Can’t escape it, eh?
The dreaded writing sample.
Also known as writing clips – if you wanna get all fancy.
You need it to show prospects you can write out complex ideas and, in turn, prospects or the employer will use writing samples to ensure the person they hire for content writing is knowledgeable in their industry topic.
It’s a tall order to fill, especially if you’re a new student to online writing. Having a writing sample for a job application is one of the tools you need to start freelance writing, and without it, it’s going to be hard to land gigs.
A writing sample also has a lot of requirements too like the writing topic and – how long should a writing sample be anyways?
As prospective students to freelancing, I’m here to help!
In this post, I’ll dive deep into writing samples – from what it is to why you need them to how to create a writing sample for your job and more.
What is a Writing Sample?
A writing sample is the best representation of your writing skill and writing style that shows your expertise in a topic.
A writing sample comes in many different forms – blog posts, emails, brochures, landing page copy, books, magazine article, or ad copy but it’s not a memo.
A writing sample generally isn’t an essay, research paper, academic paper or a creative writing sample.
This written work isn’t what you would see in graduate school or a graduate program. This is a representation of professional development in writing.
But, if you want to be a copywriter, then providing a writing sample email letter or a longer document ad copy for a shoe store can be a better show of copywriting.
Why You Need a Writing Sample for a Job
You might be wondering why writing samples are needed for a job anyways.
A while back, I had a kid tech company reach out for content writing.
They wanted a writing sample because they weren’t confident that I could write about tech stuff and had basic reading comprehension. Made sense since the content they knew me about was about parenting and digital marketing.
So, I chose to write an excerpt – an un-paid 300-word writing sample on the Gro Clock.
This is a freelance writing example that you could provide.
If you know my story, then you know that product description writing is something I loathe! But, now I only dislike it.
But, this writing sample I did for the Gro Clock was extremely fun for me. Why? Because I had a Gro Clock and the story I shared is a legit true story.
My twins love their Gro Clock, and they do not get out of bed until the sun shows.
So, I had a strong feeling towards this product, making it a cinch to write about it. And, since it was less than 500 words (not an entire piece of content), I felt it unnecessary to get paid for this sample.
From this example, if a hiring manager or client isn’t sure you can write for them, they may seek out a writing sample. I highly suggest you ask for a paid writing sample instead of opting for a free one.
Why would I say this when I clearly showed you I produced a free sample of my writing?
Because I was at a point that I could pick my clients and I mostly work with profitable businesses that value content marketing. So, there was no doubt that they would pay for my writing, if they hired me.
But, if you’re a new freelance writer with no writing samples and a prospect asks for one – get paid for it!
Another reason why you need writing samples is simply to show prospects you are a legit writer and not a hobby blogger.
If you visit any mom blog or home decor blog out there, they most definitely don’t have a writing sample’s page. That’s because they are a blogger and not a writer.
To stand out from other bloggers, have a portfolio page, or a good writing sample page with your writing samples.
Here are my specific examples.
This immediately makes you look more professional and experienced.
Can’t I just use my blog as writing samples?
Yes, you can, but there are some exceptions to this.
I was able to land some gigs with my passion blog, Twins Mommy, but they were few and far between.
So, if you have a blog with audience-driven content and you don’t need to make a living as a writer, then go ahead and start a blog, have fun and see if you can land some writing work.
And yes, you can have a blog on your writer website. This is just supplemental, however, and shouldn’t be the only writing samples you showcase.
Finally, having a writing sample can prove to prospects that other people “hired you” or published your work.
A great way to create a good writing sample is to guest post. This shows easily that other people love your writing so much, they decided to publish your work on their blog.
How Long Should a Writing Sample Be?
As you can see from my example, I wrote a 300-word sample piece.
But, in general, your writing sample should be between 800-1200 words if you are writing a blog post. For other forms of content, it can be shorter or a larger document – emails are less than 500 words, books start at 10k words and legal writing samples are 8-20 pages long. Sometimes, it can be a longer paper too.
Remember, employers or blog owners don’t have time to read lengthy blog posts. So, it’s in your best interest to provide valuable content in around 1,000 words – whatever is your writing ability is fine as a beginner.
And another thing, you might be thinking about how old should a writing sample be?
I recommend having writing samples displayed on your writer website no more than 4 years old.
You want to show prospects that you know the trends and most up-to-date stats and tactics regarding your niche and that means fresh writing samples.
Jobs that Require a Writing Sample
For jobs that need strong writing skills or journalism-type jobs, writing samples are a given to the potential employer.
So, as a freelance writer for hire online – having writing samples on a writing portfolio page just makes sense. Your writing sample examples can seal the deal for potential clients looking at your website.
