How Long Should a Writing Sample Be? Your Guide for 2024

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Julia McCoy

Creator and Co-founder

how long should a writing sample be

So, you’re getting ready to hit “submit” on that job application, but wait – they want a writing sample.

Panic sets in. Should you unearth that research paper from college?  Quickly draft a new piece?

And just how long should a writing sample be, anyway?

Figuring out the ideal writing sample length can be confusing. This guide will cover everything from choosing the right sample to formatting it perfectly so you can showcase your writing skills and impress potential employers.

Table Of Contents:

Why Writing Samples Matter

Before we dive into length, it’s important to understand why employers ask for writing samples. Essentially, they want to see firsthand how well you communicate.

They want to see how you:

  • Organize your thoughts.
  • Articulate your ideas.
  • Express yourself clearly and concisely.
  • Match the company’s tone and style.

Your writing sample acts like a mini-portfolio. It helps them look beyond your resume to see if you have the writing chops they need.

Now, let’s figure out how long a writing sample should be to make the best possible impression.

Finding the Right Length for Your Writing Sample

Unfortunately, there’s no magical word count that guarantees you the job. But you can follow some general guidelines to hit that sweet spot.

Keep in mind your writing sample should be concise and impactful.

General Guidelines

Most career experts and university resources, like this one from Miami University, recommend aiming for 1-2 pages, single-spaced, or approximately 750 words, as a starting point.

Recruiters and hiring managers are busy people. A shorter, punchier sample that grabs their attention is better than a 10-page saga that loses steam halfway through.

Think quality over quantity.

Always Check Specific Instructions

This one is crucial. Before you start panicking about page counts, check if the application provides specific guidelines for writing sample length.

Some employers may ask for:

  • A specific word count range.
  • A certain number of pages.
  • Short snippets or “clips” of your work. This is common in journalism or content writing, where they’ll want to see published pieces.

Not following directions is a quick way to get your application tossed aside so read those instructions carefully.

Factors that Might Warrant a Slightly Longer Sample

While brevity is key, there are a few scenarios where a slightly longer writing sample (think up to 3 pages max) might be warranted:

  • Highly Technical Fields: If you’re applying for a research-heavy role in academia, science, or engineering, you might need a more in-depth analysis to fully demonstrate your skills. Consider using excerpts from a research paper with a professor’s comments for these roles.
  • Legal Professions: Legal writing is known for being long and detailed. If you’re applying for a legal position, a longer sample is often expected, usually between 5-10 pages. Show off your legal research, analysis, and persuasive writing abilities.
  • Providing Excerpts:  Let’s say you really want to include that stellar 10-page marketing plan from your previous role. If a longer sample aligns better, you can select a specific section of a larger piece. However, you must give context. Include a brief introduction explaining the larger work, where the excerpt fits in, and why it demonstrates your relevant skills.

Make sure your sample is a focused demonstration of your abilities, no matter the length. Unless it’s explicitly requested – err on the side of concise.

Showcasing quality and keeping your audience engaged is always best when deciding how long a writing sample should be.

Types of Writing Samples (and What to Choose)

Now that you have a better sense of the ideal writing sample length, what should you submit?

This largely depends on your industry and the specific role you’re applying for.

Some common types of writing samples include:

1. Academic Papers (Undergraduates, Recent Graduates)

Don’t panic if you’re fresh out of college; it’s perfectly acceptable to use a class assignment. But remember, not all assignments are created equal. Try to select papers with:

  • Strong research and analytical skills.
  • A clear argument or thesis.
  • Well-structured paragraphs.
  • Proper grammar and mechanics.

Even “B” papers can be strong contenders if you revise and polish them. Make sure you provide clean copies of your work.

2. Professional Writing Samples (Experienced Professionals)

For those with more work experience, tap into projects from your previous roles. Aim to share writing samples relevant to the job description.

Here are some common examples:

  • Blog Posts: These show you can write engaging and informative content for a specific audience. If using a personal blog, make sure the tone and subject matter are professional.
  • Marketing Materials: Flyers, brochures, web copy, or email campaigns all demonstrate your marketing communication abilities. Choose samples that target the company’s desired customer base.
  • Press Releases: Have a knack for crafting newsworthy announcements? This one’s for those targeting PR and communications roles.
  • Technical Documentation: Reports, white papers, manuals – if your field is technical, use writing samples that show you can explain complex information clearly and concisely.
  • Published Articles: Landing a gig in journalism or publishing? Include “clips” or samples of your published work. Aim for variety, showcasing different writing styles and tones, and provide links whenever possible.

3. Tailored Samples (No Directly Relevant Pieces? No Problem.)

Don’t sweat it if you don’t have the “perfect” sample. Use your creativity to bridge the gap. A tailored sample is a chance to impress.

I always recommend creating something from scratch directly related to the role or the company. This shows:

  • Genuine interest and initiative.
  • You understand their work and the position.
  • The ability to adapt your writing to their style.

Let’s say you’re applying for a marketing role at a sustainable clothing company. You could write a blog post about the latest trends in eco-friendly fashion or a mock press release announcing a new product launch.

Get creative and have fun with it. Just make sure it aligns with the company’s brand and the job requirements.

Additional Tips:

  • Proofread meticulously. Ensure your sample is free from any grammatical errors, typos, or formatting inconsistencies. Avoid errors to make sure your writing is polished and professional.
  • Present your work in a clean and professional format. Use a standard font, consistent spacing, and your name on every page.
  • When sending electronically, submit your sample in PDF format to maintain formatting consistency across different devices and operating systems.

Conclusion

Determining how long a writing sample should be is a common concern for job seekers. By carefully considering your industry, the specific role, and the application guidelines, you can choose a length that effectively highlights your abilities without overwhelming the reader.

Keep these guidelines in mind and you’ll be well on your way to crafting the perfect writing sample.

Choose wisely, tailor your sample, keep it concise (in most cases), and always proofread.

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