The Scoop on Writing Profile Articles: Thinking Like an Editor

By Lori RussellLori Russell
Successful editors have a method or checklist that they use when reviewing a manuscript for publication. To save time and to avoid having your profile article bouncing back to you with several editorial suggestions, think like an editor as you revise and edit your drafts.  
First, begin revising by looking at the big picture: 

  • Does the first paragraph grab your attention and draw you into the body of the storry?
  • Is your lead followed by a “hook” that explains what the feature is about and why someone should keep reading?
  • Do the parts of the story flow logically? Remember, your goal is to communicate your story clearly to your reader.
  • Are your transitions smooth?
  • Does the information you’ve included belong in this article?
  • Have you left any questions unanswered?
  • Does the style of the article fit the style of the publication you are writing for? 

Once you’ve looked at the big picture, it’s time to focus on the details:

  • Does each paragraph hold together and move the reader along? Every paragraph needs to have a reason for being and for being a distinct unit.
  • Got rhythm? Powerful prose contains a rhythm that comes from a variation of long and short, simple and complex sentences within a paragraph. Read your draft out loud. Can you hear the rhythm?
  • Do your verbs pack a punch? Use the strongest, most concrete verbs you can. Occasionally, the passive voice cannot be replaced, but your writing will be stronger if you put the “somebody” in the sentence first by using a subject-active verb-object construction.
  • Present participles? Use them sparingly. “We were skiing down the mountain” becomes stronger as “We skied down the mountain.” 
  • Is your verb tense consistent throughout the article and with the style of the publication you are writing for?  
  • Throw out the overloaded adjectives, adverbs, redundancies and excess words. Eliminate clichés and mixed metaphors. Forget trying to sound fancy. Keep it simple and specific.
  • Finally, look at your grammar, punctuation and spelling. Invest in a couple of good reference books and refer to them when editing your article. A few of my favorites are The Essentials of English: A Practical Handbook of Grammar and Effective Writing Techniques by Vincent Hopper, The Elements of Style by Strunk and White (also available online) and the New York Times or AP Stylebook

This month’s assignment: Imagine you are the editor at your targeted publication. Read through your article using the checklist above. How does your piece measure up? What changes can you make for a better fit? 

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.


1 Response to “The Scoop on Writing Profile Articles: Thinking Like an Editor”

  1. 1 Donna Carrick October 29, 2009 at 11:20 am

    Simply an excellent article. I’ve been building my own ‘checklist” and find it to be indispensable.

    Thank you,
    Donna Carrick

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