So, typical content jobs that need a writing sample might be:
- Blogging jobs
- Copywriting jobs
- Magazine jobs
- Remote writing jobs
- Job description that require writing
Before we go into a writing sample template, if you want more help in writing the perfect writing sample – and finding the perfect subject matter for your first sample that will attract clients – make sure to check out the Writing Sample Starter Kit!
Writing Sample Template & Example
The writing sample template I’ll share is for a standard blog post in detail. Again, I feel this makes a great writing sample for your portfolio page.
For your writing sample blog post, the set up is:
- Introduction – provide a hook and promise of what your reader will learn in your post
- Body – this is where you break down your blog post into subheadings and actionable ideas
- Conclusion – All writing samples should have a conclusion paragraph. Clients like to see this!
- CTA – this is your call-to-action. Give your readers something to do like share your post.
Remember, this is a mock-up sample of what a blog post would be. Of course, you can use this writing sample template for all your blog writing and guest posting.
This is the template I use for my blogs too!
How to Create Writing Samples
Let’s dive deep into the steps for creating writing samples.
1. Understand the Industry and Audience
Before you begin writing your writing sample for a job, you have to be clear on the topic or industry you will be writing for.
If you decide to write in the health niche you might enjoy writing about senior health tips. If this is the case you need to do your research on the content that’s already published.
This can tell the types of topics discussed, the length and any extras such as interviews with doctors or mini case-studies.
You can also think of your writing sample as, What’s In It for Them?
If your ideal client read your writing sample what would you want them to get out of your content?
- It has the latest industry stats
- It’s long form
- It’s engaging with bullet lists and images to break up the content
- It has keywords to help it rank
- It has graphics to share on social media
This form of a content brief should be at the forefront of what your writing sample will look like.
Can you write a sample in social sciences or public relations?
Typically, for a job, you would want to stick to industries where businesses hire writers.
Applicants for writing gigs need to prove to businesses they know how to write online content and they do that with a writing sample.
2. Think of a Keyword to Target
One thing that online business owners seek is an SEO writer.
SEO stands for search engine optimization and by using certain key words you can make your writing sample rank in Google. If this happens, you’ll gain many clients that want your targeted, SEO writing.
To find suitable keywords and phrases, you can grab the Chrome extension Keyword Surfer.
This is a free keyword tool that works within Google. Simply search for a topic and Keyword Surfer will show you the traffic and competition.
Find keywords that have low competition and is something that could look good on a client’s website.
3. Craft a Clickable Headline
The headline you choose should be optimized for engagement. You want to use superlatives (if appropriate) and use powerful words that convert.
If you need help try Coschedule’s headline analyzer.
It will help you craft a good headline that will get clicks. Remember, you want your writing samples to signal to prospects that your blog post could potentially be on their website.
So when crafting that headline, think about a prospect’s website and brand and how you can infuse that personality in your headline.
4. Write a Strong Introduction
The introduction of your writing sample needs to hook a reader in immediately.
Prospects don’t have a lot of time to read your content, so if you can draw them in at once, they will stick around and read your writing sample. Some ways to start your introduction are:
- Use a question
- Use a shocking statistic
- Use a bucket brigade
You should also frame your introduction as a top-down process – you introduce the broad topic and narrow it down to the problem you are discussing and the solution you will share.
5. Make the Body of Your Writing Sample Valuable
The body of your writing sample should be anchored with subheadings.
This shows prospects you know how to write for an online audience since this is mostly specific to online writing. When creating your outline, each point in your blog post should be a subheading.
For example, if you want to talk about whether or not Instagram is great for business, I may talk about these ideas:
- What is Instagram?
- Businesses already using Instagram
- How can you get started using Instagram
- Instagram bio
- Instagram stories
As I think about my blog post idea for my writing sample, I can pinpoint the discussions I want to cover. As I’m writing, I can decide if these topics warrant a subheading.
To kick it up a notch, you can do an interview or a case study in your writing sample. With clean copy all around, a sample like that can convince prospects to hire you.
6. Write a Full Conclusion
Your conclusion paragraph should artfully summarize your blog post. This conveys to prospects they will get an entire blog post when they hire you.
7. Always End With a CTA
As an added bonus to your writing sample, add a CTA. This call-to-action makes your writing sample legit and real. You can have readers share your post or you can ask a question to elicit comments.
Make sure to use an editing tool like Grammarly, to fix any grammatical errors in your paper.
What Are Writing Sample Examples?
As I mentioned, the best type of writing sample example is a blog post.
