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Show, Don’t Tell: How to Highlight Your Best Work as a Writer

Written By Jenna Britton | Oct 2, 2019

It wasn’t all that many years ago, as a baby writer with no clips to my name, that I dreamed of the problem I have now: How can I best showcase the work I’ve done?

It’s so much easier, it seems, for designers – for those with a visual eye. As a freelancer, I’ve come across example after example of aesthetically pleasing and especially engaging portfolios of graphic designers and photographers and videographers.

The pickings were a little slimmer for writers.

For those of us that are a little less visually versed and a little more verbose, it seemed a struggle to figure out how to highlight the words we’ve written. A long list of links on a website page (or worse, a PDF of typed out writing samples) just isn’t going to cut it.

Much has changed in the world of creative portfolios and, now more than ever, there are interesting and innovative ways for creatives of all kinds to share their work online.

So, if you’re a writer considering the best way to house and highlight your written work, read on.

Start With Who and Show Them Why

An online portfolio is important for perhaps obvious reasons: it’s how the people who want to work with you will find you. And, speaking of those people, you need to start with them in mind.

“I always recommend that writers approach putting together a portfolio in the same way they approach a writing assignment,” advises Ben Peterson, Account Director at Written. “Consider the audience first.”

While you may not be able to tailor your portfolio to every prospective client, you can tailor it to the clients you want to work with most. Start by getting really clear on who those clients are.

Do you want to work as a copywriter with large agencies? Would you prefer to craft email newsletter copy for local businesses? Are you particularly interested in writing about sports — or does your niche fall more into the politics category?

When you know exactly who you’d love to work with, you can craft a portfolio that shows them why you’re the ideal writer to hire. Highlight samples that show off your particular writing style and your favorite topics. Showcase work with similar agencies or companies.

While your work gives insight into you, the portfolio should be geared toward them — the clients you most want to work with.

What Your Portfolio Should Include (and What It Should NOT)

Simply the Best

While you can share everything you’ve ever published, you don’t have to. And you probably shouldn’t.

In Ben’s experience: “Usually [prospective clients] either want to see that a writer has experience producing a specific kind of deliverable (article, blog, white paper, web copy, etc.), or they want to see a demonstrated proficiency communicating about an industry or subject matter.”

Again, share the work that’s reflective of the work you’re seeking — maybe you’ve written about politics, but you’re seeking out more travel writing gigs… highlight the work that reflects what you want to do more of! You can always say you have more available by request.

Your portfolio is a prospective client’s first impression of your work and your work ethic; prove to them that you set the bar near perfection if you want to stand out from the rest.

And no matter what you include to start, update your online portfolio regularly. Set a monthly or quarterly date on your calendar to add new published works, check and remove links, and otherwise update your portfolio just as you would a resume.

All Eyes on Deck

Perhaps this should go without writing — but even the best writers let a grammar error slip every now and again. It’s okay! We’re human! But that one small slip could kill your chances at winning the assignment of your dreams.

So, read and reread the work that you share in your online portfolio — and while you’re at it, give the rest of your website and your LinkedIn profile a once over too. If you have a punctuation-proficient friend or colleague, ask them if they will offer a second set of eyes and make sure your work is polished.

Your portfolio is a prospective client’s first impression of your work and your work ethic; prove to them that you set the bar near perfection if you want to stand out from the rest.

Set It Up by Subject

If your work covers more than one topic, trade, or industry, categorize your portfolio to reflect the breadth of your niche knowledge.

Unlike Instagram, your portfolio should be a highlight reel; showcasing the flattering angles and filtered versions of your writing.

“Many online portfolio options allow viewers to sort by deliverable type or subject. Make it easy for visitors to your site to identify the samples that are most relevant to their needs,” suggests Ben.

Try adding a search bar function, a category list, or an archive by topic to make the work that highlights your niche genius even easier to find.

Sure, it may take a little extra time to set up, but helping prospective clients find the work that best supports why they should work with you not only serves them, it serves you in the end.

No matter what you include, carefully curate your best work; the work you’re most proud of. Unlike Instagram, your portfolio should be a highlight reel; showcasing the flattering angles and filtered versions of your writing.

How to Build It, So They Come

Yes, you’re a writer. Yes, you love words. But the words you share in your online portfolio have to look pretty, too.

I know, I struggled with this too. Why wasn’t the vivid experience my words evoked enough?!

Well, according to every visual person in my life — and ya know, research — it’s because the human brain is able to process images a lot more quickly than words. Like… 60,000 times more quickly.

This is why a list of hyperlinks just won’t do.

Luckily, there are a lot more platforms to support you now than there ever have been before! Sites like Contently, JournoPortfolio, Format,, and even a page on your current WordPress or Squarespace site make it easy to upload and share your best work, highlighting your writerly prowess in a visually engaging way.

If you’re looking for inspiration, Jennifer Fernandez, Saqib Rahim, and Caitlin Flynn all have great online portfolios that are clean, simple, and indicative of their writing skill and work ethic — and presumably, the work they want more of.

While I still have far-reaching professional publishing goals, I’m not a baby writer anymore. I have clips to my name and prospective clients I still hope will one day publish me. Luckily, I also now have more than enough resources to help me highlight my work in the best way possible.

So now that this piece has been published, I’m off to update my portfolio.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.