A portfolio is a technical communicator's most important marketing
tool. It highlights talents and abilities while giving prospective
employers or clients an opportunity to learn about the candidate's
skills and career direction.
Professional portfolios are as indispensable as résumés.
Your portfolio — whether hard copy, digital, or both — is your showcase.
You have the opportunity to show samples of your work that best
portray your skills and career direction.
Portfolios evolve according to your purpose and your audience. For
those of you who think that you will receive job offers or new clients
by throwing together a few samples of your work, rethink your assumption.
With careful planning, organization, and ongoing assessment, your
portfolio in its various forms will be an indispensable asset.
Planning the Portfolio
Planning is vital to create a portfolio that is a creative and
robust expression of you. During this stage, think about the samples
that you want to include. Make sure that they accurately portray
your talent and skills. Consider, too, your intended delivery method.
Samples include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Your résumé
- Samples of your writing, graphic design, document design, editing,
Web design, or anything you can use to promote yourself
- Certificates or list of awards and honors
- Fact sheet of your skills, interests, community involvement,
and other information that does not fit on your résumé
- Letters of recommendation or thanks
- Newspaper articles that address some sort of achievement
- Reflection or process summary of each item
Be sure to archive your samples logically. Without organization,
the sudden interview can turn into a nightmare.
You also need to consider intellectual property rights and obtain
permission to include them. If an owner does not grant permission,
consider another way to document that effort, such as a simple description
or a mockup.
Determining the Delivery Method
As you gather your samples, consider the options for paper or digital
- Archive — Your "master portfolio," a
collection of every possible sample that you could include in
- Presentation — A collection of the samples that
you can use in face-to-face meetings. Usually you bind it professionally.
- Sample/Leave-Behind — A smaller collection of samples,
often only specific portions of your work, used to submit with
an application or to leave with a face-to-face interviewer. This
collection, while still very professional, is less costly to produce.
Independent contractors and consultants will typically create
a pamphlet or a brochure.
- Digital — Any and all of the aforementioned samples
that can accompany a hard copy portfolio or be a stand-alone product.
It is an excellent way to showcase additional talents such as
HTML, CSS, and Web graphics.
Organizing Your Portfolio
Whether paper or digital, your portfolio should reflect your ability
to work on different types of projects, while meeting the needs
of the audience or client. It should be consistent, organized, descriptive,
and easy to use as a marketing tool.
Most commonly, you will have control of your portfolio and will
be able to guide people through it. Sometimes, however, your portfolio
will be passed around the room during the discussion, or someone
else will click through the digital pages. Your audience will evaluate
both how well you can navigate your own portfolio and their own
ability to navigate it.
Use a connecting thread to enhance your portfolio's organization:
- Hard copy — Divider pages and tabs help your audience
navigate artifacts quickly. A color scheme and logo or other graphical
element lends consistency. Chunking similar samples contributes
to usability. All of these things make your portfolio memorable
and give your portfolio a professional look and feel.
- Digital — Digital portfolios can be presented on
the World Wide Web or on a CD or DVD. Unlike your hard copy portfolios,
the user can access your information with limited direction from
you. They will make their way through the information as their
motives guide them without any verbal explanation or descriptions
This type of portfolio allows the prospective client to view you,
the source of your work, and how you work with style sheets, word
processing software, HTML, Web development software, and page layout
software. You should present your information in a consistent, organized,
descriptive, and navigable manner. Louise Keeton explains in her
presentations on professional portfolios: "Templates and consistent
navigation schemes for HTML pages in a digital portfolio act like
divider pages and tabs and provide the same benefits." (See
References below for Keeton's presentation.)
Assessing the Portfolio
Whether your portfolio is hard copy or digital, you must be diligent
in updating it so that you remain competitive. With that in mind,
portfolios are never "complete." There are always new
samples to add, new skills to highlight, and less effective samples
to remove or replace. To make this task easier, consider using a
Any combination of the following methods will work-as long as you
use it consistently:
- Keep a special folder on your desktop and place electronic copies
in it as you finish projects.
- Keep a folder close at hand and place copies of everything you
do in that folder.
- Keep a simple list of items with dates and file locations.
1. Ball State
University Career Center, http://www.bsu.edu/students/careers/documents/portfoli/.
2. Campbell, Dorothy M, et al. (1997). How to Develop a Professional
Portfolio. Allyn and Bacon: Boston, MD .
3. Coker, L. & Keeton, L. (2004) Hard Copy and Digital Portfolios:
A Both/And Solution. Proceedings of the 2004 Region 5 Conference,
Society for Technical Communication. Salt Lake City, UT. Oct. 21-24.
4. Electronicportfolios.org (Helen Barrett), http://www.electronicportfolios.org/distance/index.html.
5. Keeton, L. & Reece, G. (2004). Résumés, Portfolios,
and All the Rest. Proceedings of the 51st Annual Conference, Society
for Technical Communication. Baltimore, MD. May 8-10.
6. Penn State Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching, http://www2.ds.psu.edu/AcademicAffairs/ID/Portfolios/tandl_portfolios_tips.htm
Advice and Resources, http://www.coroflot.com/public/help_portfolio_tips.asp
8. University of Washington. Educational Partnerships & Learning