Tips on Writing Profiles

If you haven’t listened to my 12-minute podcast on writing profiles (see the PDFs & Podcasts page of this blog), here are a few quick tips on writing profiles:

  • Pick a focus: You can’t tell a person’s whole life story in a 350-500-word profile — so don’t even try. Instead, review your notes and look for what’s most interesting, what stands out to you. Look for the things the person you interviewed is passionate about. Look for what motivates that person. That should be your focus.
  • Where to start: Look over your notes — what’s the most interesting thing the person told you (or that you observed about the person)? It could be an meaningful event the person described to you, an anecdote the person told you, or something interesting the person did that relates to the focus (see above) of your profile. Consider turning that into your lead.
  • Write an engaging lead: This is a good opportunity for you to practice writing a feature-style lead.Take the most interesting thing you’ve got and see if you can turn it into a feature lead.
  • Include some description: Be sure to include some description of the person you’re profiling to help the reader visualize that person. What does this person look like? Sound like? Does the person gesture when he or she talks? Pick a few details that characterize this person and weave them into your profile.
  • Include some quotes: Let the person you’ve interviewed “speak” in his or her own words by including some direct quotes in your profile.
  • Keep yourself out of the story: Do not write your profile in the first person. That’s puts the focus on you, the interviewer, instead of where it belongs — on the person being profiled. (If your profile includes phrases like “when I asked Fred about …” or “I noticed that she …” or “Lisa Smith told me that …” — you are writing it in the first person. Go back and remove all references to yourself.)
  • Proofread: Double-check your spelling, grammar and AP style, and be sure you’ve used proper quote format.

If you follow these guidelines, you should end up with an interesting profile that you — and your subject — can be proud of.