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Jun 20 / King Kaufman

How to create a writing sample that will get you in to B/R

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.

* * *

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.

* * *

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.

  • Matthew Price

    Is it alright if the application is more than 500 words? I have 554, and I already brought the word-count down a lot. Thanks!

    • King_Kaufman

      Yeah, that’s fine. Good idea to ask, though.

      • SportsFan70

        How far over the 500 would you say is acceptable

        • King_Kaufman

          Within a few sentences. In the ballpark. If you write a great 600-word piece, you’re not going to get turned down JUST because it was 600 words. But if it’s 600 words, it has to be better than if it was 500 words. If it’s 1000 words, it will probably get read, but it pretty much has to be astoundingly fantastic. Best piece ever written.

      • Coach Mass

        I have a story idea that would be exceptionally difficult to write given the first person voice restrictions. I want to discuss how he got so good.. I helped develop Damian Lillard, and many of his close friends, over a two year period while he was at Oakland high .I want to uncover how he got so good. My relationship to him gives the piece credibility. Any ideas on how to proceed while remaining true to the guidelines?

        • King_Kaufman

          You can’t.

          Pick another topic for your writing sample. If you’re going to write for Bleacher Report you’re going to have to write more than one story anyway, right? If you’re approved to publish, you can discuss with an editor the best approach to the story about Lillard, which may be first person. But a writing sample in first person will be rejected.

          • Coach Mass

            Thanks for the response. I was moving in that direction and have decided on another topic that I am equally passionate about. Thanks again,Coach Mass

  • British Anderson

    I don’t have any published articles or qualifications in journalism. However, I spend my own time writing about my biggest passion under the sun, which is cricket. Without professional experience, will I even be considered?

    • King_Kaufman

      No, you won’t be. But it’s a big world. Go write!

  • Joe

    The article I’m looking at for review is similar to one posted on the Detroit News. Is that acceptable? I’m focusing on five minor league players who have been invited to spring training. Thanks.

    • King_Kaufman

      What do you mean it’s similar to one posted on the Detroit News?

      Here are our Content Standards on plagiarism: http://bleacherreport.com/pages/contentstandards-nonoriginal

      If you just mean it follows the same format, looking at 5 minor leaguers with STIs, then sure, that’s fine.

      • Joe

        Thanks, I believe it meets those standards, both articles are looking at invites to know.

  • Stuart Hughes

    How old would you want a prospective writer to be?

    • King_Kaufman

      Old enough to have some experience and be able to create a writing sample that meets our standards. Technically, the minimum age to apply is 13—with parent or guardian permission if under 18. Realistically, someone under 18 has no chance of being approved unless they are a once-in-a-lifetime prodigy. And maybe not even then.

  • http://illblog33.blogspot.com.au/ Black-Coral Wizard

    Hi there. I have previously been a writer for Bleacherreport over about a five year period. I wrote 199 articles on the website and was also a featured columnist for the EPL. I also had several articles picked up by Foxsports and ESPN. In late 2012 I inexplicably had my writing credentials withdrawn. I reapplied and was turned down. I have since completed a Diploma in Multimedia Journalism with a well regarded Australian tertiary institute. I was deputy editor of the colleges news website and did an internship with a media content creation company. I am interested in writing for Bleacherreport again. I am a little surprised I was cut in the first place though, as right up until I lost my credentials I was writing good articles that were getting the website a decent amount of hits. Thanks.

  • future_writer

    I’m currently in the military and hope to get a bachelor’s degree online which unfortunately would limit networking opportunities. Obviously b/r isn’t an immediate possibility for me but if I’m going to make it a realistic long-term goal what would be the best way for me to gain experience as well as having any articles I write receive exposure?

  • Danny Emerman

    Is there a reason that when I was denied, the email told me to consider re-applying in 60 days instead of the common 30 according to the above article?

    • King_Kaufman

      Danny,

      Yes. It’s routine for us to ask writers who have been turned down twice to wait 60 days. The idea is we want you to really take the time to work on your writing, not just cool your heels for a while, then try again.

      In your specific case, while you’ll be free to reapply when those 60 days have passed, I would advise against it. You’re in high school, and it’s all but impossible for someone of your age and lack of experience to be approved to write for Bleacher Report. Under our current standards, you would be the first, and your writing samples so far have not been close to those standards.

      A far better use of your time would be to gain the skills and experience necessary to write for B/R or any other high-level media organization. There are a variety of ways to do that, including writing for your school paper, taking journalism classes, writing for local newspapers and web sites, starting your own blog, and so on.

      Good luck.

      king

      • Danny Emerman

        Thank you for the response. I will do my best to practice and re apply in maybe a couple years. I have been writing for my own site for over two years and a different blog for about 6 months. If you have the time, it would be cool if you checked them out here: http://www.parquetposts.blogspot.com and newyorksportshub.wordpress.com.

        I’m taking a journalism class and already writing for my school paper, so I guess I’m doing all I can and I should just be patient. I will definitely continue to do what I’m doing and hopefully add to my regiment.

        Thanks again for the personal response.

        Sincerely,

        Danny

        • King_Kaufman

          I know it’s hard to be patient, but you’re already ahead of the game by knowing what you want to do, and knowing that you still need some work. It’s not really about being patient. It’s about learning, listening to people who can help you wherever you are, whether that’s teachers, fellow students, other writers, readers, books, etc. Good luck.

  • Dylan Carter

    What was the main reason I got turned down? I will say it was probably the grammar, however I did email you guys the updated version, because I sent in the wrong one. I am guessing no one read my email? I will post my sample here, this is the updated version.

