Writing Samples & References

Writing Samples

Some employers will ask you to submit samples of your writing as a part of your application. Writing samples demonstrate your ability to analyze information and display your communication skills. You may be asked for a writing sample if you are applying for a position in a writing-intensive field such as advertising, journalism, public relations, law, media, or research. Approach the writing sample as an opportunity to show employers how well you can express yourself in writing.

If you aren't sure about the appropriateness of your writing sample, visit the Cawley Career Education Center to speak with our staff or contact the organization to ask a clarifying question.

Writing Sample Tips

Do not submit a writing sample unless it is specifically requested. If you are unsure, reach out to the employer and ask.

Follow the application instructions. Most employers will specify how many pages in length they expect the sample to be.

  • If they do not specify length, submit 2 to 5 pages of writing, double-spaced. You may use an excerpt from a longer document. Mention at the top of the first page that you are submitting only a selection from a longer document. Be sure to specify what the prompt was.
  • Clearly label each submission with an appropriate title and origin (if necessary).
  • If providing hard copies, use resume paper and/or put them in a presentation binder.

Focus on quality and edit as necessary. 
Whatever writing sample you choose to submit should represent your best writing. Even if you have completed an assignment for a course, re-check your work for style and substance to be sure that it is the best possible representation of your writing. 

  • If you are planning to submit a paper, consider meeting with the professor for whom you wrote the original paper for additional feedback and suggestions. 
  • Remove any privileged or sensitive information.

Consider content.  
While some employers may specify the subject matter they wish your writing sample to address, that is not always the case. If they do not, submit something that would be similar to the type of writing you would be expected to do within the position. For example, if you are applying for a position within a public relations firm, something similar to a press release might be most appropriate.

Do not use anything too old.
You want to make sure that you are giving employers a recent example of the quality of your work.

Submit only your own work.
If you incorporate others’ work, cite your sources. (A short bibliography does not usually count towards your total number of pages.)

Reference Page Tips

  • Ask permission to use individuals as a positive reference prior to submitting their name and contact information to an employer.  Ask how they would prefer to be contacted, or if their availability will be limited in any way.  Make note of these preferences/limitations on your reference page.
  • Follow employer instructions as it relates to both the number of references required and the types of individuals they would prefer to contact.
  • Include a minimum of three professional references, unless the employer indicates otherwise. Note that if a personal connection acted as a direct supervisor for your work experience, consider adding a fourth reference who knew you only in a professional setting.
  • List references in order of importance or applicability to the position.
  • Add a “relationship line” for each reference. This helps employers understand the context of your interactions.
  • Send your resume and a copy of the job description to your references. Consider setting up a brief conversation to share why you are interested in the position. This allows them to prepare thoroughly to speak to your qualifications.