The Everyday Writer

additional resources
Exercises for
The Everyday Writer
Exercises for
Multilingual Writers
for The Everyday Writer
Assembling a
Writing Portfolio
Stasis Theory
Tips on Using Sources and Considering Your Own Intellectual Property
Preparing for the CLAST
Preparing for the THEA

Book-Specific Resources / Additional Resources /
Assembling a Writing Portfolio

  • Introduction
  • Considering the purpose and audience for a portfolio
  • Selecting work for a portfolio
  • Completing a portfolio
  • A student portfolio cover letter
  • Developing an electronic portfolio


    Imagine that Leonardo da Vinci were alive today and needed to show examples of his art - to get into graduate school, perhaps, or to get a job. He would begin, most likely, by assembling a portfolio of his best work. Probably he would choose one of his self-portraits and maybe a few of his architectural drawings; no doubt he would include the Mona Lisa. In other words, he would include a representative sample of the kinds of work he could do, and he would choose what he considered his best work. He might well develop a Web site to showcase his portfolio.

    Chances are that you will have occasion to put together a portfolio of your writing, and you might well be assigned to do so for your writing class. This chapter provides guidelines for assembling a representative sample of your best work in a print or electronic format.

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    What are the possible purposes for a writing portfolio: to fulfill course requirements? to show work at a job interview? to enter a competition? to keep a record of your college work? Each of these purposes will lead you to make different decisions about what to include and how to arrange a portfolio. If you are fulfilling an assignment, your instructor may specify exactly what you need to include.

    Consider your audience. Is it your instructor? a prospective employer? a scholarship committee? Your audience will affect what you choose to include in your portfolio. If, for example, your audience is a writing instructor, you will need to demonstrate what you've learned; if it is a prospective employer, you may need to focus on what you can do.

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    How many entries should you include in a portfolio? The answer depends on your purpose. If you are developing an electronic portfolio that will represent your accomplishments as a student, you may include a variety of materials - from essays to problem sets to photos to Web texts to a résumé. In this case, it makes sense to include many kinds of materials because those reviewing your portfolio will click on only those items that interest them. If you are developing a portfolio for your writing class, however, you should probably limit yourself to five to seven examples of your writing. Here are some kinds of writing you might include in such a portfolio:

    • an academic essay demonstrating your ability to argue a claim or position
    • a personal essay that shows self-insight and demonstrates your ability to paint vivid pictures with words
    • a Web text you have developed on a specific topic
    • a brief report prepared for any class or community project
    • an essay or other writing project showing your ability to analyze and solve a problem
    • your favorite piece of writing vwriting based on field research, library research, or both
    • a piece of writing for a community group, club, or campus publication
    • an example of a collaboratively written document accompanied by a description of how the team worked and what you contributed
    • an example of your best writing on an essay examination
    • a multimedia presentation
    • correspondence, such as a letter of inquiry, an email message, or a job application or résumé

    You should also include the assignments for the work you include whenever applicable. If your portfolio is for a writing course, you may be expected to include examples of your notes and early drafts as well as any responses you got from other readers.

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    Once you have decided which items to include in your portfolio, several tasks still remain: preparing a written statement, organizing your material, and obtaining feedback from others.

    Preparing a written statement
    Regardless of how many writing examples and what kinds of examples you choose, you need to introduce a course-related portfolio with a written statement that explains and reflects on your work. This statement might be in the form of a memo, cover letter, personal essay, or home page (for online portfolios). Whatever the form, your statement should include:

    • a description of what is in the portfolio: What was the purpose of each work?
    • an explanation of your choices: How did you decide these pieces of writing represented your best work?
    • a reflection on your strengths and abilities as a writer: What have you learned about writing? What problems have you encountered, and how have you solved them?

    Organizing your portfolio
    Number all pages in consecutive order and prepare a table of contents. Label and date each piece of writing if you haven't done so previously. Put a cover sheet on top with your name and the date; if the portfolio is for a class, include the course title and number (see a sample cover in Chapter 13 of The Everyday Writer). Assemble everything in a folder.

    Getting responses
    Once you have assembled your portfolio, seek responses to it from several classmates or friends and, if possible, from at least one instructor. To elicit the best responses, you may want to refer your reviewers to the guidelines on reviewing a draft in Chapter 9 of The Everyday Writer. Revise accordingly.

    If this portfolio is part of your work in a course, ask your instructor whether a few handwritten corrections are acceptable. If you intend to use it as part of a job search, however, you will want to print out clean copies. Either way, the time and effort you spend revising and editing the contents of your portfolio will be time well spent.

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    Here is an excerpt from a letter that James Kung wrote to introduce his portfolio. Note that Kung does not simply describe the portfolio but analyzes both it and his development as a writer in some detail.

    To maintain proper spacing and style, we've provided this document as an Adobe Acrobat PDF. If you don't have Adobe Acrobat Reader, it's a free download (, and it's easy to set up.

    Download James Kung's portfolio cover letter

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    Electronic portfolios provide new opportunities for students to demonstrate their full range of learning experiences to their teachers, advisers, parents, and potential employers. An electronic portfolio might be ideal for you if you want to share your work with others easily, either on a Web site or through e-mail. If you decide on or are required to develop an electronic portfolio, you will have many choices and will need to address several technological issues. Creating an electronic portfolio can be as simple as saving documents in a systematic way on your hard drive or as sophisticated as designing an interactive Web site (sometimes called a Web folio). Here are some questions to guide you as you develop an electronic portfolio:

    Taking into account the software available to you, the scope of your intended audience, and your course requirements (if the portfolio is for a class), would an online or offline electronic portfolio be most appropriate?

    Does your instructor, department, or university mandate the use of particular hardware and software? If none of them does, what hardware and software will you use?

    Does your software allow all of your intended readers to access your portfolio? Does it enable you to integrate existing files (including multimedia) into your portfolio?

    If you're creating a Web folio, do you want your entire portfolio to be accessible to anyone on the Web, or do you want to protect part or all of your site with a password?

    What kind of design do you want for your electronic portfolio? Is it user friendly and accessible to all?

    If some of the pieces in your Web folio contain references to material found on the Web, do you want to create links to those sources so that your readers can click on them and get to this other material easily?

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