Don’t Submit A Writing Sample Without This
When you apply for a job that involves an extensive amount of writing or when you are completing an application for a college program, you will most likely be required to submit a writing sample. A writing sample can show off your superior drafting and editorial skills when submitted properly.
But many applicants don’t think to frame their writing sample in a way that makes it appealing to a hiring manager or dean of admissions. Imagine receiving a writing sample attached to an application for a civil litigation associate position titled “Empty Promises: Shell’s Hollow Transformation & the PR Scheme of Codes of Conduct in the Extractive Industry.” When was this written? For whom was this written? How is this applicable to the civil litigation position? Does this include confidential information?
These questions can be resolved by including a simple one-page cover sheet. Simply creating a foundation for the writing sample in the form of a cover page will engender a stronger impression and baseline of comprehension for the sample. Below are a few tips.
1. Include a Cover Page
The header should be the exact same header as you use on your resume.
12 Bedstuy Oval, New York, NY 10029 ∙ (416) 533-8394 ∙ firstname.lastname@example.org
Then, underneath the header, should be a “Writing Sample” title with a brief summary describing:
- What is the writing sample?
- When did you write it and for whom?
- Give a brief one-sentence description of the writing sample.
- If applicable, note that you redacted all necessary parties and received permission from your supervisor.
- Note whether the writing sample was edited by someone else and note how heavily it was edited.
- Note if the writing sample was published and where it can be found publicly.
The following writing sample is a post-conviction brief opposing a motion to set aside a verdict that I wrote while working as an intern in the Bronx County District Attorney’s Office during the Fall of 2012. The memorandum addresses the issue of whether a Medicaid provider who has written medically unnecessary prescriptions for which the New York State Medicaid program (hereinafter “Medicaid”) paid a third-party pharmacy can be held criminally and/or civilly liable for the value of all prescription reimbursements paid by Medicaid.
I am submitting this version with all necessary party names and identifying information redacted with permission of the supervising attorney, [NAME], at the Bronx County District Attorney’s Office. The writing sample is in its original format and has only minimal grammatical edits after review by my supervising attorney.
2. Include Page Numbers
Including page numbers will help you and the hiring manager in the event a question arises or the interviewer wants to discuss it during the interview. Plus, many applications have a limit on writing sample pages, so including page numbers will alleviate their anxiety of reading a sample in excess of the limit.
3. Redact as Necessary
Do not include a writing sample with confidential or proprietary information. If you can cite your source with publicly available information, then it is likely not considered confidential. If you are submitting a memorandum with facts specific to a certain company or individual that are not public or that you do not have permission to use publicly, they should be redacted. “Redacted” simply means to exclude in specific parts. You can leave a dark box in place of the words to be redacted or use [——] or even [REDACTED].
Even if you have already submitted the writing sample as a paper for a class, published it in a paper, or used it in the course of your former job, double check that every sentence is grammatically correct and spelled correctly. The hiring manager and interview will appreciate your writing sample significantly less if it is riddled with typos and scrivener’s errors.
5. Memorize the Summary
Make sure you know what your writing sample is about and can answer questions on it. I’ve had countless interviews in which the interviewer asked me to describe a significant argument in a writing sample or ask me to explain the premise as if she were a fifth grader. Be prepared to discuss it concisely, clearly, and show that you actually wrote it.
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