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What Is a Profile?
A profile is a written portrait of a person. Often, a profile is published as a narrative non-fiction article in a newspaper, magazine, or website. The story is based on facts discovered through research as well as interviews with the subject and their friends, family, or professional associates. A profile piece is meant to be informative. It is a portrait of the person through a combination of stories, quotes, and photographs.
10 Tips for Writing a Profile of a Person
Capturing the essence of a person through words takes good observation and writing skills. Follow these 10 tips to learn how to write a profile:
- Read other profiles. To know how to write a profile essay, read how other writers do it. Find feature profiles in the New Yorker. You can also find personality profiles throughout The New York Times, particularly in the Sunday edition of the paper. Look for what information the writer presents about their subject. At the end of the piece, see if you have any lingering questions about the person to make sure you fill those gaps in your own story.
- Do your prep work. When you know who the subject of your piece is, start doing some prep work. Research the person. If they’re well-known, it will be easy to find information online. It’s important to use reputable websites in order to find accurate information—this will also save you effort when you or an editor fact-check the article before it’s published. The second part of your prep work will be writing out the questions you want to ask your subject. After doing your research and have read other articles, ask questions other writers haven’t asked yet.
- Create an outline. Before you get started, create an outline for your story. Use bullet points to highlight the main points you want to make in your article. You should also figure out the angle of your story. When a journalist writes a story, they have some kind of news angle to their piece—a focus that pulls the article together. This will help you determine what information you need to find out from your subject.
- Interview your subject. When you write a profile, you’ll meet with your subject and interview them at least once but usually several times for a big feature story. Be prepared with your questions but also be ready to follow the natural flow of the conversation. Ask questions during your meeting that you think readers will want to know. Pose questions that will encourage your subject to tell a story. Ask them to share anecdotes. Avoid yes or no questions. You want them to open up. Make sure to record and transcribe the entire interview. As you review their answers on paper or on your computer, highlight the best quotes.
- Observe your subject in their environment. When you’re writing a profile of somebody, you need to spend time with them on their turf. Your profile piece should capture them in their environment and allow readers to see their world. If you’re writing about a musician, you might meet them at home but also go to the studio with them to watch how they compose a song. Make several trips to become acquainted with your subject—it might take a lot of time for them to let their guard down and be themselves around you.
- Start with a strong lede. As you gather your information and write your profile, you must start strong. Your opening line and paragraph, otherwise known as your lede, needs to capture the reader’s attention. You’re setting the scene for your article and creating a first impression of this person, so make sure you hook your readers from the start.
- Incorporate direct quotes. While you’re crafting this piece with your own words, you need to show your subject’s point of view. Quote them extensively in this piece. As a general rule of thumb, try to use a few quotes for every topic you cover in the profile. It can be a good idea to let your subject have the last word and end with a quote. On top of the subject’s quotes, you’ll be interviewing others who know this person, like friends, family, and associates. Their stories can contribute interesting information to your piece.
- Tell a story. Like any other piece you write, good profiles have a beginning, middle, and end. Use a narrative writing style. Use descriptive language. Your subject is your main character, so develop them for your reader. Include any interesting tidbits and background information about their life, like obstacles they’ve overcome. This will help illustrate what motivates them.
- Reveal new information. Write a unique, great profile that gives the reader fascinating takeaways about the person. If you’re writing about someone famous, they’ve most likely been interviewed before. Find additional information that hasn’t been published that makes them more compelling to your readers and gives your story a unique approach. If you’ve crafted great questions, you’ll be able to uncover fascinating information about your subject’s life.
- Show, don’t tell. Many profile articles will include the writer’s experience of meeting their subject and conducting the interview. In that case, you’ll write the story in first person, including yourself in the narrative. Describe the experience using sensory details of the person and their environment. Capture what the person is like in real life to let readers feel like they know this person.
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