This guide covers everything you need to know for building a professional writing portfolio, and will help you if you are:
- in the freelance writing business
- a staff writer working as a full-time writer
- or working in content marketing or digital marketing
I'll first cover why you need a professional online portfolio, then dive into what makes for a great writer's portfolio and how to make the perfect portfolio, learn from a few examples of excellent portfolios, and finally round it off with a look at a portfolio page builder.
Why do you need an excellent freelance writing portfolio?
Over the last decade, I've run an advertising agency and worked in content marketing for hundreds of clients and stakeholders. As such, I've found the need to hire other writers as well as peddle my writing to many folks worldwide. A writing portfolio was central to the discussion in both types of transactions.
For artists and those of us working in the creative space, a résumé, while necessary, doesn't quite convey the full extent of one's work. And I'd venture to argue that even while writing about the most mundane things, as writers, we are creating.
Hence, as a writer and creator, a writing portfolio makes so much sense, allowing you to do the following.
1. Present your writing
A writing portfolio allows you to present your writing skills and put your best foot forward, primarily when you've written for several different publications in numerous niches.
Your portfolio can and must coalesce all of that into a central hub where you can curate your content for the right audience.
2. Source clients and projects
It's also essential to ensure that your work is showcased in the most aesthetically appealing way possible. Potential clients will likely want to look at your writing samples before hiring you.
3. Protect your writing
And finally, you should be protecting your writing from disappearing forever.
I've had instances where sites have gone down, and the relevant word doc from three computers ago was no longer accessible. On other occasions, I've found it a tad inconvenient to showcase ghostwritten work to a prospect.
In both cases, an excellent online writing portfolio can back you up. (More on this later on.)
What makes for an excellent online writing portfolio?
Now that I've established why a writing portfolio is needed, let's break down what makes a great portfolio, as opposed to the run-of-the-mill variety — there are dozens of website and portfolio builders out there, all vying for your attention; but what makes a portfolio really stand out?
1. Should be easy to set up and easy to use
The truth is, as writers, most of us don't have much time to spend setting up a portfolio — we're focused on writing — and that means we need a portfolio builder that's super easy to set up and maintain.
There's always the option to build your own website, but that's time-intensive, and nobody likes a half-baked WordPress blog masquerading as a portfolio. For most serious writers, an out-of-the-box portfolio solution that gives you all the right features you need is the way to go.
2. Should be good looking
A portfolio is a showcase of your best work, and that means it needs to look amazing. But besides that, it also needs to load quickly, be easy to read, have simple navigation, and be responsive to look good on any device.
As an example, let's look at Alyssa Towns Swantkoski's (Denver-based freelance writer) online portfolio on the phone:
And here's Alyssa's portfolio on the desktop:
Note how good her portfolio site looks on both desktop and mobile devices: all of the content rearranges itself to look pretty on both machines while remaining accessible and easy to use.
3. Should allow for categorization
Portfolios are usually a presentation of your best work. Typically though, writers work for various publications in different niches. And since a prospective client is unlikely to want to go through work not pertaining to them, it makes sense only to share what's relevant.
For example, let's look at Marijana's freelance writing portfolio: authory.com/MarijanaKostelac
Marijana is a content marketer with distinct content types that she would like to showcase. Due to the broad range of clients, she has stored her work in collections: e-commerce, creator economy, email marketing, content marketing, and video marketing. Now she can share separate entities with potential clients interested in looking at it.
Equally, this design displays not only her best work but also her entire body of work (or at least a significant portion of it), which is all the more impressive.
4. Should support different types of media
Creators produce content in many formats, and a good portfolio builder should be able to accommodate it all. I know of writers who have a solid social media game, where they're hilarious with their quips and observational humor. It may not be something they consider including in their portfolio sites, but then again, it could be super valuable to showcase it for a particular client looking at copywriting skills as well as longer-form writing.
So, in a word, PDFs and social media posts are becoming more commonplace, and frequently, you need to be adding these to your portfolio. Occasionally, writers and journalists appear in podcasts and videos, and these formats also need to be supported by your portfolio builder.
