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Writing Samples

Whether you are applying for a job, internship, or to graduate schools, you may be asked to provide a writing sample. Writing samples allow an employer or graduate program to judge your ability to convey a written message and should be taken seriously.

Types

When choosing a sample, consider the writing style that you will be using at your job, internship, or graduate program. Writing samples can come from your coursework and/or work experiences. Typical samples include:

  • Academic papers
  • Policy briefs or memos
  • News articles
  • Blog posts or web content
  • Press releases

Content

The goal of a writing sample is to measure your ability to write professionally, clearly, and succinctly. The best way to demonstrate this ability is by discussing an issue area relevant to the position or program for which you're applying. If possible, your sample should use the organization's style and tone and should either demonstrate the organization's focus or address the topics that you will be working on.

Length

Many employers will specify the desired length of your writing sample. If no desired length is given, choose a writing sample that is two to five pages long. If you'd like to highlight a section of a longer paper, be sure to include your best two to five page selection. To provide context to the reader, you should start the sample with a brief paragraph about the topic of the paper and the course for which it was written.

Spelling and Grammar

There are no excuses for spelling or grammatical errors in a writing sample. Be sure to proofread the entire piece and have a trusted friend or colleague double check your work.

Common Questions

Do I always have to submit a cover letter with my resume?

Yes. A well-written and compelling cover letter increases the chances of your resume being reviewed, and a strong, tailored resume increases the likelihood of you being offered an interview. If an internship or job listing does not indicate that a cover letter is required, take the initiative and send one anyway. An employer will recognize and appreciate your professionalism and enthusiasm for the position or organization.

When and how should I follow up after submitting my cover letter and resume?

It is appropriate to follow up with an employer in 7 - 10 days to confirm receipt of your application materials and to inquire about where the employer is in the hiring process. Unless the position listing discourages phone calls, you may contact the employer via e-mail or phone. If you do not have the employer's contact information, research the organization's Web site or call the main number and ask to be transferred to the appropriate person.

How many times should I follow up with the same employer?

Follow-ups can be tricky because you want to demonstrate your genuine interest and enthusiasm for the position without annoying the employer. Generally, one follow-up attempt should suffice. If you send an e-mail or leave a voicemail, you should state your reason for writing or calling and then invite the employer to contact you for more information or to schedule an interview. If, after a month or so, you notice that the position is still advertised, you may follow up one more time to reiterate your interest and qualifications.

What format should I use to write other professional letters?

The cover letter format with left-justified text is most common and can be applied to other letter types, including application; networking; acceptance, decline, or withdrawal; follow-up; and thank you.