Because it’s the most versatile type of content online. Hopefully, a business owner that needs articles can look at a writing sample blog post on your website and hire you!
Can a writing sample be anything?
Yes! If you aren’t interested in writing a blog post as a writing sample, here are some other great types of writing sample examples.
- Email – creating a mock-up email writing sample can wow potential clients to hire you as an email writer
- Guest posts – showing potential clients that your writing sample is published in another blog can show them you are legit and that the blog owner liked your content so much they published it
- Articles – articles can differ from blog posts by the content and the outline. For example, an article may interview or use quotes in their project. For your writing sample, you can write an article with a nut graph and lead for sure!
- Case studies – for high-paying clients, having a case study as a writing sample will show prospects your process and in-depth content.
Here are some writing sample examples:
- Can You Use Instagram to Grow Your Business?
- 21 Super Simple Website Ideas for Bloggers
- 3 Copywriting Tricks to Elevate Your Content (And Make You Stand Out)
Where to Display Your Writing Samples
Now that you have your writing samples, where do you house them?
Let’s look at some popular places you can showcase your writing samples.
1. Your Portfolio Page
Your blog, or writer website, is a great place to house your samples. You want one central hub online to promote and share with prospects. Your writer website fulfills that job!
On your blog, you can set up a Portfolio page or Samples page and display them there.
An easy way to share your samples is by using links. This is what Jen Mattern did:
You can also show them with a feature grid. I show you how to do this in Writer Website in a Weekend.
Contently is a portfolio platform where you can upload your content or links to make your portfolio.
Here is what mine looks like:
If you can’t sport a writer website right now, then go ahead and use Contently. It’s a professional portfolio platform, and it’s free to use.
What’s great about this way to display your writing sample is that it’s professional looking. You can definitely link this portfolio in your writing pitches and gain online jobs easily.
3. Contena Publishing
Contena is a job board but they also have a free publishing platform for writers.
You can use this platform to write your first writing sample even if you don’t yet have a blog. It’s super easy to set up your profile and start writing.
LinkedIn is a social media platform for businesses.
You can create a profile on LinkedIn and attract prospects to hire you. Your LinkedIn profile is also your online resume.
So for under experience, you can showcase your samples from your writer website.
LinkedIn also has a publishing platform, which means you can write your sample directly on LinkedIn and generate a link to your sample easily.
Medium is a free blogging platform where you can start writing immediately. Set up your profile and get to it!
Once you publish your writing sample on Medium, you get a live link which you can use for your pitch emails.
What’s great with Medium is you have the ability to make money with your writing by signing up to their Partner Program.
By submitting your pieces to publications with a larger audience, you can gain some money for views and engagement. It’s not a lot, but it’s something!
Where Do I Write a Writing Sample?
As I said previously, you can write your writing sample on LinkedIn, Contena, and Medium, but if you want to write a writing sample on your site or as a guest post where should you write it?
Some writers, write their writing sample on Google Docs, but I personally don’t like that option.
I have a guest publication blog called Freelancer FAQs and I get pitches to write on that site. While I have guest writers log in and write their post in the backend of WordPress, before I had this option I had writers email me their completed post.
And, when I got a link to a Google Doc and copy and pasted their text to WordPress it just was all formatted incorrectly and sometimes there would be spaces and the wrong places.
I know when I get these types of guest submission I get a little upset because now I have to take more time out of my day to fix the formatting.
If you are a new freelance writer wanting to guest post I suggest you skip Google Docs (unless the site tells you use to use this platform) and use plain ol’ Microsoft Word.
When you are done, save it and attach it to your email when submitting your writing sample guest post!
Popular Types of Writing Sample
When writing your sample, make sure to provide a versatile type of writing sample or one that is specific to your writing niche.
For example, here are versatile types of writing samples:
- Blog post
- SEO blog post
- Landing page
- Long form article
- Guest post
Specialized types of writings samples that are based on the type of service you are providing may look like:
- White papers
- Sales page
- Landing page
- Ads like a Facebook ad
- eCommerce product description
- Case study
My suggestion is to create a versatile writing sample like a “listicle” blog post and then a more concentrated writing sample such as a casey study or email, i.e. based on your writing niche.
Any one of these projects is a form of professional writing.
How to Write a Writing Sample
There ya go!
Having writing samples is important if you’re brand new to freelance writing. From the prospect’s point of view, they don’t know you at all, and they don’t want to hire a stranger that may not know how to write.
But, if you have a professional website with a portfolio page – or a Contently page – you can show prospect’s you’re the writer for them!
Over to you –
Where do you display your writing samples and what types of writing samples do you have? Share in the comments!
Don’t forget to pin me!