5. Should be up-to-date
Keeping your portfolio up-to-date is extremely important, as recent work is usually the most relevant to your audience; a difficult task at the best of times. As a writer, more often than not, my portfolio site is a little dated because I am more focused on my day-to-day, which can negatively impact my getting more work as potential clients miss out on my latest pieces.
6. Should back up your content
As mentioned before, a good portfolio solution should also protect your content. Sites go down, files go missing, and as writers, it's our job to ensure that our writing doesn't disappear forever. I've faced this issue where work I've done for a client was taken down from their website. And I hadn't backed it up. So, that content is lost.
There's a distinction here: a portfolio should not have all your content — it should have just your best content. But your portfolio solution should ideally back up all your content so that you can choose to showcase only your best and brightest.
For example, content that I wrote when I was just starting in 2009 is something that I'd like to keep safe, but only I can see it. My public-facing portfolio will have my latest and best content. And it's secure and backed up forever.
Tips for making the perfect writing portfolio
Now that we've gone over what makes for a great writing portfolio let's dive deeper into how to create one from scratch.
1. Understand your audience
You've likely catered to a wide variety of audiences as a writer. Understanding your audience is something that all good writers do. When building your portfolio, we advise using the same processes you employ when writing — research.
But consider this: your past audience is not necessarily your portfolio's audience, which is the set of people you're showcasing your work to — potential clients, publications, editors, readers, and more. Each audience has a different profile, and hence your writing portfolio should cater to them specifically.
And that's where your research needs to begin.
If you're looking to write for the pet niche, your portfolio needs to reflect content that will be palatable to that audience — content about dog grooming, pet care, and why cats are so personable!
And say, if you're looking to write for the developer niche, you'll then be displaying content around databases, APIs, and why seeing a new JS framework every week is exasperating!
The point is this: cater your portfolio to your prospective audience; figure out what they're looking for and serve that up.
2. Show off your best work: quality and quantity
In the past, the conventional wisdom was to showcase just your best work, say, your five top pieces. That's not the case anymore. Ideally, it's far better to show the amount of work that you've done while displaying your best.
I speak from experience here. In the past, on multiple occasions, I've selected a handful of writers from literally thousands of applications. And though I would look into a writer's best work, I would also study how much of that work they had done, in which niches they had done it, and for how long they had been doing it.
The reason for this was simple: I was looking for flexibility, productivity, and staying power. A writer's job can be challenging — balancing the needs of different stakeholders while being creative is tough — and I wanted someone who could navigate through that expertly.
So, a balanced mix of great quality with serious quantity can be a potent combination for the perfect writing portfolio.
3. Curate your content carefully
While building your portfolio, you must repeatedly be brutal with yourself. There will be difficult choices when it comes to picking which pieces make it into your portfolio and which articles don't.
Our advice is to pick the writing that suits your potential audience the most and to leave the others under other tabs. Here's where collections become super handy. For example, with Authory, users can use collections cleverly to get what they want — show how much they write while flaunting only their best pieces.
To illustrate further, as a writer, I've written content for developers and marketers and ghostwritten content for agency projects. To successfully present this in my portfolio, I'd have three separate collections and then share the specific collection with a client depending on their needs. By doing the above, I demonstrate my writing range — the breadth and depth of it, if you will.
So, it's imperative to consider the collections you build for your portfolio — do you sort it by niche, content type, or both, or something else? Be mindful of your audience(s) when doing this.
4. Verify that your portfolio is easy to navigate
All creators should be open to receiving feedback, and as writers, I'm sure you've gotten a ton of it through your career. I advise asking a friend, colleague, mentor, parent, or sibling (or anyone you trust!) to review your portfolio.
If possible, observe how they navigate the site: don't prompt or help them through the process; watch if they're struggling. This process is an important step; it's research marketers do when conducting CRO (Conversion Rate Optimization) procedures.
There will be a lot of learning through this process. For example, say your friend isn't able to find the "contact" button easily, then that is something that you'll need to fix. As with all feedback, implement what you think makes the most sense. Record your observations, then go through your notes and carry out your changes.
5. Be intentional with your portfolio organization
This point follows from some of the above; still, it's important to reiterate: organize your portfolio either by the niche, the type of content, or some other categorization that makes sense for your prospective portfolio audience.
