From about us pages to blogs, feature profiles are used to communicate a business’ brand, but also to put a human face on a business. By creating a compelling story, good profile writers can benefit from this high-need area of freelance writing.
Profile writing involves disparate parts of the brain in order to produce an emotionally involving piece. An effective profile comes from thorough research, thoughtful interview questions and an ability to organize large amounts of information into a concise story.
Here are eight steps to getting the most out of your profiles.
1. Research your subject
For my first profile assignment, I interviewed a jazz great who enjoyed a five-decade career in music. Being young and unaware of his music, I asked him how long he had been playing. The musician playfully laughed at me and replied that he had been playing most of his life. He then asked me if I knew anything about him. The feeling of embarrassment sunk the rest of my interview.
But from this defeat, I learned the importance of researching my subject.
You will need to understand your subject’s point of view before the interview begins if you hope to capture an individual’s journey.
Start by checking out their website. If the business or individual maintains a blog, you will want to read the available posts to understand their identity. This will clue you into what is important to your subject.
Explore past articles written about your subject in other publications. What is the general angle of these articles? Note if there is repetitive information. This will help differentiate yourself from previous material written about the same subject.
2. Create questions that linger
When interviewing, the worst thing you can hear from a response is “yes” or “no.”
Try to focus your questions on material that your subject is passionate about. This will allow them to go “off script” and add unique details to their story.
3. Allow your subject to do 90 percent of the talking
It may be tempting to interrupt your subject with your own commentary, ut resist this at all costs.
Interrupting cuts into your subject’s flow, which will result in glossing over important information. Through digressions, subjects will often provide entertaining stories. These stories can further illustrate your subject’s unique personality.
Do not be afraid of pauses. Often, this is when your subject is thinking about your question. Allowing them time will elicit more detailed answers.
4. Record your interviews
We tend to think we remember more than we actually do.
Memory biases can result in sloppy writing that is loose with the facts. Handwritten notes are great, but it can be difficult to record every word a subject says. Mistakes in note-taking can be costly when it comes time to write the profile.
Use a recording app to ensure that you capture your entire interview.
5. Develop your angle
Profiles need an angle, or a specific focus to sustain the reader’s attention.
A unique angle will set your profile apart from the other material written on the same subject. Use an angle that is newsworthy or contains the essence of the business’ philosophy. Profiles that are simply a list of things that happened are rarely interesting.
When reviewing your interview and notes, find a theme that links together the material. For example, if your subject talks about failures that led to their success, the theme of persistence in the face of failure can serve as a good angle.
6. Find pull quotes that move the story
Quotes are not used to fill up space. Use quotes to tell your story, using the subject’s words to develop the profile’s main points.
Each section of a profile should contain at least one quote that ties the material together.
Find pithy, meaningful quotes to provide maximum effect. Reserve the best quote that best encapsulates your angle and use this for your concluding paragraph. This leaves the reader with a clear picture of the main theme that you are trying to get across.
7. Tell the story
Remember that you are telling a story, which must contain a beginning, middle and end.
A scattershot piece with no clear timeline will confuse the reader.
Create an outline or storyboard so you can keep track of the direction of your story. In your outline, include quotes so that you can shape your story around your subject’s words.
8. Check your facts (and check them again)
Getting information wrong is an embarrassing moment from a writer, especially if you hear it from your subject.
You are responsible for presenting facts as truthfully as possible. If you are unsure of certain information, contact your subject and ask. They will appreciate the effort. Don’t throw away your credibility by failing to fact-check your piece.
Profile writing is a great way to flex all of your writer muscles in one assignment. Over time, you will develop a knack for interviewing, which is helpful in any situation. With the right amount of preparation, organization, and detail, you can paint the perfect picture of your subject.
Have you had any good or bad experiences with writing a profile? Share your victories or your embarrassments in the comments.