Researching Profile Articles

Over the years, I’ve paid for lots of shoes and cornflakes by writing profiles.

Among those were profiles on a banker who wrote poetry in his spare time, a physician who fights against the dangers of tanning beds, a ball player who started a popular automobile publication, a restaurant operator who is an expert on Japanese arms and armor, a college professor who is an advocate for children. You get the idea — my profiles focus on one aspect that makes a person unique.

I know there are writers who produce full-blown profiles of people, interviewing them several times, often interviewing their friends, family and co-workers as well. Some writers spend days with a subject before producing a single word of their article. Their profiles may cover many pages in a publication and bring the writers big bucks.

I prefer to write relatively short pieces focusing in on an individual and a particular interest in his or her life. Some pieces run as few as 200 or 300 words; others make require 1,500 to 2,000 words to tell their story. And although the payment is less than some other writers get, editors seem to like my shorter articles. I think they are easy to sell, they can bring in steady income, and sometimes I can sell multiple versions of the article to non-competing publications, all based on my original research.

Usually I had read bits about of these people and wanted to know more. Much of the information I use comes from interviews, backed up with research from news articles, reviews, and internet sources. In every case, I know it’s vital to do my homework before the interview.

Early in my freelance writing career, I soaked up everything I could find about profile writing, especially tips about interviewing. I’ve saved much of that information, including the following that I found in an article by David A. Fryzell, a New Mexico publisher, five or six years ago. I think you’ll find the tips helpful, too.

1. Research your topic thoroughly before the interview, looking especially for background information you can use to focus your article.

2. Outline your proposed article before you interview so you’ll know questions that need to be answered at the interview.

3. Don’t ask questions to which you already know the answers. Ask only those questions that fill in the blanks in your research.

4. When you set up the interview, request a press kit or press release and read previous articles and books about the subject.

5. Try writing a mock headline and subheads to focus the point of your article.

Five great tips. I’ve always found the last two to be especially helpful.

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