How to create a writing sample that will get you in to B/R
NOTE: This blog post is no longer current. The B/R Writer Program application process has changed. For advice on how to succeed in the current process, please read this post.
Of the roughly 200 people who apply to write for Bleacher Report in a typical week, fewer than 10 are approved. What are they doing right? How do you get to be one of the few who make the grade?
A good first step is to know what the B/R Writer Admissions Team is looking for as it evaluates writing samples.
The team uses an objective scoring system to evaluate writing samples. That might sound strange because we all know that writing is an art form. But music is an art form too, and just as we can evaluate whether a musician hits the notes correctly, there are some things within the art of writing that we can judge objectively.
That said, writing really is an art form, so the reviewers also use their experience and judgment to evaluate an applicant’s depth of knowledge on the subject of the writing sample and whether the piece is compelling and fun to read.
Before you start writing, you should pay attention to what the application asks for: An original opinion piece 250-500 words long that is something Bleacher Report might publish on the day you turn it in. So don’t recycle an old piece of writing and don’t turn in that 3,000-word opus about the 1979 Baltimore Colts.
Here’s how the objective side of the evaluation works:
Reviewers score writing samples by looking at the strength of the analysis as well as the actual mechanics of the writing. In other words, they want to see that you have smart, interesting, creative things to say about sports, and they want to see that you have the ability to say them well.
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There are 10 metrics the Writer Admissions Team looks at as it scores a submission, five each having to do with analysis and mechanics. If the sample goes astray on too many of the metrics, the application will be turned down. In most cases, writers may try again after 30 days.
Here are the five metrics reviewers look at as they evaluate a writing sample’s analysis:
Opinion: A good submission offers opinionated analysis rather than merely regurgitating facts. Reviewers look for at least two consecutive paragraphs that contain subjective interpretation of the event or events being covered. The consecutive-paragraph requirement guards against “drive-by” analysis. Reviewers want to see thoughts developed a little bit.
Angle: Bleacher Report readers demand forward-looking analysis. Reviewers look, again, for at least two consecutive paragraphs that contain such analysis. That means making predictions or raising questions about the impact of the article’s topic.
Support: Every single statement of opinion in the writing sample must be supported with at least one persuasive fact.
Aggregation: Good analysis makes note of commentary by other analysts, as no writer is a lone voice in the online universe. Reviewers want to see at least one reference to third-party analysis of the article’s topic. The writer can agree or disagree with that analysis.
Structure: Reviewers look for three basic elements in a good writing sample. The first is a lede that introduces the article’s major themes. The second is a logical progression that develops the themes that were introduced in the lede. The third is a conclusion that substantively summarizes those themes as they’ve been developed. An oversimplification: Beginning, middle and end.
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There are also five metrics that reviewers look at while evaluating the writing mechanics of a submission.
Textual Correctness: Spell everything correctly. It’s as simple as that. Even one misspelled word will result in a lower score. Any more than two grammatical errors or typographical errors combined will also have you on your way to an invitation to try again in 30 days.
Sentence and Paragraph Structure: Readers like concision and so does the Writer Admissions Team. Writing samples should average fewer than 20 words per sentence and four sentences per paragraph.
Language Variation: Word repetition is the big issue the team is looking for here. Using the same word two times in one sentence or three times in one paragraph, other than for rhetorical effect, will raise a red-flag. Reviewers also look for subject-predicate repetition, which is the non-rhetorical use of identical subjects and/or predicates in consecutive sentences.
Verb Choice: The Writer Admissions Team will give you three passive verb constructions in a 500-word writing sample. After that, you get marked down.
Authorial Voice: More than two instances of first-person voice will result in a lower score on this metric.
We wanted to tell you how the application review system works not so you can game the system and score points with reviewers, but because we believe that if you understand the concepts behind the scoring, you’ll be able to write the kind of compelling stories that will help you build a loyal audience for your writing.
If you feel like you’re ready, here’s the Writer Program application.