The Scoop on Writing Profile Articles: Mind If I Lede?

Lori Russell

By Lori Russell

Lede or lead, however you spell it, the opening paragraph of your profile draws the reader into your story and whets his or her curiosity to read further.

Having developed the profile idea and angle in your query, focused it through your research and interview, and outlined the article from start to finish, you already know what the story is about.

What aspect of the story almost tells itself?  Open with the best and truest material-the most dramatic information-and your story will take off and keep running until the last paragraph. Don’t pressure yourself to “grab” the reader. Just aim to tell your story from its heart.

Here are six examples of ledes from profile articles I’ve published to get your creative juices flowing.

1.  Anecdotes: A telling anecdote from your interview can encapsulate what the profile is all about. It introduces your subject, contains irony or drama, and makes the point you will cover in the rest of the article.

“Bright-eyed and sporting a yellow T-shirt, the young red-tailed hawk hops around its cage flapping its one good wing. It is one of the lucky ones.”

2.  Information: Start with statistics and facts that put an individual’s story in context.

“In 1948, women made up 2 percent of the US. military. Sixty years later, more than 182,000 women-11percent of the troops deployed-have served in Iraq, Afghanistan and the surrounding region. As this new group of veterans returns to civilian life, each has her own story to tell about how the military has changed for women and how each woman has been changed by service to her country.”

3. Description: A telling scene that you observed can set up what is to come.

“Just east of Thompson Park, Dan Richardson dons a pair of hip waders, stuffs a dish scrubber in his back pocket and steps into the cool water of lower Mill Creek. He is on the lookout for aquatic macro invertebrates-more commonly known as bugs-that live in the streambed.”

4. Quote: Use a great quote to introduce your subject.

“Don’t be afraid to ask questions,” Ken Karsmizki tells visitors to The Dalles Discovery Center. That advice comes from a man whose life changed the day he asked about a wooden stake driven into the Montana soil.”

5. Comparison: If the theme of your profile is two ideas, forces or trends in opposition, write it into your lede.

“When most people look at a handful of cherry pits and a couple of candle stubs, they see trash. Not Bryan Molesworth. Despite being born with a rare metabolic disorder that left him legally blind and confined to a wheelchair for much of his life, he saw an opportunity to craft a simple, yet useful, product-and to earn a buck or two.”

6. Delayed lede: Introduce the subject before her significance is revealed.

“Anna Monkiewicz’s dreams for her future took flight the day she heard that aviator Charles Lindberg had completed his solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean in 1927. At the age of 8, the daughter of a railroad man from Natick, Massachusetts, decided she, too, would one day fly above the clouds.”

Assignment: Write two or three different styles of ledes for your profile. Choose the one you like the best.

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.
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