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Portfolios for Writers: What and How

by Genevieve O’Connor, Career Ambassador, ‘22 Mar 14, 2022

You’ve rewritten your resume a dozen times, you’ve perfected your approach to the query letter, and you’ve practiced interviewing until you bested all those nasty “ums” and “likes.” But as soon as you think you’re ready for a career as a writer, someone throws out that scary word: portfolio.

When I first heard the term “portfolio,” I could only think of an artist wearing a tilted beret lugging around a giant black folder. As it turns out, however, many different fields and disciplines incorporate portfolios, one of which is writing. In this blog post, I will hopefully stymie any professional panic over needing another piece of application material and explain what writer’s portfolios are, why they are useful for writers, and a few methods for putting one together.

What is a writer’s portfolio?

A writer’s portfolio is a collection of your best writing work, aimed to demonstrate to potential clients and employers your writing experience, skill, and style. Almost always, the portfolio is digital, housed either on your personal website, a portfolio builder, or sometimes even LinkedIn. Your portfolio does not need to include every sentence you’ve ever written, rather, it should represent your finest work, giving interested parties a succinct sense of what sort of writer you are and whether you are a good fit for their needs.

How do you assemble a portfolio?  

There is not one hard-and-fast method for putting together a portfolio. Like many professional materials, the best portfolios balance logical and recognizable formatting with style and personalization. However, there are still many pieces of advice to bear in mind as you assemble your portfolio.

1. Be strategic with your content

Because you can’t include everything you’ve ever written in your portfolio, it is necessary that you strategize your content so that it is the best representation of your skill. So look carefully over your best work, and pick the pieces which showcase: 1) your finest writing, 2) writing that is closest to what you want to keep doing, and 3) writing from prestigious, impressive, or noteworthy publications. If you have self-published content, it is okay to include a few samples, since blog writing and other self-published work can still demonstrate your writing prowess. That said, be sure to prioritize samples from clients and publications when you’re making your selections, since those pieces will have more credence with the potential employer or client.

2. Keep your organization intuitive, clear, and user-friendly

Even if you’re the next Charles Dickens, it won’t do you any good if readers can’t understand what and where your writing is. It is imperative that you arrange your portfolio in a way where a client or employer can easily find and access what they want. Depending on what program/location you use for your portfolio, there are a variety of ways to separate your work by genre or topic using headers, tabs, or sorting buttons.

When it comes to incorporating content, do not put entire articles directly into your site! On the portfolio site, just put a title, brief description, and then link to the full article. Readers will not scroll through interminable rows of text to find an article that interests them. If you can, incorporate images! Engaging visuals will encourage people to click on your samples.

3. Consider your options for housing your portfolio  

As noted above, there are many different ways to make a portfolio. Generally speaking, the best approach is to include your portfolio on your own personal website, or to showcase your publications through your LinkedIn. Although there are many portfolio-building websites, going through the “middleman” of another site means that as people start viewing your work, it’s the affiliate site that benefits the most from that publicity, rather than your own name and domain. That said, these sites are usually very user-friendly and make it much easier to get your portfolio up and running quickly. Website-building tools like WordPress or Squarespace allow you to set up your own website, and they have many “portfolio plugins” to help you organize your work in a professional and stylized manner. These options take more work to develop but will have more longevity and will “work for you” rather than another portfolio site.

4. Look at examples!

One of the best ways to learn any new skill is to see what other people in the field are doing. Take some time to look up examples of writer’s portfolios and see what you can imitate.

Keeping all of the above in mind, you should be able to put together a professional and engaging portfolio to properly showcase your talent as a writer. Plus, your portfolio may make the resume, query letter, and interview process easier; now you have an entire website of content to link and reference!

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