Writing samples are often an essential part of the job application process, particularly in fields such as journalism, marketing, and public relations. They provide potential employers with a glimpse into your writing abilities and help them recognize if you’re a good fit for the company. But what do you send them?

When you’re deciding what to send, consider the writing sample examples that showcase your experience, passion, knowledge, and skills in the best possible light.

In this guide, we’ll explore the various types of writing samples, how to create an outstanding content writing sample, and the common mistakes to avoid.

So let’s begin by understanding a publisher’s expectations for writing samples.

Understanding a Publisher’s Expectations for Writing Samples

When a publisher or employer requests a writing sample, they typically seek a few essential qualities. These include:

  • Clarity: Your writing should be easy to understand, with a clear purpose and message. Avoid using jargon or overly complex language, as this can make your work difficult to follow.
  • Organization: Your writing should be well-organized, with a logical flow of ideas. You also need to demonstrate smooth transitions between paragraphs. This will help the reader follow your argument and understand your main points.
  • Accuracy: Make sure your writing is factually accurate and well-researched. This is essential for positions that involve research or fact-checking, such as journalism or content creation.
  • Tone and style: Your writing should be engaging and appropriate for the intended audience. Consider the tone and style that would be most effective for the type of writing you’re submitting and the company or publication you are applying to.
  • Grammar and mechanics: Last but absolutely not least, your writing should be free of grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors.

Let’s explore the different types of writing samples that can help you impress potential employers.

Types of Writing Samples to Impress Employers

There is a wide variety of writing samples you can submit to showcase your skills and expertise:

Articles and blog posts

These are standard options for positions in journalism, content creation, or marketing.

Choose pieces that demonstrate compelling, well-researched content that engages readers. Remember: consider the publication or the employer — could your sample article slip nicely into their existing library of content?

Essays and research papers

For academic or research-focused positions, submitting a well-written essay or research paper can showcase your critical thinking, research, and analytical skills.

Ensure you rely on reliable and peer-reviewed research rather than questionable sources to substantiate and reinforce your academic arguments. Using reliable sources shows that you rely on facts rather than gossip and anecdotal evidence.

Press releases and marketing materials

If you’re applying for a public relations or marketing position, submitting a press release or marketing materials can demonstrate your ability to communicate effectively and persuasively on behalf of a company or client.

Remember, a press release may be confined to a single page — the skill is in getting straight to the point and summarising big concepts in easily digestible language. Many news outlets publish content directly from press releases, so your copy needs to be publish-ready.

Social media posts

In today’s digital world, strong social media writing skills are highly valued. Submitting examples of engaging social media posts can show that you understand how to write for different platforms and audiences.

Most employers want to see outcomes as well as evidence, so be sure to include data relating to reach, audience interaction, and sales results.

Technical documents

If you’re applying for a technical writing position, providing user guides or technical documentation examples can highlight your ability to clearly and concisely explain complex concepts.

Remember to make your writing sample relevant to the particular position if you can.

How to Create an Outstanding Content Writing Sample

To create an outstanding content writing sample, follow these steps:

  1. Choose a topic that showcases your expertise. Select a subject that you know and are confident to write about.
  2. Research thoroughly. Gather relevant and reliable information, facts, and statistics to support your argument. This reinforces your content and makes your writing more persuasive.
  3. Organize your thoughts. Create an outline to help structure your content and ensure a logical flow of ideas and reasoning.
  4. Write with clarity and precision. Use clear, concise language. Avoid jargon or overly complex sentences unless you’re writing an academic paper. Consider your audience — there’s a time and place for cleverness — is it now? Remember, you want to catch the eye of a new employer, not bamboozle them.
  5. Engage the reader. Consider using anecdotes (but be sure to differentiate between anecdotal and proven evidence), examples, or quotes to make your writing more interesting and relatable. Above all, use an engaging tone, and select a style appropriate for your target audience.
  6. Edit and proofread. They say that writing is rewriting, and it’s certainly the case for your writing sample. Carefully review your grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors.

Ultimately, your writing sample is YOU on the page. So, follow step 9 — edit and proofread — with care and precision. Ask a trusted colleague to review your work for a fresh perspective. The worst thing you could do is send an unproofed writing sample.

