The Basics of the Magazine Tear Sheet

Young woman at bookstall with magazine, mid section
Getty Images/Hitoshi Nishimura

Editors of every publication, whether it's Men's Health or Vogue, will send a tear sheet to a freelance writer that has had their work published. A tear sheet is exactly what it sounds like: It is a sheet of paper torn from a magazine. In the 20th Century, editors would literally tear an article out of their magazine and drop it into the mail. While composition and delivery changed with the advent of the digital age, the purpose has not.

How Writers Use Tear Sheets

Tear sheets are used by writers to create instant credibility, authority and (in some cases) celebrity status.This is how a writer "proves" and "validates" his or her work. Writers compile their tear sheets together to create a portfolio of their work as a means to get future work. Tear sheets should also accompany every query letter a writer sends out. Writers use either an electronic PDF copy to send to prospective employers or they can supply an editor with the URL to link directly to the online copy. Sending a "digital tear sheet" isn't always possible because not all of the print edition of a magazine is always posted online. And in some cases, the online version is only accessible by subscription. A writer must therefore always have a stand-alone PDF version of their work. If a writer is technologically-challenged and not adept at creating quality electronic versions of their work there are workshops devoted to this and tech pros that can help.

The World of Tear Sheets 

Some people associate tear sheets with modeling because every model needs a high-end, graphically-appealing professional portfolio to show off their work. Many models still go old-school and put their tear sheets into black portfolios with handles so they can easily carry them to interviews. These black portfolios can be purchased at any art and supply store (or online). In addition to hand-held portfolios, models also need an electronic PDF version of all their work to what someone's interest and for sharing their work internally in the company from which they're seeking work.

Tear sheets are also used in the world of advertising. Media buying agencies are often required by clients to provide tear sheets along with a post analysis of any advertising campaign, no matter how big or small the advertising budget. In some cases, the editor will send the entire magazine, or what's called a "courtesy copy."

In finance, tear sheets provide a one-page summary of a company or portfolio containing current and historical information on the company such as market cap, sector, a paragraph of the historic share price. These tear sheets are also referred to as "Fund Fact Sheets." 

Whatever your profession, a tear sheet is the best way to "validate" what you have to offer.