    The thought of trading Jeff Green splits Celtic’s fans in half. Whether you still believe that Jeff Green can develop into a superstar or you see Green’s inconsistencies as a persistent problem in the future, you can not deny his trade value.

    Jeff Green has been in the center of numerous trade rumors involving the Celtics lately. So what exactly is the best route for the Celtics to go if they are interested in trading Green? The obvious rumors that come to your head is the one that involves the Hawks; however, this might not be the best option for the Celtics. One particular trade rumor would be the best fit for the Celtics in this writer’s eyes. That trade would involve the Celtics sending Jeff Green and Keith Bogans to Charlotte in return for Ben Gordon, a 2014 first-round draft pick and the right to swap first-round picks in 2016.

    With this trade, the Celtics can get rid of 19 million from the next two years of Jeff Green’s contract. They also acquire another valuable pick, and have a chance to trade that pick for a 2016 pick, depending on the Bobcats draft position this year. Ben Gordon has an expiring contract, and by freeing up space, and acquiring a pick the Celtics get even closer to drafting a superstar or trading some picks and a player or two for a superstar to put next to Rondo, they also open up valuable cap space for the very anticipated 2015 free agency!

    • King_Kaufman

      Dylan,

      I don’t know offhand if anyone got your email. Depends where you sent it. But I’ll say this: It doesn’t really matter. Generally speaking, we judge the first application you turn in. What you’re applying for is the privilege of hitting the “publish” button on your own content. So one of the things we’re looking for is the ability to get it right the first time.

    • Danny Emerman

      Dylan- I created a Boston Celtics blog and your little rant about Jeff Green was very interesting and well-written. I’m always looking for new writers so if you were interested, email me at postsfromtheparquet@gmail.com for more details. Thanks!

    • Tim Godfrey

      Dylan, I think I may have an idea why your submission was denied. It was that exclamation point at the very end, prior to the non-existent conclusion. An exclamation point at the end is always a bad idea. It’s similar to getting in an argument with your spouse prior to going to sleep. Plus…I yelled that sentence, and it just felt odd. Good luck next time bro.

  • Duncan Day

    Is that alright if some of the linking of sources messes up the formatting of paragraphs?

    • King_Kaufman

      In the writing sample, yes. The sample form doesn’t accept html, so it’s best to just put the link in parens, like this (http://bleacherreport.com).

      Once accepted in the Writer Program, you would be expected to get all formatting right.

  • Ryan Grimes

    I’m 15. Do I have any shot of making the cut?

    • King_Kaufman

      Honestly, no. You’re free to apply, with the permission of a parent or guardian, but you pretty much have no chance at that age.

      Your time would be much better spent acquiring the skills and experience needed to become a writer for B/R or any other top-level site. There are various ways to do that, including journalism classes at school or online, writing for school or small local publications, starting your own blog or writing for group blogs, etc.

      Good luck. You’re ahead of the game for knowing what you want to do at 15.

  • Duncan Day

    How much would it affect your score if you mentioned the last name of a player three times in a 80 word paragraph?

    • King_Kaufman

      Hard to say offhand. Why don’t you see if there’s a graceful way to NOT do that?

  • Jeffrey Greco

    As a 20-year old college student, I realize that my chances of making the cut are slim to none. However, I plan on reapplying every 1-2 months. Using the tools the website provides, I believe I can at least better my writing skills for the purpose of school papers and blogs. Thank you for the opportunity to write for you, and thank you for the articles you have provided to assist with my writing.

  • Heel4eva

    Hi, King.

    One of my family members had made a bleacher report account of my real name, and has basically applied for the job three or four times. I just want you to know, those submissions have not been mine, and you shouldn’t send the email to that account.

    I’m really sorry, as I know you guys don’t like to put up with that crap. The submission I just published is MY REAL ONE. Thanks.

    • King_Kaufman

      Can you send me an email about this at king at bleacherreport.com please? I can’t figure out what you’re talking about. I need all of the relevant names and email addresses. Which ones are really you, which ones are not. Thanks.

  • Luke

    Hey,
    I am majoring in journalism right now in college, and I write for my school newspaper regularly. Do I have a shot, considering I do not have a bunch of experience, but I do have some?

  • Justen S.

    I am 14 and I have written for a sports blog before. I am quite young, however I have experience. Is there any chance that I make it?

    • King_Kaufman

      Justen,

      Honestly, no. You should spend your time gaining the skills and experience you’ll need. Write and report for your school paper, website, TV or radio station, whatever they have. Take journalism classes. If none are available, look for free journalism instruction online. Get in touch with any small or local news or sports sites. They’re often looking for writers. Start your own blog. Get a lot of feedback from teachers, professional writers, anyone who has more experience than you do and whose opinion you respect. Keep working and keep learning. You’ve got time. Good luck.

  • Harp

    Will be applying very soon. Heres 1 recent article of mine. I’d appreciate some criticism from some clever readers let me know what stands out good and bad guys. @King_Kaufman:disqus if you could also take a look and let me know if I’d be a likely candidate to write for B/R.

  • Sean Cordy

    Simply put, how often has Bleacher Report accepted high school students? Furthermore, how likely is it to accept a freshman in college (as I am going through that transition in the fall)? I know the writing sample is key, but it seems that the experience factor is great as well.

    • King_Kaufman

      That’s correct: The writing sample is key, but experience is an important factor as well. High school students have virtually no chance. College frosh, better, if they’re doing work in at least college-level media or its equivalent. It’s a longshot for anyone, though. Approval rate is around 5 percent. Harvard’s is 6. Yale 7.

      • Sean Cordy

        Well then, I look forward to writing for you once I’m a few years down the road at Baylor.