Again, a portfolio builder that gives you collections out-of-the-box is beneficial when setting up your portfolio.
6. Ensure that your portfolio looks stunning
Since you're putting your best foot forward, as it were, your portfolio needs to be easy on the eye.
All the work that you're doing to curate and organize your portfolio is all for naught if the final product is ugly. Look for a solution that gives you a beautiful portfolio right off the bat.
7. Show just snippets/blurbs in your portfolio landing page
Though tempting, it isn't the best idea to parade entire articles on your portfolio's landing page. For the sake of navigation, write compelling copy in the form of blurbs or snippets to demonstrate the value of your article.
This process is an excellent exercise because it helps you think through the most salient aspects of your writing and what kind of text will attract a reader to click and read more.
8. Employ imagery to make your portfolio truly stand out
As writers, particular articles we've written may not have had any associated imagery. But if you're looking to add those pieces to your portfolio, it's highly advisable to find thumbnail pictures to go with the write-ups.
Pexels and Unsplash are free stock photo repositories where you can find copyright-free images that you can use on your portfolio. Since these are free to use, we do recommend giving credit to the artist who made the image in the first place.
9. Confirm that all types of content are supported
Writers come in all forms: some of us are content writers, others are journalists, and then some authors publish stories and write books, both fiction and non-fiction.
And hence, we're often writing content for brochures, offline magazines, coffee table books, and more. Usually, these become PDFs when published, and your writing portfolio should be able to support PDFs.
But that's just the beginning.
Ideally, your portfolio builder should support all types of content. Some writers are particularly witty on their Twitter accounts, and others have participated, nay, been featured, on podcasts and videos. All these formats need to be accommodated by your writing portfolio builder.
10. Be responsible for your portfolio being responsive
A website is responsive when it "responds" to the device you're looking at it on. That is, if you see a website on a desktop computer, it'll look good on the desktop, and when you see it on a mobile device, it shifts around to look great on the phone.
Your portfolio has to be responsive. In today's world, this is a no-brainer. Your client is much more likely to view your portfolio on mobile. Luckily, nearly all portfolio solutions are responsive.
That said, you need to check if this is indeed the case.
Once you have chosen a responsive portfolio builder and built your portfolio, we urge you to do a set of checks: namely, look at your portfolio on all the devices that you have lying around; see how it looks on a phone, on a tablet, on a desktop with a large screen, as well as a tinier laptop. Also, check how it functions on different browsers like Chrome and Firefox.
Remember, a fair few folks will be viewing your writing on their phones — especially if they found your link on a social media site like Twitter.
11. Keep your portfolio fresh and up-to-date
It's vital to keep your portfolio updated as often as possible. Whenever you publish, you should be looking to update your portfolio.
That is because your most recent work will likely be the most relevant. And potential clients will want to look at your latest writing, not work written years ago.
Another more selfish reason to keep your portfolio up-to-date is that, in all likelihood, you're probably improving your writing. Yes, it's possible that your best writing is behind you, but I'd like to think that the more we work on our craft, the better we get at it. And your portfolio has to have your best writing!
That said, keeping your portfolio updated is frightfully hard, especially with regular writing work keeping you busy. And some writers are particularly prolific, which would mean updating their portfolios weekly! In fact, I know of writers who write two or three pieces every day! They would have to remember to update their portfolios, find their articles online, and then add them to their portfolio daily or weekly! Unrealistic.
That's where a service like Authory that automatically updates your portfolio is like manna from heaven.
I know a lot of journalists who say ‘I have to create my website’ or ‘I haven’t updated my website in years,’ and honestly, almost all of us put those things off, but Authory makes it super easy.
— Ali Latifi, Kabul-based freelance journalist whose work has appeared in Al Jazeera English, The LA Times, CNN, The New York Times, and more.
12. Place your contact button in a place where everyone can see it
The whole point of the portfolio is for a target client to contact you. So, it's a good idea to have a "contact me" button that's front and center.
Most portfolio solutions allow you to build a button as a CTA (Call To Action). So it will be easy to set up, but it's something that you should not forget.
Writing samples & writing portfolio examples
Staring at an empty page when beginning the writing process is challenging. To that end, in this section, we point your attention to several beautiful writing portfolios of folks at the top of their fields.
