Portfolios for Writers – Tips to Showcase Your Work

by Sharon Elber


Selecting the pieces to include in your portfolio is one of the most important decisions that a writer will make when putting together a compelling collection of their work. Here we will explore some tips to make sure you are choosing the right pieces to showcase and organizing them in a way that will be compelling to your potential clients and/or employers.

It is important to also note that curating your collection may depend on the kinds of work you are looking for. You should always pay particular attention to the standards that may be relevant. For example, a portfolio that you curate to apply for jobs in journalism will look very different from a freelance writer’s portfolio soliciting work from clients seeking SEO optimized web content.

Professions such as journalism, fiction book authors, or technical writers often have specific requirements for what should be in their portfolio so be sure to do some additional research to check on how best to shine in those cases.

Curating Your Writer’s Portfolio

Hard Copy Versus Online Formats

Writers work across many different domains. In this day and age, regardless of what sector you work in, an online portfolio is a must. For freelance writers who tend to attract clients through online means such as a personal website or a website designed to connect freelancers and clients, then an online version of your portfolio is probably all you need.

Although a hard copy (usually presented in a binder) of your portfolio is often obsolete, there are some exceptions to this rule. For example, if you plan to work at a desk for an employer in a profession such as journalism, technical writing, or publishing, then a hard copy of your writing portfolio may indeed be requested and even required as part of the hiring process.

When possible, include the pieces in a finished form, such as a clipping from a newspaper or an article in a magazine. This helps to add an air of professionalism to your work, allowing potential employers to imagine similar work from you to match their own needs.

Identify Your Target Audience

Before you even begin to curate your portfolio, it is critical to identify the kinds of clients or employers that you want to impress with your work. What pieces, links to online published materials, and/or clippings do you have that will best show your desired audience that you have what it takes to meet their needs?

Once you have a clear idea of what your target clients are looking for, it will be much easier to curate your portfolio in such a way as to showcase the skillset that you bring to the table to meet their specific content needs.

Represent Your Niche Area(s) of Expertise

You may identify a few niche areas that you are most passionate writing about. For example, you may have a few areas of expertise that you regularly write content about for websites and blogs. Make sure to organize your work so that these niches are clear to someone navigating your online portfolio (or use tabs to showcase different niches in your hard copy portfolio).

Avoid Redundancy

If you have written 15 articles about dog gear for affiliate websites, you don’t need to include all of them in your portfolio. Rather, choose those that represent your best work on the more powerful sites that you have authored work for. No more than two articles of very similar type and content should be used for each niche you are representing on your portfolio.

You can compile a complete list of your writing with formal citations in your portfolio, that is, a list of publications. In this case, listing all of your articles makes sense, even if they are somewhat redundant in terms of the niche.

Emphasize Metrics of Value to Your Primary Audience

What are the metrics that matter most to your future clients or employers?

For example, if you write guest posts containing backlinks for companies looking to attract organic traffic to their websites, metrics might include your on page conversions or ranking of the articles according to reputable search engine ranking tools. If you are a grant writer, these metrics might include the dollar amount of grants you have successfully secured or the size of the organizations you have worked with. If you are a ghost writer for eBooks, this might include the hosting site’s ranking of the book and/or gross sales, customer reviews, or editorial reviews.

On the other hand, if you are working in journalism, the metric might be more along the lines of the reputation of the outlets for whom you have published articles with. For example, an article in your local newspaper does not have the same value as one published in a legacy news organization such as The New York Times.

Where possible, include these metrics near your samples so the viewer can see your work relative to the kinds of outcomes that matter to their business model.

Tell Your Story

There is a lot of talk today about personal branding. If you write in the self-help, marketing, or business niches, you are already aware of this concept. If you don’t, then it is important to familiarize yourself with how to develop a clear and concise vision of your branding elements and communicate them in a bio presented in your portfolio.

On the main page of your online portfolio, or on a tab that links directly from that page which is clearly marked, be sure to tell your potential clients a little bit about yourself, your career trajectory, and your core values as a writer. This “brand story” helps potential readers to connect with you in terms of fit with their own core values, which can be as important to landing a writing gig as content expertise.

For example, if you have a great deal of expertise writing grants for after-school programs for at risk youth, then share a little bit about why that issue is one that you are passionate about. If possible, share a personal story that helps to “connect the dots” for the person reading your portfolio as to why you are a passionate and successful writing partner for groups looking to attract grant money in this area.

Bring the Razzle Dazzle: Design Tips for Your Writing Portfolio

Custom Website or Portfolio Hosting Service?

The decision whether or not to design your own website versus using a portfolio hosting website comes down to two major factors.

First, do you have the design and programming skills to create a website from scratch that will look professional and showcase another set of skills that may indeed be useful to attract clients? If so, then a website might be a good idea.

The second major consideration is how important it is to you to drive traffic to your portfolio to attract potential clients. If, for example, you hope that clients looking for your freelance services will find your portfolio and approach you, then a portfolio hosting site may be a better option. By doing a great deal of the work in terms of raising the visibility of the site on search engines for you, the job of getting clients to find your portfolio is largely done for you on these hosting sites.

Examples of a few good websites to host your writer’s portfolio include:

  • me (popular for journalists and bloggers)
  • Contently (this site connects freelancers with clients on the platform as well as having a decent portfolio hosting service)
  • WordPress (offering the middle ground between designing your own website and online portfolio hosting)

On the other hand, if you plan to primarily drive clients or employers to your portfolio through direct contacts, job applications, and networking connections, then you may find that the ability to completely customize your portfolio has more advantages for your needs.

Balancing Form and Function

With so many options to customize the look and appearance of your writer’s portfolio, it can be tempting to junk it up with a lot of extraneous visual elements. Rather than adding a sense of cohesion and professionalism, going “overboard” with design elements can make you look scattered, unorganized, and even flakey…not the impression you want to give your potential clients or employers.

Rather, stick with a consistent palate of two main colors with one or two accent colors, consistent textures on the background of each of the pages that you have, and an overall design that emphasizes consistency of a visual theme. If you have a brand logo, choosing colors and fonts that complement that is highly recommended.

Remember that if the design aspect of your portfolio becomes overwhelming, freelance designers are there to help you make sure that it has the right look and feel to be attractive to potential clients and employers.

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