by Michelle Guillemard
An up-to-date portfolio of relevant health writing work is an essential component of your health writing toolkit. Most of us would agree that a portfolio does more than showcase your writing skills. It reveals who you’ve worked with, and the results you’ve achieved on certain projects. Portfolios demonstrate that you have experience managing a variety of projects from beginning to end – and, importantly, that you can deliver on a specific writing brief.
The above factors are significant, and they can definitely help you to find jobs and win new clients – but they aren’t as influential as your writing skills. What editors and clients really want to know from your portfolio is that you:
- Write clearly and concisely – you have the ability to communicate well, including attention to sentence structure, grammar and proofreading
- Can produce content in a similar style to what they’re after – it’s no use sending feature articles to a client who wants you to write eDetailers and marketing materials
- Are able to write about a range of health and medical topics – having knowledge of a variety of topics shows you thoroughly understand the health niche
- Understand how to write about health and medicine – including treatments, terminology, diseases, conditions, ethical issues
- Understand how to interpret research and statistics – so you can be trusted to accurately report the results of clinical findings in the relevant contexts
- Are able to write about the subject matter that they focus in – perhaps the most important point is that clients and editors want to know you have expertise in their focus area or industry – more on that later
When you’re applying for a salaried position, your writing samples will be proof that you can do what your cover letter and medical writing CV say you can do.
When you’re trying to find clients as a freelance health writer, your portfolio will give potential contacts confidence that you can deliver great content, on time and in accordance with the project brief.
When it comes to building a portfolio, though, many writers get worried about the fact they don’t have any published work.
So how can you get published experience when you have none to begin with?
Building a portfolio with no experience
If you’re starting out as a health writer, write your own samples. Set yourself writing tasks, work on them and get them to a standard that is appropriate for use in your portfolio. I advise many of the students who take my Introduction To Health Writing courses to use their writing tasks as samples for this very reason.
Writing your own samples is also an excellent way to hone your health writing skills, giving you an opportunity to practice and improve. Give yourself a topic, brief, word count and deadline. Here are some examples of how you could do this:
- If you’re looking for feature writing work, imagine a client has asked you to write an 800-word article about brain health and diet.
- If you’re looking for health copywriting work, imagine you’re writing a sales page for a health coach.
- If you’re looking for blogging work, write your own 600-word blog posts about a health topic you’re passionate about.
Maybe not all editors and clients will agree with me, but I believe that your writing skills are more important than where your writing has been published. If I’m looking for a writer to assist me on a project, I care more about what they’ve written, not necessarily who they’ve written for.
In fact, many employers will ask you to complete writing tasks during the hiring process when you’re applying for serious writing jobs (I have done this for all of the writing staff jobs I held).
A portfolio of relevant work can help to make your application or business pitch stronger – and, for those who are just beginning their journey, it will hopefully lead to the first paid job.
So, when you’re starting out, focus on building a health writing portfolio that contains relevant, high-quality writing samples which clearly demonstrate you’re able to write great health content. You can get started now, and write as many pieces as you like – it’s in your hands.
Building a portfolio with some experience
As you start to build your published experience, you can include your completed projects in your portfolio. Here are some tips on how to build and maintain a strong portfolio.
Keep your samples current
Some writing work is timeless, but anything over a few years old can start to look tired – particularly if it’s online work that uses old formatting conventions or is displayed on an out-of-date-looking website. Aim to include a combination of recent and classic content in your portfolio.
Everything you have ever written does not belong in your portfolio. That college essay you received an A+ for does not belong in your portfolio. That leaflet you wrote for your electrician friend does not belong in your portfolio. Choose only your strongest pieces, as displaying your writing strengths will help to give you the best chance of being hired. If you’re unsure of whether to include a piece on your portfolio, ask other writers for feedback.
Display your writing samples nicely
There are many online portfolio websites that cater specifically for writers. Online portfolios can be integrated to your business website, or function as stand-alone websites. This article lists 5 great portfolio sites for writers.
The advantage of a nice-looking online portfolio is being able to send editors and clients links when you initially contact them, meaning you don’t have to email back and forth discussing the issue of sending writing samples. You want to make it as easy, smooth and quick as possible for clients and editors to decide to hire you.
If you’re going to in-person interviews, samples in a printed folder can look impressive if displayed nicely – though most people probably want an online version for ease of use.
Include relevant samples
As mentioned above, if your writing work isn’t related to health, it’s probably not going to belong in your portfolio – and you could actually be doing more harm than good by including it. But relevance also means highlighting work that’s related to the specific project you’re working on.
Of course, this will always depend on the particular job you’re applying or pitching for – but the core advantage of hiring a health writer is that you have specific expertise in producing health and medical content. So, your health writing portfolio should be capitalising on this aspect.
An online, dynamic portfolio that can be sorted by health topic could be helpful for this. Sort your work by topic (ie cardiology, oncology) or type of client (NFP, pharmaceutical) and clients or editors can browse.
Proactively build your portfolio
If you haven’t had anything published in a while, update your portfolio and write your own samples. Similarly, if you haven’t written for any clients in a few months, set yourself some writing tasks and practice.
Should you display your writing samples on your website?
If you’re a freelance writer, you might want to have a portfolio section on your website. If you do decide to do this, here are some general etiquette tips:
- Always check that past clients and editors are happy for you to display the work – if you’re a freelancer, include a clause in your contract so you don’t have to request permission separately
- Ensure your work is easily findable – if you wrote website copy for a client, it might be best to copy the content on your site in case the client decides to change the copy or the link breaks
- Clearly explain the work you did – like case studies, stories describing the project background, client needs, process and results can be powerful, engaging ways to showcase your projects (clients love results)
Over to you
Do you have a health writing portfolio, or are you building one? What have you found most challenging?