We encourage you to go through them and draw inspiration, borrowing ideas wherever possible and generally being a starting point on your journey to creating your writing portfolio.
Colleen Fisher Tully
Colleen is a content writer and editor based out of Canada. She works in the health, food, cannabis, nutrition, finance, and family space. Colleen's writing portfolio: authory.com/ColleenFisherTully
As you can see, she has employed Authory's collection feature to great use by splitting the content up into different niches. And there's also a section for older work. Authory's handy search functionality at the top of every collection makes for easy navigation.
Nick, based out of England, is the Editor-in-Chief at eeNews Europe and a freelance technology writer. Nick's writing portfolio: authory.com/NickFlaherty
Nick has opted for a more minimalist look in his portfolio. Earlier in the article, I spoke about adding images to spruce up the look and feel of your portfolio. Still, here we see a completely different approach that works due to the clean, elegant look that Authory provides.
Nick has eschewed using collections in favor of a more straightforward feel, and Authory's search functionality will serve for any navigation required. Also, notice that the top article has LinkedIn as a source and is an example of how a great portfolio should accommodate content from all sorts of different sources and in various formats.
Nicole is a freelance health writer based in Florida, USA. Nicole's writing portfolio: authory.com/NickyLaMarco
She has gone for a super minimalist look but, at the same time, has used thumbnail images to add that shine to her portfolio.
Based out of North Carolina, Julie is a freelance writer, registered dietician, diabetes educator, lactation consultant, and business coach for registered dieticians. Julie's writing portfolio: authory.com/JulieCunningham
For Julie's portfolio, we'd like to highlight her "about me" section. As you can see below, she has written a comprehensive story on her career and what she can bring to the table. Also listed is the number of content pieces from different sources. And finally, it also has her social media links.
On the main portfolio landing page, Julie has opted for a beautiful header image that encapsulates what her writing is all about. She has also used thumbnail images to enhance the experience further and used collections to section out her various writing pieces.
Pamela is a freelance copywriter and editor based out of California, USA, specializing in both short- and long-form content. Her Twitter bio says that she's a dachshund aficionado, which is adorable, and her LinkedIn bio also says that she loves making people laugh both in person and on paper, which is just wonderful! As you can see, we're fans. :)
Pamela's writing portfolio: authory.com/PamelaRosen
- She has a "ghostwriting" tab, which is helpful for many writers.
- Under the "ebooks" tab, we can see this article: authory.com/PamelaRosen/Soundhound-Finding-Your-Brands-Voice-Ebook-a28ad1fe0f4c94256a355fa95644c4b20 which is an uploaded PDF and is now viewable on Authory's website forever.
Crystal Chatham Housman
Based out of California, USA, Crystal is a boots-on-the-ground visual journalist specializing in military affairs, aerospace, public safety, and volunteerism. Crystal's outstanding journalism portfolio is here: authory.com/CrystalHousman
She has chosen to divide her work into various niches, but she also has a tab for "other" and a tab for "portfolio." That means when she wants to share just her portfolio, she shares the link to just the "portfolio" collection. It's an interesting take on using a portfolio builder like Authory — have different tabs for particular niches and then have a separate tab for the portfolio alone.
Rhiannon is a freelance writer from North Carolina, USA, writing on topics ranging from prematurity to parenting and mental health. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Washington Post, Insider, and HuffPost. Rhiannon's writing portfolio: authory.com/RhiannonGiles
Rhiannon has gone for a simple look but has shown her prolificity through the use of collections where she's marked out favorites in each niche.
Chris Pike is a sports writer based out of Perth, Australia. Chris writes on basketball, baseball, water polo, Aussie rules football, rugby, cricket, and netball! Chris' writing portfolio is here: authory.com/ChrisPike
Chris has added over 3,200 articles from 42 sources in his Authory account:
Again, Chris can easily manage a truckload of content by organizing his portfolio into collections (divided by sport or league). With the help of Authory's search functionality, it's effortless for a reader to find what they need.
