For close to a decade I worked at a financial publisher; a company that provided investment commentary. Our site received nearly a million visits each month. We would publish dozens of articles in a week. Needless to say, we hired dozens of freelancers over the years to help with that content.
During that time I worked with dozens of freelance writers. I read hundreds of pitches, sample articles and resumes. And while it wasn’t obvious at first, I soon realized there was a single is trait that would almost always tell me if a freelancer would work out or not.
No, it wasn’t their experience. In fact, I often found that the most experienced freelancers scored the worst for this trait. It wasn’t their background, education or how they performed in an interview, either.
What I found is that I could tell how a freelancer would perform based on a sample article I had them write. Specifically, those who willingly adjusted their writing style to match our content turned out time and again to be our most successful writers.
Depending on your personality, there are two ways that most people react to this idea. For some people, it seems like a no-brainer.
“Of course you’d want people that match your style!”
Those are the sort of people I liked to hire.
For other people, I’m convinced they just didn’t think about it. It wasn’t something that was on their radar. Maybe they were too busy to take the time to study the style. Maybe they just didn’t care. (Or maybe they tried and just weren’t able to match it.)
Why was I so focused on this one trait?
Think about the life of an editor for a busy website. In the course of a week they are managing the progress of dozens of articles. They are dealing with tight deadlines and an overbearing boss. They are dealing with multiple freelancers. It’s hectic and stressful. What brings them comfort are those people who can do their job with the least supervision. Those are the people worth their weight in gold.
When a freelancer submitted an article that already matched our site’s style and content, I knew I found someone who could do the job without handholding… and I hired them immediately.
With all this in mind, here are a few tips on how you can quickly pick up a style and ace any freelance writing test.
1. Read dozens of past articles
It’s obvious, but you’d be amazed at how few freelance applicants take the time to read through past articles. It’s the fastest way to get yourself familiar with a writing style. What you’ll find is that the more articles you read, the more you will start thinking and writing in that style without even realizing you are doing it.
If you are writing a sample for a situation where there aren’t past articles to reference, then you’ve got to be a little more resourceful. Ask if there is any content you can reference. If there’s not, then look to competing players in that niche to see their style.
2. Look for how published articles start and finish
The beginning and end of an article are arguably the most important to matching a style. If an article doesn’t match a style right from the start, it’s hard to get over it while reading the rest of the piece. If an article doesn’t close the right way, then it ends on a bad note.
Focus on how other articles begin. Do they start with a question or some other hook? Is the tone academic, humorous, friendly, or some other noticeable trait? Do the articles end with a call to action? Picking up on these items can go a long way in matching a style.
3. Look at special capitalization and punctuation
Do you write using AP or Chicago style? Great. No one except a newspaper cares. Every content outlet has their own unique variations.
If you want to really stand out, after you write your sample, go back and look at the details. Are headlines capitalized in a certain way? If there are certain phrases that are specific to that client (such as product names), are they written in the correct style? Does the punctuation match the style used in other articles? A quick 10-minute check of these items can help your article stand out from the crowd.
4. Get a second opinion
Just like college admissions essays, it pays to have someone check your work. But you shouldn’t have them focus just on spelling and grammar. Instead, have them look at the tone and style, making sure it matches up with other content that’s been published before.
Have more tips on how to stand out when writing a sample article? Let us know in the comments below.