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Portfolio Format

Portfolios, representing the culmination of your professional knowledge and skills to date, should be well designed to be effective. They should be aesthetically attractive, easy to navigate and free of errors.

Because your resume, work samples, awards and other contents vary in style, fonts, layout, color, size and even medium, it’s essential to unify these contents with a portfolio format. Cohesive and consistent design elements say that all of these various materials together represent one person’s career.

The good news is that you don’t have to create a portfolio format from scratch. You can find design options for both electronic and hard-copy portfolios online, at UD Career Services and in how-to books at the library. And many open-source templates are available for electronic portfolios. What follows are general tips that apply to both electronic and hard-copy portfolios.

Binder and Home Page

Think of your portfolio as a book, whether electronic or hard-copy. The “binding”  a three-ring binder or home web page – should suggest professionalism in tone and appearance.

Hard-copy decisions include:

Binder: Choose leather-bound, leather-like bound or top-quality vinyl binder in a conservative color, e.g., black, rich brown, grey or white. Large, zippered cases might be preferred for your comprehensive portfolio, especially if your work samples differ in size or media.

Rings: Look for quality rings that close tightly and work. Three-inch or larger rings will allow room to add mew material. One- or two-inch rings might be adequate for the binder you bring to internship and job interviews.

Cover: Choose an embossed cover with Portfolio, Career Portfolio or something similar. Or select a binder with a clear insert so that you can create a custom cover with your name and profession. The layout should be straight forward with an easy-to-read font. The cover will be the viewer’s first impression of you and your abilities. You want to create a favorable first impression.

Paper: Use quality paper. Use the same paper for title page, table of contents, introductory pages. Use a high quality printer. Blurred or streaked type scream sloppy worker.

Plastic Sleeves: All material within the binder should be in clear, plastic sleeves to keep your documents and work clean. Choose non-glare sleeves of the highest quality that you can afford. Don't punch holes in your work samples or other documents. Use divided sleeves or other secure pockets for disks or memory sticks. Save copies of your videos and web pages because cyber material controlled by others can – and does – disappear without notice.

Electronic decisions include:

Nameplate: Feature your name and profession as the website title.  The website purpose should be apparent. You don’t have to write an objective that’s common on résumés, but do indicate – perhaps in a word or two – that viewers are looking at professional portfolio to secure internships or jobs.

Wallpaper: Choose a conservative, classic background and color. Any pattern should be subtle. Keep in mind that the wallpaper serves as a frame for your material. Choose backgrounds that will contrast with the type in order to improve readability. If using reverse type – white type and colored background – choose thick faces or boldface to improve readability. Generally, avoid more than a few lines in reverse type because it’s hard to read.

Tone: The first page serves as the cover of your portfolio. What message and tone do you want to impart? Creativity is fine, but keep it classy.



The overall look of your portfolio should be appropriate for your profession. The navigational pattern – whether hard-copy or electronic – must be readily apparent and easy. No employer or graduate school admissions board will take time to hunt for your resume or specific examples of skills.

Decisions include:

  • Identifying major divisions
  • Determining appropriate subsections
  • Deciding order of sections and material within them
  • Fonts (Choosing typefaces, size and capitalization style for):
    • Cover
    • Title page
    • Table of Contents
    • Page numbers
    • Comments and captions
    • Section and subsection titles
    • Dividers
  • Spacing
    • Between lines
    • Between paragraphs
    • From top of page to copy
  • Color, Art and Graphics



Better portfolios have obvious, visible divisions, similar to chapters in a book. Create categories and, within each category, identify appropriate subsections.

Possible major sections include:

  • Personal Information (or Background or something similar)
  • Professional work
  • Assessments or Resume and References
  • Internships and Work Experience
  • Committee and Volunteer Work
  • A section on academics might be included

Hard-copy portfolios should have high-quality tab dividers. Use compatible but distinct tab dividers for subsections. Neatly type all divider headings in the same font. Handwriting screams unprofessional. Portfolios could have tab links under your nameplate or in an index bar on the right side of your home page. Drop down lists of subsections within those major categories will help to further organize information and work samples.

Order of material within sections or subsections could be most-important-to-least-important. For example, your résumé is crucial and so would lead the personal information section. The order of your work samples could be by skill sets, project or employer. Early in college, you probably have only one or two professional experiences. Organizing by project or employer would likely work best. As you gain experience and accumulate work experiences, consider some re-organizing by skill sets.

Briefly introduce your work samples noting:

  • Your role. For material that lacks a byline or credit, briefly but clearly state your contribution, e.g., independently produced, part of a team, design only. Be honest.
  • Context of the work, e.g., a particular campaign, conference presentation, evaluation, feature desk internship, etc. 
  • For whom it was produced, especially if not evident on the work artifact itself.
  • When it was produced. If folios – publication and date – appear on the work, then explanatory dates are unnecessary. Always save and include folios with your original work, which verify that the work is legitimate.
In hard-copy portfolios, these comments should precede each item or group of similar items. So, if showing news releases you wrote for a company, start the subsection with an opening page that briefly states the what, where, when and for whom you prepared the material. In electronic portfolios, explanations could be at the top of the page showing the work. Or they could be in a side box. Maintain the pattern and style throughout the portfolio.


Fonts and Spacing

The goal in selecting fonts for the portfolio is readability and cohesion. Choose classic and easy-to-read typefaces. Avoid elaborate, cute or very thin styles. Most importantly, be consistent in all usage. Limit typefaces to two, or no more than three.

Take time to think about these decisions ahead of time to allow consistency:

  • Determine what, if any, copy will be boldface.
  • Title pages and dividers or tabs, usually in the same font.
  • Point sizes for heads, captions, organizing info (tabs) and page numbers should show consistency. Limit the number of varying sizes overall.
  • Think about the style of heads/titles. Are they in all caps or upper-and-lower case? Will they be centered, flush left or even rotated on the side?
  • Decide how much space should be between heads/titles and copy? Generally, keep heads/title and the start of copy within a few lines.
  • Decide if explanatory information will feature an extra space between paragraphs or typed single-spaced with paragraph indents.
  • In hard-copy portfolios, start any type within the top third of the page. In hard-cover portfolios, all type should be computer-generated. Never handwrite, which screams unprofessional.


Color, Art & Graphics

These design elements should be simple so as not to detract from your work artifacts and other important documents. They should complement your material and reflect your profession. Page design books available at the library can give you ideas on the specifics. Also check websites of professional design organizations, such as the Society of Newspaper Design. Look for annual prize winners in professional online, newspaper, magazine contests.

A few tips:

  • Less is more. Keep it simple but strive for elegant.
  • Tone down colors and limit number. 
  • Never underline except for links.
  • Limit photos and other art to work artifacts. Keep pics of you at a work site to your personal photo album.

Visit the Society of Newspaper Design (www) >>


Review & Revise

Ask a few people to view your portfolio to ensure that it is easy to navigate and is appropriately indexed and/or cross-referenced. Proofread and edited mercilessly. Make changes as necessary.

Don’t let the portfolio, especially the one you show employers, become too unwieldy. You don’t have to save every paragraph you write, every presentation you make. Choose your best and good work. As you progress through your career, weed out the least important and lesser quality material.