How to Display Writing Samples on the Web

If you’re a writer with a website, then chances are you’ve got a few samples on your site to demonstrate your work. But have you presented your writing samples in a way that makes people want to read them?

Here are a few things you should do to make sure your writing samples are well-presented and enjoyable to read:

Use plain text

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Your writing sample probably lives in a Word document or text file somewhere on your hard drive. It may be tempting to use that file as your writing sample, but it’s well worth the time to put the text from that file onto the webpage itself. There are a few good reasons for this:

  • People are wary of downloading files from the internet for fear that a virus might come along for the ride.
  • You’ll minimize the number of mouse clicks it takes for them to actually see the writing sample (in general, the more clicks it takes, the less likely people are to actually view something).
  • A plain text writing sample is also searchable by web browsers.

Use friendly fonts

Present your writing sample in a font that’s easy to read. Use a standard, web-friendly font such as Helvetica or Arial and make sure the font size isn’t too large or too small. Also, avoid bright colors that strain the eyes. Instead, use a dark font on a light background.

Use thumbnail images

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Images are a great way to augment your writing samples with visual pizazz. Here are a couple ideas:

  • If your writing sample is from a printed article, obtain a scanned image of the original article and include a small version of that image with the writing sample text (see above). Then link the thumbnail to a larger image of the scan. This way people can see what your article actually looked like in print.
  • If your sample is from a chapter in a book, display a small image of the cover of your book that links to a website where they can buy a copy.

Whatever you do, don’t display a huge image that doesn’t fit on the screen. Stick with smaller, thumbnail images that link to larger versions of the image.

An image isn’t necessary, but it can make your writing sample look prettier and give readers a better idea of what it looks like in print.

Use explanatory text to describe your sample

In many cases, particularly if you’re writing sample is an excerpt from a larger piece of work, reading the writing sample can seem a bit out of the blue. A reader might ask themselves, “what am I reading… what is this all about?” Or worse, they’ll be stumped and navigate away from the page.

Give your readers a little guidance and explain what it is their reading. This is especially helpful if you can’t include the text of your sample due to copyright restrictions, or if your writing sample is part of a larger piece of work.

For example, one of the writing samples on my website is my Master’s Thesis, available as a PDF download. Not only is the thesis long, but the content is very technical. So to help non-technical people understand my writing sample, I wrote some text to introduce the sample, and explained how they can download it:

This paper was originally written for my MSc in Computational and Applied Math at the University of Texas, Austin. A link to the full text (PDF) is available below.

When most of us hear the word “DNA”, we typically think of the famous picture of a “double helix”, a coil of two strands wrapped around each other like a twisted ladder. This image represents a magnified view of DNA, a molecule small enough to fit inside the nucleus of a cell. If we zoomed out from this view, the double helix would become blurred into a single, thin strand, twisting and turning within the viscous goo of the cell. These motions are governed by the laws of thermodynamics and are the subject of my Master’s Thesis, A Monte Carlo Algorithm for Polymer Chains.


Make it easy to find

Make sure you have clear and obvious links to your writing samples from the front page of your website (the part of the site that users see first). If you have lots of writing samples, categorize them in a logical way, such as “Press Releases” and “Newspaper Articles” so that readers can easily find the samples they’re looking for.

As a writer, no one expects you to be a web designer. Luckily, most website authoring tools make it pretty easy to adjust what your page looks like. This can be a blessing or a disaster depending on how you use it. Follow the above tips to make sure your webpage encourages users to read on.

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