I was catching up my bloglist reading this week, and I came across a discussion of writing samples in the comments for this post. In the environmental consulting biz, professional writing samples can be difficult to provide for a few reasons:
1. Your work (reports, analyses, etc) is owned/controlled by your client and may be confidential. Working drafts are especially sensitive because they are subject to being tweaked for all sorts of reasons and should never go out to third parties unless they've been fully vetted.
2. Reports aren't produced in a vacuum, and completed reports will have been reviewed and edited by others.
So what did I do when asked to provide writing samples? In my case, the requests were non-specific. I was intensely aware of the issues above, so I actually provided a couple of different things.
1. I had worked on several reports that became public documents. So I provided links to those documents (when I could find them online) and described what I had done, exactly. Maybe I provided all the analyses, or written the technical sections based on what others had done, or perhaps I had actually written the whole thing. The appearance (or lack thereof) of my name on the document had little to do with how much I'd done.
2. I'd written a peer-reviewed journal article. It had been passed back and forth between the authors, as we argued over text and massaged it into the strict page length/formatting requirements, in addition to addressing review comments. But in this case, I was first author and could be assumed to have done at least the bulk of the work.
3. My thesis was pretty much all mine, although it was reviewed by both my advisors. In my case, it was also easy to find online in all its glory.
I probably sent way too much stuff for writing samples. But I figured that more was better than less, and I was generally applying for positions that specified writing and analytical skills. If someone really wanted to ferret out how my writing actually was, they could compare the different reports or have me come in for an in-person writing test.
Now I'm curious to find out if they actually looked at any of those samples, or if they just matched the documents to what I put in my resume (yep, she did write her thesis on that topic) and called it a day...