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What Is a Writing Portfolio?

Mary McMahon
By
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A writing portfolio is a collection of samples to demonstrate a writer's range, areas of expertise, and skill. There are a number of settings where a writing portfolio may be necessary, including applications and college courses. There may be specific standards a writer should follow in the assembly of a portfolio so it matches professional standards and practices or meets grading requirements.

Applications for writing jobs often require a writing portfolio to demonstrate that the applicant is a competent writer and can cover the kind of topics that may come up in his work. Freelance writers and journalists may maintain a public portfolio that anyone can access in the hope of attracting commissioning editors who may see their work and want to hire them. In nonfiction book proposals, a writing portfolio may be requested by an agent or editor. Journalists seeking work need clips, evidence of past work they can present to a managing editor.

Some college, university, and scholarship applications require a writing portfolio. This is usually the case for creative writing programs and scholarships based on writing and journalism. The applicant may not have very many professional publications if she is just entering school, but she should have samples of writing from sources like student newspapers, academic papers, and so forth. For creative writing, the portfolio may include fiction and poetry.

In college and university settings, some instructors require a writing portfolio as part of the class, especially in writing classes. Over the course of the semester, the students assemble portfolios of their best work for presentation. They may also create a brief personal statement to talk about the work and their experiences over the semester. This collection of materials will be graded by the instructor at the end of the term and may make up an important part of the grade.

To assemble a writing portfolio, a writer should think about how it will be used and check for any formatting, style, and content guidelines. The material should be the writer's best work, and should be formatted in a consistent way, whether presented online or in a physical binder. Writers can include a list of additional publications and other resources at the end of a writing portfolio to demonstrate that the portfolio does not contain their entire body of work, just a sampling of the finest pieces. In some settings, including a resume may be necessary or advisable.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Practical Adult Insights researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By croydon — On Dec 02, 2013

@clintflint - Honestly, I might not be popular for saying this, but I suspect if you are still going to your family for their judgment on your work and you have no other way to tell what to include, you probably aren't ready for an MFA.

There are all kinds of exceptions, I'm sure, but in my experience people at that level are usually at least getting published in journals and placing in contests and know which of their pieces get rejected and which don't. They might even have a collection out.

They say being published isn't a criteria for getting into a university program, but if you are good enough to get in, you are good enough to be published, so why wouldn't you?

By clintflint — On Dec 01, 2013

Student writing portfolios are difficult to put together because it's hard to know which pieces are your best. If you can, I would get a range of people to look at them and pick between them and then use all of their opinions to decide.

Actually make them pick though, because friends and family will tend to just tell you that your work is good, even if it's not your best. And if you're applying for an MFA or something like that you really should only be using your best pieces.

By MrsPramm — On Nov 30, 2013

If you are working freelance, writing online articles, it really helps to be able to say how much traffic your pieces are getting, so make sure you have some way of measuring that, and, if possible, make the original data available to the public as well so that the company knows it's real.

An online writing portfolio can be difficult to build up, even though there are plenty of spaces you can co-opt, just because it really depends on traffic and the most well-written pieces won't get any traffic unless they are on a good site. So, I would recommend that you try to get a range of articles and possibly even write some specifically for a particular job if you are going for something, as well as having a few on hand that show you can bring in web traffic.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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