Jennifer Pattison Tuohy
Jennifer is a writer and journalist based in South Carolina, USA. She works as a Smart Home reviewer for The Verge and the Home Editor at Charleston Magazine. Her writing has appeared in Wirecutter, The New York Times, Wired (UK), and more. You can find Jennifer's writing portfolio at: authory.com/JenniferPattisonTuohy
As seen below, Jennifer has gone in for a colorful yet minimalist look for her portfolio design.
Sangeeta, based out of New York, USA, is a senior writer at The Cut and New York Magazine. In the past, she has worked for Quartz, A24, Architectural Digest, and more. Sangeeta's writing portfolio is at: authory.com/SangeetaSinghKurtz
Sangeeta has employed a super-minimalist look in her portfolio. And that's because she mainly uses Authory as a repository for all her articles, safely backed up and automatically updated.
Authory's Auto-Updating Portfolio — All that you've ever made kept safe and beautifully displayed
I’ve touched upon how Authory can help with creating and maintaining a portfolio earlier. Here is a more in-depth look at Authory.
What is Authory?
Authory is a self-updating online portfolio and backup service for content creators of all shapes and sizes.
With Authory, any writer can quickly create an online writing portfolio — there's no need to build your portfolio because Authory does that for you. Your portfolio looks terrific out-of-the-box, and it takes just three minutes to set up: add your sources, and Authory will import all your content. And then, Authory will scour the interwebs to find everything you've ever published — even stuff you've long forgotten! Once set up, your Authory portfolio is self-updating — there's no need for you to add more articles manually; Authory does that for you.
Authory is not only a beautiful portfolio builder but also a content backup service that ensures that you'll never lose a piece again, even if the original website shuts down.
Authory's Features (aside from the Self-Updating Portfolio & Automated Backup)
Besides the portfolio and backup, Authory gives you:
- Collections that let you divvy up your content into sections for easy perusal and sharing
- Social media analytics that shows you the true reach of your content
- Search and filter functionality that lets your audience (or you) find relevant content very easily
- Tracking features that let you know when an article of yours has been published anywhere on the internet
- Newsletter and RSS capabilities to build your audience
Reviews of Authory
And there are independent reviews of Authory:
- Keep Tabs On Your Published Works: A Review Of Authory on bookbaby.com
- Review: Authory – The perfect way to move your articles with you on pcguide.com
- Sync All Your Freelance Articles to Authory — Your New Online Writing Portfolio! on gadgethacks.com
FAQs related to creating a writing portfolio
How do I write a writing portfolio?
You begin by collecting all your writing samples, uploading them to a portfolio builder, dividing your writing samples into collections, and then designing the navigation of your online portfolio. Alternatively, you can use a site like Authory, where you add your content sources and auto-populate all your articles into a beautiful, self-updating portfolio.
What is a writing portfolio, and what are some examples?
A writing portfolio is a collection of all your best writing, showcasing your writing skills so that you can source more work for yourself. This section here has many examples of writing portfolios.
What do I write in a portfolio?
An excellent writing portfolio format is to have all your writing in one place divided by collections for ready shareability, giving you the freedom to court clients from different niches. A few writing tips on how to do this: collect your best work under one section and use that as your leading portfolio; sort the rest of your work by niche or content type; and finally, write a robust "about me" section on your portfolio.
Where can I create my writing portfolio?
There are many portfolio builders where you can create your writing portfolio. Still, we suggest using Authory because it's self-updating, automatically finds and backs up all the content you have ever created, is easy on the eye, and is a sinch to set up.
How do I upload PDF copies?
Not every portfolio builder supports PDFs, but Authory does. Just click on your "Content" tab, then click on "Add content," and then click on "Upload PDF."
How do I show ghostwritten content?
For many writers, showing ghostwritten content can be complicated because of copyright issues and because it's written under someone else's name. In a tool like Authory, create a collection in your portfolio for ghostwritten content alone to work around this. You can make this private if there are copyright issues, and now, you can share this collection with prospective clients.
How do I show content written for agencies?
The content you have written for agencies often will not bear your name. To showcase this kind of content, you can create a collection in your portfolio called "Content for Agencies" and upload the relevant content to that collection. You can now share this content with potential clients.
How do I back up content that might go offline?
The only way to back up all the content you've created is to use Authory, the only auto-updating content backup service around. Authory will crawl the internet, find all your content, and keep it forever.