Soon after you begin applying for technical writing jobs online, you will likely be asked to write a trial article. Legitimate companies use trial articles as a way to see whether you possess the level of writing skills they are looking for, while scam artists use trial articles as a way to get free content. When you receive a request to write a sample article, always take these considerations into account before you make a final decision:
Rights: Find out who owns the rights to any work you submit. Unless the company pays you, you should retain all rights to the work. Otherwise, they are free to use your content in any way they'd like without compensating you.
Pay: Before you agree to do a sample, find out if the company plans to pay you for your work. Some companies will pay for all samples, some will pay only if they are suitable, and some will not offer any compensation at all.
Experience: In some cases, it is reasonable for a company to request a trial article before they commit to hiring you. If a company wants a user guide, for example, and you've never written one before, they may just want to make sure you can write clearly and in an appropriate tone. On the other hand, if you've written dozens of user guides and have plenty of existing samples, there really is no reason for a company to request an additional original sample.
Time: Legitimate companies and individuals know that a technical writer's time is valuable. If a trial article is requested, it should be something that you can complete in a fairly short period of time. It is not reasonable, for example, for a company to expect a 15-page training manual without offering some type of compensation. Estimate the amount of time the sample will take to complete. If you think it will take longer than an hour or two, it may not be worth your while (unless, of course, the company is planning to pay a fair price).
Potential payoff: Before you agree to complete a trial article, you should be clear about what the potential payoff will be in the end. How much does the company pay its technical writers? How many assignments can you expect to get each month? Does the company expect that there will be long-term work? Ask all of these questions upfront. If you may get the opportunity to work with a renowned company that will pay you well, writing the trial article may be well worth your time. If you're competing with 20 other writers for a chance to write a 10-page manual for $20, it may be best to keep looking.
Many technical writers adamantly refuse to complete any work on a trial basis, but it's ultimately a personal decision. You may work for free and get nothing in return, or you might get in with a great company. In the end, you have to decide whether to take the risk.
Last Updated: 05/05/2014