Length and Format of Writing Samples for Job Applications or Publishers

job applications

When it comes to the length and format of your writing sample, it’s essential to follow any specific guidelines provided by the employer or publisher.

Generally, writing samples are between 3-5 pages long, although some positions may require longer samples and some just a single page. The shorter samples are the hardest because they require the most brevity — but remember: brevity is the skill of the mindful writer.

If no guidelines are provided, err on the side of brevity and submit a concise, focused piece that demonstrates your skills effectively.

Format of writing samples

In terms of format, ensure your writing sample is easy to read and professional in appearance.

Use a standard font like Times New Roman or Arial, and a font size of 11 or 12 points. Include your name and contact information at the top of the document and a title and date if applicable.

Tips for Choosing the Right Writing Sample for Your Application

When selecting a writing sample for your job application, consider the following tips:

  • Choose a sample relevant to the position: We’ve mentioned this already, but it’s worthy of a reminder. Select a piece demonstrating the specific skills and knowledge required for the job.
  • Showcase your best work: Submit a piece you are proud of. Don’t rush it. Give yourself time to write a first draft, then time to hone it. You should showcase your writing abilities at their best.
  • Consider the audience: Make sure you’re familiar with the employer’s audience and their in-house Tone of Voice (TOV). Would your sample slot into their existing tone? Show that you’re adaptable by writing for THEM — not you. Think about the company or publication you are applying to and select a writing sample that will resonate with their target audience.
  • Highlight your versatility: If you have experience writing in different styles or formats, consider submitting multiple samples to demonstrate your range and versatility. If you’ve written a blog, send your best appropriate example; if you’ve written newsletters or for a magazine, send the most appropriate sample.
  • Make sure it’s recent: Choose a relatively recent writing sample, preferably within the past year or two. This shows that your writing skills are up-to-date and that you are actively engaged in the field.
  • Ask for feedback: Consider asking a friend or colleague to review your writing sample and provide feedback before you send it. Their feedback can help you identify areas for improvement and ensure that your work is polished and professional. Make sure you trust their honesty — don’t ask a “yes man/woman”.

Proactively Providing Writing Samples: Should You or Shouldn’t You?

While it’s common for employers to request writing samples as part of the application, you may also choose to provide writing samples to potential employers or publishers proactively. This can demonstrate your interest in the company or publication and give them a sense of your writing style and skills.

However, remain strategic in how you approach this. Before submitting any writing samples, research the company or publication, and tailor your samples to their specific niche and interests.

Avoid being pushy or aggressive, as this can turn potential employers off. Your goal should be to showcase your skills and expertise in a way that is professional and respectful.

Common Mistakes to Avoid in Your Writing Sample

To make a lasting impression with your writing sample, be sure to avoid these common mistakes:

Submitting a poorly written or edited piece

Your writing sample must be polished and error-free.

We can’t say this enough: carefully review your work for grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors.

If you don’t entirely trust your proofreading skills (it can be tricky to proof your own work, after all), use an app like Grammarly. It’s the most foolproof way of ensuring your work is accurate.

Choosing an irrelevant or outdated piece

Your writing sample should be relevant to the position you are applying for and should demonstrate your current skills and knowledge.

Avoid samples that might represent you in a challenging light — it’s probably best to avoid politics, religion, and social commentary (unless those are what the employer or publisher wants to read).

Remember, you get one chance to introduce yourself.

Ignoring formatting and length guidelines

This isn’t the time to be a maverick. Whoever sent you the guidelines wants to know if you can follow instructions.

So, follow any specific guidelines provided by the employer or publisher, and keep your writing sample concise and focused.

Failing to tailor your writing sample to the audience

The committee for your church newsletter probably doesn’t want to read your Sex in the City-style social commentary. Consider the company or publication you are applying to and select a writing sample that will resonate with their target audience.


Harry Wallett is the Founder and Managing Director of Relay Publishing. Combining his entrepreneurial background with a love of great stories, Harry founded Relay in 2013 as a fresh way to create books and for writers to earn a living from their work. Since then, Relay has sold 3+ million copies and worked with 100s of writers on bestselling titles such as Defending InnocenceThe Alveria Dragon Akademy Series and Rancher’s Family Christmas. Harry oversees the creative direction of the company, and works to develop a supportive collaborative environment for the Relay team to thrive within in order to fulfill our mission to create unputdownable books.

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