Writing Samples

I hadn’t actually thought about this question before, until Nate Charlow raised it

Would someone do me the favor of explaining why, e.g., writing samples for job applications are generally expected to be double-spaced with one-inch margins? Is the implication that single-spaced documents with wide margins are difficult to read? Do these same people find articles in competently type-set journals difficult to read?

I didn’t even realise that was the expectation. I guess a lot of the samples I’ve read have been like this.

Here’s the thing though. We’re going to be getting writing samples on 8.5*11 paper. (Or, if we’re lucky, A4.) A full page of single spaced text on a page like that is actually difficult to read.

Now that isn’t Nate’s suggestion. His suggestion is that we have basically a journal type page in the middle of a sea of white. (If I’m reading it right, he’s suggesting the default LaTeX look.) But I’m not sure that’s much easier to read. I think I find double spaced easier to read than a journal, though of course it’s much less efficient paper-wise. (I think I personally prefer 1.5ish space to double space, but your mileage may vary.) So if people are sending in writing samples that are double spaced, I think that makes my (sometime) job as a writing sample reader somewhat easier. If everyone feels the same way as me, then double spacing is good for candidates to do.

So what does everyone think? If you’re reading writing samples, does it make a difference to you if they look like, say, journal submissions (double spaced, normal margins) rather than page proofs (single spaced, massive margins)?

5 Replies to “Writing Samples”

  1. Single spaced, with massive margins would be my choice. However, I must add that the fonts are actually of utmost importance (in my case). I like fonts which are identical or similar to the ones used by MIND.

  2. Personally, I like one-inch margins, single-spaced, but with double-spaces between paragraphs. But why not submit electronically in one of a list of approved file formats, and let readers format them in their own preferred ways, if they want?

  3. I am fine with writing samples either double-spaced with narrow margins or single-spaced with wide margins. The former is easier for editting, but I’m not revising writing samples.
    Some job candidates send published articles as writing samples. It would be perverse to send a double-spaced draft version of something that has appeared in print, so the latter option must be OK at least for them.

  4. I think the latex \doublespace command gives you 1.5ish spaced lines, and I quite like that. I find it easier to read something carefully (as opposed to skim it to get to the juicy bits) if it’s doublespaced.

    I think one idea of doublespacing is that it’s easy to make notes in between lines. I can see it’s good for journals.

    Re Jonathan’s suggestion: I take it that this’d be difficult to implement if you allow people to submit pdfs. But there are seriously good reasons in some circs for having pdfs or similar—-esp if you’re working with logical symbols or in general using latex. (On the former point you could embed the fonts in a word doc but (a) it makes it massive and (b) lots of people don’t know how to do that, whereas pdf conversion is pretty easy).

    Also—-if you’re not getting e-versions of the writing samples but photocopying from a single application (or getting someone else to photocopy it for you) it wouldn’t work.

  5. The legibility of double spacing is an empirical question that admits of a number of measures. Spacing is just one factor involved in legibility. Others include font, margin spacing, number of characters per line, educational background, level of exposure to print culture, ambient lighting… Given the number of factors involved, simply asking whether double spacing is easier read probably lacks a determinate answer (and is not to be addressed by polling). There is a large psychological literature on this.

    @jrgwillliams the doublespace package provides both double spacing and 1.5 spacing. Also, the publishing convention originally had nothing to do with legibility but to allow space for instrutions to be written for the typesetters—-something that is no longer required in the workflow involved in typesetting electronic manuscripts with some appropriate software. As for referees using the space to write notes, to each is own, I suppose. Seems inefficient to me. But hardly grounds for requiring manuscripts to be double spaced.

    My own preference (personal, I know) would be to read a properly typeset document with decent layout, i.e., no double spacing.

Leave a Reply