Some Tips about Profile Writing

Finally, I’m able to post an article about profile writing. My computer’s hard drive died two weeks ago and ever since I’ve been anxiously awaiting the computer’s return from the shop so I could get back to work.

I’m always eager to write about writing profiles — my favorite writing specialty. Over 30 years, I’ve been fortunate enough to sell scores of profile articles about individuals, companies and programs. You can, too. For much good information about profile writing, check out Lori Russell’s articles at Writers on the Rise.

For this post, I thought I’d go in a different direction with some insights that professional writers have shared about writing profiles. I think you will find these helpful:

Interviews with notable people are always salable, but a profile of someone in your community with an unusual hobby or profession or someone who has accomplished an interesting feat is just as marketable. (Berniece Roer Neal in “The Basics of a Saleable Magazine Article.” Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Writer’s Digest and other publications.)

When Sheryl James, a Detroit Free Press writer and a Pulitzer Prize winner for feature writing, talked about profile writing to newsroom staffers, she offered these tips:

I wish there was an easy formula for me to say about profiles, but every story is different . . . The main thing you’ve got to do is look at what you have and what major themes can you exploit here and can you use throughout the story.

She also said this:

With profiles, almost more than with any story that you do, you’ve got to have time to reflect. You’ve spent all this time gathering information, reading background, and all that kind of stuff, and it’s your instinct in this business to rush right into writing. I really think you need to pause to reflect for the profile. Really think, ‘What have I got here? What don’t I have? What are the high points?'”

Shirley Biagi, author of “How to Write and Sell Magazine Articles,” (she has more than 100 articles published in popular periodicals) advises:

The best profiles are filled with candid, original quotes, so be listening for them while you are interviewing. You’ll want to use significant statements your interviewee has made, not the ho-hum or the ordinary. Call attention to material that reveals your interviewee’s intellect or emotion.”

And Michael Schumacher in “Creative Conversations,” advises you to use quotes that reveal the person’s inner self:

You are wasting your reader’s time if your profile subject’s words give information that could be found elsewhere. Readers want thoughts, opinions, emotions, and ideas — anything that tells them something they don’t already know about the true person . . . Look for quotes that only that person could have given you. Let your reader in on that person’s inner self. The result will be a well-rounded, fully developed profile.”

I strongly agree. For any profile writer, always a well-rounded, fully developed profile should be our primary goal when we sit down at the computer.

© 2009 Laverne Daley

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