What Types of Writing Samples Should You Obtain?

clip clips content marketing freelance writing tips nonprofit work samples writing samples Aug 24, 2021

Kemley recently emailed me with a question that I think could benefit from a wider audience. In a nutshell, they said they had contacted a nonprofit to volunteer to write in exchange for getting work samples (which is a strategy I advise, so: Well done, Kemley!).

The nonprofit organization responded enthusiastically, but…they want Kemley to volunteer to write a grant proposal. Kemley asked if this would be worthwhile. In other words: Does a grant proposal hold any value as a writing sample? As usual, my answer is: Yes and no.

Try to Get Writing Samples that Match the Type of Writing You Hope to Charge For

On the one hand, if Kemley were interested in pursuing a grant writing career, then I would say, yes, by all means write this organization’s grant proposal.

Grant writing can be a lucrative niche, but, in my experience, it also can be a sort of high-risk/high-reward endeavor. I have not done professional grant writing, so take my words with a grain of salt, but I believe some professional grant writers work for a percentage of the proposed grant. In other words, someone may write a $1 million grant proposal in exchange for a 10% fee if the grant is awarded. That could net the writer a lot of money in a lump sum, but then again, what are the odds of any given grant proposal being awarded? Might you write 50 proposals before one hits?

Grant writing requires very specific knowledge and skills, just as pharmaceutical writing and health journalism do. If Kemley wants to delve into the world of grant writing, then doing this volunteer assignment would be great practice – and provide an excellent writing sample.

But if Kemley would prefer to pursue health reporting or content writing, then proffering a grant proposal as a work sample will not hold much value. Editors and clients want to see samples that resemble the type of writing work they have to assign. This means publication editors want to see journalistic clips. Content marketing directors want to see content examples, like blog posts, newsletters, and web pages.

Keep these things in mind as you volunteer to write in exchange for clips. It’s OK to decline a volunteer opportunity if you’re not going to receive something of value in return.

A Note About “Clips”

One of the things I love about the weekly Office Hours session for the Complete Guide to Content Marketing Writing for Nurses course is that the participants hold me accountable for explaining terms they don’t understand. Such was the case this past Monday, when I referred to “clips,” and someone asked me what, specifically, I meant by that.

Generally speaking, the terms “work samples” and “clips” are interchangeable. However, the term “clips” can induce confusion because it sounds like it could mean an “incomplete” or “partial” work sample. This is not the case.

The term “clips” is old-school journalism for work samples (article clippings). In ye olden dayes of freelance writing, we all were published in print magazines and newspapers…and had to literally “clip out” our particular articles, photocopy them, and send them to editors as work samples when we queried an article. I still have some traditional article clippings in my filing cabinet, as a matter of fact!

Today, a “clip” can be a link to a published article or some other type of asset. If you’d like to see how this works in action, check out the Work Samples page of my freelance website. Notice how the links all go to the original work sample. Although I refer to these samples as “clips,” you’ll note they’re not truncated or “partial” in any way.

Now, go forth and volunteer to write for clips of the type you hope to charge for in the future!

Any questions about clips? Please share in the comments!

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