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Writing Samples: What are Clips, Where Do I Get Them, and Other FAQs

Award-winning writer Kathy Widenhouse has helped hundreds of nonprofits and writers produce successful content and has gained 600K+ views for her writing tutorials. She is the author of 9 books. See more of Kathy’s content here.

“Do you have any writing samples?” 

Writing Samples FAQs with Word Wise at Nonprofit Copywriter #FreelanceWriting #WritingTips

If you haven’t heard this question, you will. 

If you’re a freelancer … you need writing samples to show prospective clients that you can write. 

If you’re a small business owner or ministry leader …. you need to take a look at a potential writer’s clips to decide if this person is a good fit for you.

And here’s a surprise: you need samples of your organization’s current content to give to a prospective writer. This way the writer sees what you have as a starting point and can talk you through what you need. 

In other words, everyone needs writing clips and everyone has questions about them. So here are the basics.

Writing Samples: Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What are writing samples?

Writing samples are examples of your copywriting or content writing.

You needn’t have been paid to write them for you to use them as samples. They simply need to be good enough so that someone would have paid you to write them. Samples show what you write, how you write it, and what other publications have trusted you to write. For instance, if you wrote, “What to Feed Your Fussy Pet Turtle” and it appeared in Tortoises Today, then you have a published writing sample.

Q. What are clips?

Clips are another word for writing samples. The term “clips” is short for “clippings,” as in pieces “clipped” from a publication. The term comes from the old days of print journalism, when reporters clipped out their best work from print publications and place them in a scrapbook or portfolio to show to potential employers.

Q. Why does a prospect ask to see clips?

She wants to know that you can write. Further, she might want to see what topics you’ve covered, what niche is your specialty, and what kinds of projects you’ve worked on.

Q. Is there a difference between “clips” and “published clips”?

Technically, yes. Both are writing samples.  But “published” clips are samples that have been printed or distributed, either in print or online.

It used to be that when an editor or prospect asked to see clips, she meant articles, stories, or content you’d had written that appeared in print. But these days, the whole “published clips” issue has become a bit murkier as the web has grown. Online writing has become an entire industry with its own sub-niches, meaning that pieces published on the web – whether by a paying client or on your own blog – can be offered as samples of your work

Q. What do I do if I don’t have any clips?

First, are you sure you don’t have any samples of your work? If you have a website or a blog, you have clips. If you've produced projects at work, such as technical writing, you have clips (Ask for permission to use them.) If you've produced course projects, writing assignments, articles  for local groups – even samples from family newsletters - you have clips.

To add to your collection, create clips. Finish a project you’re working on. Offer to write content for a local business. Volunteer to create a newsletter for a favorite organization. Write a guest post for your favorite blog. (Here are ways to build your writing sample portfolio.) 

Beware of a big no-no: don’t refer to unpublished samples as “published clips.” Instead, refer to these as “Writing Samples.”

Q: How do I send clips to a prospect or editor?

Follow the prospect’s guidelines – by email, snail mail, or in a link to your website.

Q. Website!? Should I post my writing samples online?

Once you start gathering samples and published clips, add them to a page on your website or blog titled, “Writing Portfolio.” You can create links to clips that appear elsewhere online. As for unpublished samples or print samples, create PDFs and link to them, too. 

How many clips should you post in your online portfolio? It’s up to you. A good guideline to follow is this: prospective employers should be able to get through your entire portfolio easily. Post your best work. Offer samples of different kinds of projects: articles, blog posts, appeal letters, sales letters, newsletters, brochures, grant applications, case studies ….

And all those clips that are not posted? Keep copies in your personal files. If a prospective client asks if you’ve ever created a PowerPoint presentation, you’ll be able to send him a link.

Q. A prospective client asked to see my clips. How many should I send him?

Again, it’s your call. A good rule of thumb is three. It’s best to send samples of work in the prospect’s niche. For instance, if the prospect is a lifestyle magazine, send samples of how-to or feature articles. If the prospect is a nonprofit educational institution looking for grant writing help, send samples of an LOI.

Q. What if I don’t have writing samples that align with a prospect’s niche?

Follow freelancer Carol Tice’s rule: “You pitch with what you got.” Keep working at your craft and pretty soon, you’ll have plenty of samples.

Help out another writer. Add your tips for getting writing samples in the Comments section below.

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