How to write profiles

IMG_8468Today in magazine writing class we are going to talk about people profiles. Tips are below. Feel free to send in your suggestions.

A profile isn’t a biography. It isn’t a recounting of a person’s work history. It’s a story about some interesting aspect of a person’s life.

When choosing a profile subject, do not pick a friend, co-worker, boss or a family member because that is a conflict of interest.

Key elements of a profile include:

  • An interesting lead. You need to hook the reader right away. Try to capture the reader’s attention and then keep it.
  • Lively quotes. The reader needs to know you were there. You interviewed your subject. This isn’t some second-hand story taken from a press release or a web site.
  • Anecdotes. Funny, sad, touching or dramatic anecdotes will boost your story’s appeal. Profile stories should entertain and inform.
  • Perspective. What makes your subject worth a profile? If you are profiling a hairdresser, what made you pick this hairdresser? What makes your profile subject special? You should give your reader a clue high in the story why you are doing the profile. Sometimes it’s because a subject is exceptionally interesting. Sometimes it’s because the person has sudden been thrust into the news.
  • Background. Some description of how your subject got to this point in his or her life. You don’t need to tell your subject’s entire life story, but give some idea of the person’s journey. And try not to raise questions unless you can answer them. For instance, don’t say your subject is motivated by a great personal tragedy that occurred a decade earlier and then never tell your reader what happened. Don’t leave holes in the story.
  • Color. Some description of your subject. What does he or she look like?
  • A logical flow. Add transitions between paragraphs when needed.
  • Another point of view. Interviews with at least two people who know your subject are required. These will help enrich your profile. Keep in mind that profiles aren’t necessarily puff pieces. Just because you are writing about someone doesn’t mean you work for the person or are the person’s public relations agent. What matters is that you try to tell the truth. Your story should have balance. If a politician with a supposedly spotless record turns out to be a child molester – and you have some evidence or proof – then that’s your story.
  • Depth. Profiles sometimes take on an investigative nature. Some reporters are known to do dozens of interviews for in-depth profiles of a single person. That’s not what I’m expecting for this assignment, of course. But you should know that profiles should not be single-source stories. You shouldn’t just take your subject’s word on everything he or she says and leave it at that. You should try to bring some depth to your story.
  • News and timeliness. Profile a subject with some connection to news stories or controversial issues if possible. This will help make your profile more timely.

Tips:

  • Before your interview, learn all you can about your subject. Google your subject to see what, if anything, has been written.
  • Go to the interview with a list of questions. Try to come up with a strategy or possible angle for your story before the interview, not after.
  • Try to discover what makes your subject newsworthy. Develop a theme. Areas you might explore include your subject’s character, habits, feelings, and struggles and dreams. You want to try to discover if your subject is at a turning point in his life.
  • Dress appropriately for the interview. Establish a rapport with your subject. You may be talking to this person again, so make a good impression. Usually, the more your interview subject trusts you, the more information you’ll get.
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