Employers may ask you to provide writing samples as part of your job or internship application. A writing sample provides an employer with an example of how you organize and express your thoughts. The purpose is to convince an employer you can create the kind of written materials and handle the type of work expected of an employee in the position. A writing sample is common for positions in media, law or research assistant roles in a variety of industries.

How to choose a writing sample

When possible use writing samples that match the type of the writing that the position would involve.

  • For journalism positions, submit “clips”—actual articles that have been published in a campus newspaper, blog, or other publication.  
  • For research positions, submit an in-depth analysis of an issue or a topic.  
  • For PR positions, submit a press release 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).

Submit your best writing

If you do not have specific experience or relevant writing samples, a class paper from one of your courses at Columbia could work well. Here are some tips if you are deciding between two papers you have written:

  • Always choose the better written paper, even if the weaker paper is topically more relevant
  • You could also consider rewriting 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.

Provide excerpts if your samples are long

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 one or more writing samples.  If you want to use a paper that is longer than five 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.

Polish your writing samples 

Proofread your document to avoid errors or typos, have a someone else review your sample as well. Make sure that you send in samples that do not have your professor’s comments. Provide clean copies of your writing and revise them as necessary.