, and you follow these tips, you will be submitting the best writing sample possible.

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Chris Kolmar

Chris Kolmar is a co-founder of Zippia and the editor-in-chief of the Zippia career advice blog. He has hired over 50 people in his career, been hired five times, and wants to help you land your next job. His research has been featured on the New York Times, Thrillist, VOX, The Atlantic, and a host of local news. More recently, he's been quoted on USA Today, BusinessInsider, and CNBC.

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