I am a curious person by nature and I love a good story. Give me a one-on-one conversation with someone and I’m in my element listening carefully and asking lots of questions. Most begin with, “Would you tell me more about … ” or, “Why?”
Because people fascinate me, it is not surprising that when I began writing nonfiction, I was naturally drawn to profile articles. A profile article explores the background and character of a person, group or business.
Whether the focus is on a news angle or a single aspect of the subject’s personal or professional life, a profile gives the reader a greater understanding of the subject through the lens of his or her personal interests, career, and educational and family background.
Some may call me a snoop, but my professional moniker as a profile writer gives me a legitimate reason to contact total strangers and ask them about their lives and their interests.
Everyone has a story, and profile writers help tell these tales to the world. You can, too. Here is the basic structure of a profile.
Bait, Hook, Lead … Whatever You Call It
Your profile starts with an intriguing beginning that draws your reader into your story. Like with good fiction, a profile lead grabs the action and puts the reader in the middle of it.
It can be an anecdote, pure information, a description, a quote, a question or a comparison. The lead can flash back to what the person’s life or a business was like in the past or what is happening in the present.
Unlike news articles, profiles do not need to answer the standard questions of who, what, when, where, why and how in the first paragraph. Also known as a “nut graph,” this paragraph explains who your article is about and why this person is interesting. In a profile, it is usually found following the lead.
Building a Great Body
The body of a profile—whether organized thematically or chronologically—weaves background material with details and quotes.
In a narrative profile, you may want to include comments from additional or secondary sources such as family, friends or colleagues. In the Q & A format, your interview is only with the subject.
Wrapping It Up
Unlike news articles that conclude when all the information has been presented in an inverted pyramid form, profile articles—such as essays and fiction—need closure.
An easy way to wrap up is with a circular ending, which refers back to your lead or the article’s subject or thesis. Another easy way to end is with a descriptive scene or a summary statement. An interesting quote from your subject will leave his voice in your readers’ heads long after they complete the article.
Subjects for profile articles are everywhere. This month as you move through your days, make a list of the interesting people you meet or already know. Then ask yourself: “What careers, hobbies or experiences do they have that others might want to know about?”
Lori Russell has written profiles about people, their passions and their places for more than two decades. A regular Ruralite magazine contributor, she been published in magazines and newspapers nationally. Contact her at LRussell@gorge.net.