The Dreaded Writing Sample

You’ve done the hard part – researched internships and decided which ones to apply for. You’re in the process of getting your materials together. Resume? Check. Cover Letter? Check. Writing Sample…hmmm… maybe I won’t apply for this position…

The dreaded writing sample can often be a stumbling block for many internship applicants. Some organizations require short writing samples in addition to a resume and cover letter. If the position is primarily focused on research and writing, you can expect to submit at least one piece. Deciding what to submit can be the most intimidating part of the application process.

Here are some important things to keep in mind:

Tailor your submission – Don’t just send in any short piece you’ve written for a past course. Think about what might be most relevant to the position to which you are applying. You may be able to take a portion of a longer paper and pare it down. Make sure that you present a clear theory and then back it up with evidence in a concise manner. If you don’t have anything that fits the bill, don’t be afraid to give yourself a prompt and write the sample from scratch.

Be careful with opinion pieces – Unless the political position of an organization is very clear, it is best to tread lightly when expressing opinions on controversial issues. You do not want the person reading your application to be offended or to write you off prematurely.

Professional writing is different – We all know what happens when you are assigned a 25 page term paper in college – somehow ideas that could be expressed in one simple sentence are stretched into two to three complex statements. Strive to be concise and not overly wordy. The synonym function in Microsoft Word isn’t always your friend. Just because a word sounds loftier or less commonplace doesn’t mean it’s the right word. Be critical when editing your own work – think about ways to tighten up the thoughts you’ve expressed.

Proofing, proofing, proofing – After you’ve spent time editing your samples, give them to at least three other people to review. Tell them about the position to which you are applying and ask for honest feedback. An easy way to be eliminated from consideration is to have a typo or two.

Follow formatting instructions – Was a word limit given? If so, stick to this limit. Spacing preferences? Some people feel strongly about double spacing. You don’t want to be disregarded for not following submission instructions.

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