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Master of Arts in Professional and Technical Writing

Master’s Portfolio

“[W]hen you are in an actual job-interview, you do not want to just claim you have a skill. You want to prove you have the skill you are claiming.”
–Richard Nelson Bolles, The 1993 What Color Is Your Parachute? Practical Guide for Job-Hunters and Career Changers. 204

Writing is a performative art–like singing or dancing. But unlike those art forms, writers usually don’t invite people to their offices or kitchen tables to watch them perform. A writer’s typing speed or good penmanship probably wouldn’t impress many fans. Instead, it is the product that impresses people and best demonstrates writers’ abilities. But how can a writer, especially a student writer, demonstrate her/his product to the public and, more importantly to a potential employer? The answer is the Professional Writing Portfolio.

Writers tend to have a lot of experience proving themselves. This is especially true in education. For as long as administrators have been establishing goals, educators have been struggling with how to assess those goals and how to measure proof. Over the past decade, writing portfolios have become the choice assessment tools for English and language arts educators. As a result, most writers who have actually attended a writing program (from high school to Ph.D. programs) have assembled portfolios of some kind. The idea of portfolios in education is not new and actually was borrowed from professional groups such as computer aided drafters, graphic artists, advertising agents, photographers, and models. Professional portfolios are popular among these individuals because they serve as tangible demonstrations of talent and experience. For the same reason, professional writing portfolios are useful in professional writing environments.

Specifically, a professional writing portfolio (PWP) can be defined as a purposeful collection of writing assembled to demonstrate specified writing capabilities to a professional audience. Usually, a PWP is used to obtain a job, to document job performance, or to gain entrance into an educational institution. In some respects, it is used like a resume. However, it is not a resume. Instead, a PWP actually displays the works and documents that a resume mentions. In that sense, the PWP is more like a three-demensional or amplified resume.

There are several reasons writers need a PWP:

  • Often, a college undergraduate or master’s diploma is not enough to make anyone distinctive in the job market. One reason is that technology and industry have increased their demand for individuals with marketable specialized abilities. A diploma cannot fully demonstrate a writer’s specialized abilities.
  • Resumes may not be a true representation of a person’s capabilities, and employers know it. Resumes can be filled with inflated job descriptions and abilities. Or resumes can appear insubstantial because of a lack of work experience disguises the writer’s real talents and abilities.
  • Other professional writers in the job market are already using portfolios to showcase their skill. While a degree and resume might help a writer get an interview, a portfolio can demonstrate that the writer is a qualified and competitive professional.

It is important to understand that professional portfolios have a dollar-value in a job search. A professional portfolio can increase the chance of obtaining a desired position. If the starting salary for a position is $25,000 to $30,000, then the professional portfolio that helps the writer land the job is worth $25,000 to $30,000 each year the job lasts. Over a lifetime, a portfolio could be worth more than a million dollars.

Fortunately, most of you have experience assembling portfolios for some form of external audience, whether for professors, academic departments, or admissions committees. Yet, frequently students are unprepared to demonstrate their work to professional audiences. And should students turn to their university libraries for help, a literature search would only reveal that there is not much collective information available on the subject of PWPs. This guide is an effort to fill that void by assisting aspiring technical and expository writers in the creation of a PWP. The instructions and advice contained herein are based on research, community surveys, and qualitative interviews, and are organized according to the seven steps introduced in the next section.

Updated 9.19.2011