Archive for January 14th, 2009

The Scoop on Writing Profile Articles: Anatomy of a Profile

Lori RussellBy Lori Russell

I am a curious person by nature and I love a good story. Give me a one-on-one conversation with someone and I’m in my element listening carefully and asking lots of questions. Most begin with “Would you tell me more about…” or “Why?”

Because people fascinate me, it is not surprising that when I began writing nonfiction, I was naturally drawn to profile articles. A profile article explores the background and character of a person, group or business. Whether the focus is on a news angle or a single aspect of the subject’s personal or professional life, a profile gives the reader a greater understanding of the subject through the lens of his or her personal interests, career, and educational and family background.

Some may call me a snoop, but my professional moniker as a profile writer gives me a legitimate reason to contact total strangers and ask them about their lives and their interests. Everyone has a story and profile writers help tell them to the world (or at least to the readers of the magazines and newspapers they write for). You can, too. Here’s the basic structure of a profile article:

Bait, hook, lead-whatever you call it
Your profile article starts with an intriguing beginning that draws your reader into your story. Like with good fiction, a profile lead grabs the action and puts the reader in the middle of it. It can be an anecdote, pure information, a description, a quote, a question or a comparison. The lead can flashback to what the person’s life or a business was like in the past or what is happening in the present.

Unlike news articles, profiles do not need to answer the standard questions of who, what, when, where, why, and how in the first paragraph. Also known as a “nut graf,” this paragraph explains who your article is about and why this person is interesting. In a profile, it is usually found following the lead.

Building a Great Body
The body of a profile article, whether organized thematically or chronologically, weaves background material with details and quotes. In a narrative profile, you may want to include comments from additional or secondary sources such as family, friends or colleagues. In the Q & A format, your interview is only with the subject.

Wrapping it up
Unlike news articles that conclude when all the info has been presented in an inverted pyramid form, profile articles-like essays and fiction-need closure. An easy way to wrap up is with a circular ending, which refers back to your lead or the article’s subject or thesis. Another easy way to end is with a descriptive scene or a summary statement. An interesting quote from your subject will leave his  voice in your readers’ heads long after they complete the article.

Subjects for profile articles are everywhere. This month as you move through your days, make a list of the interesting people you meet or already know. Then ask yourself: “What careers, hobbies or experiences do they have that others might want to know about?”

Lori Russell has written profiles about people, their passions and their places for more than a decade. Her nonfiction articles have been published online and in magazines and newspapers around the country. She is a contributing editor for Columbia Gorge Magazine, a regular contributor to Ruralite magazine and has co-written the “In the Spotlight’ column for WOTR for the past two years. She is currently enjoying a writing residency teaching memoir writing to high school students through Columbia Gorge Arts in Education, an organization that brings professional writers and artists to the public schools. Learn more at Story Behind the Words, Lori’s new blog.

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