It is not uncommon for employers to request writing samples. Writing samples are simply good examples of your writing skills. They are designed to ascertain whether you have the necessary writing and often research skills to complete required tasks of the position you seek.
You may want to start developing a portfolio of well-written pieces so you can quickly refer to them when needed. You might want to select pieces that show your full range of talents. Some samples might include how well you summarize complex ideas, research papers, editorials, critiques (be sure to omit names), articles, journals, and blogs.
On rare occasions the employer may request a specific kind of writing sample (e.g., a case study). If you have to create one, stick very closely to the guidelines provided.
If a writing sample is requested, here are some guidelines to help you prepare:
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:
- It is understood that as an undergraduate student or recent graduate, you will likely 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.
- 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 10-15 page research paper even if you received a good grade.
- Provide your own work; if it was a collaborative piece, make sure you state so and indicate which part was your responsibility.
- 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.
Preparing the Sample (if not a published article or book)
- Put your name on it!
- Do not try font or margin tricks to make a 2-page paper into a 5-page paper.
- Double and triple check for errors. If you wrote the paper for a class, incorporate any suggestions from your professor or peers.
- Submit a clean copy without a professor's grades or marks.
- If you cited works in the sample, include the bibliography.
- Include a brief note about the context of the sample. For example: "This writing sample is an excerpt from an essay I wrote for my Women's Studies class 'Gender and American Society.' I worked with a partner on this assignment, so I have included only the section of the paper on 'Gender and the Family,' which represents my individual work."
The following two sample research papers are typical of the papers that might be submitted in different kinds of courses.
Reading these papers will help you learn about organizing an argument and working with sources. The papers also demonstrate the use of MLA style to document sources and the formatting of the margins, line spacing, and other physical attributes of a printed paper. The MLA’s guidelines on formatting papers appear elsewhere on this site.
The sample papers were written by MLA staff members who are experienced college teachers. You may find that the writing and documentation seem polished. Because the sample papers serve as models, we aimed to make them free of errors in grammar and documentation. Nevertheless, we hope that the papers usefully represent good student work.
This paper, on Jacob Lawrence’s Migration series, shows you how to incorporate figures into your text, style a block quotation, and cite a variety of sources. Read about block quotations in the MLA Handbook (1.3.2–3, 1.3.7).
This paper, on Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park and the courtship novel, features examples of how to use notes in MLA style, cite a dictionary definition, and more.