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How to Write a Biographical Article From an Interview


Newspaper, magazine or Web articles about a specific person or organization are called personal profiles. While profiles do not carry the same urgency as hard, breaking news, they are interesting, descriptive biographical pieces. To write your profile, you'll start with research, follow through with the famous "Five W" elements, clarify a "nut graph" or topic thesis, and then revise and polish.

Choosing Your Subject and Angle

The best subjects for a profile are people who have a unique quality or experience or are relevant to a current event; good profiles are written with a narrowed focus on important parts of the subject's life. Whether it's the person who plays the school mascot on your college campus or someone in your town who's opened a new business, interview people you do not already know well to get the best results.

Once you have chosen your subject, think about the most interesting aspect of that person. Why did you choose him or her? What drew your attention to this person? Chances are, that's your angle for the story. Keep the focus on the person, however; if you are interviewing the owner of a new business, your article should mostly be about the owner, not the business itself.

Preparation and Interviewing Your Subject

Good journalists always have some questions prepared for an interview in advance. Avoid questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no, and think about how you can get the most detailed information.

Start with the five W's -- the who, what, when, where and why/how. For example, you could ask your business owner:

Who or what inspired you to start this business? What do you enjoy most about your work? When did you get this idea? Where is your business? Why did you choose that spot? How are you planning for the future of your business?

Though you will have prepared questions, the interview in practice may feel like a conversation. If your subject says something especially interesting, follow up or ask for more. For example, if a pizza shop owner says she got her idea for her business after traveling to Italy, ask questions like "Why did you go to Italy?" and "What was the best pizza you had on your trip?" The most interesting information might come from asking for more detail.

Take lots of notes. (Tip: Ask your subject if she minds being recorded on your phone or whether you can type notes on your computer.)

Planning and Drafting Your Article

After the interview is complete, review your notes and highlight the most important information. It's time to come up with your "nut graph," or the thesis of your article. This should be one sentence or paragraph summarizing the who, what, when, where, why/how, signaling to the reader why the article is important or interesting.

For example: Rosanna DiMarco is the founder of "Pie in the Sky," a new pizza shop in Central Square that combines the idea of traditional Italian pizza with fruity, sugary pies.

Just by reading the one sentence, your reader should have an idea of who and what the rest of the article will be about: Rosanna and her pizza shop. The nut graph also addresses the location of the shop (where), the fact that it is brand new (when), and why it's interesting (fruity pizza).

Once you have written your nut graph, draft the rest of your article with details from your interview and a few quotes from the subject. Make sure the quote adds color or interest to the article; everything else, you can paraphrase.

Paraphrased information: DiMarco said she was inspired to start her pizza shop on a trip to Italy.

Quoted information: "Eating pizza was the best part of my trip!" said DiMarco. "I would sit and eat a whole pie by myself and then walk for hours around the city."

Quotes from the subject are sometimes a good way to end your piece.

Revising and Editing

After the first draft of your profile is complete, read through and cut out any words or sentences that are not essential. For example, readers need to know the type of pizza Rosanna's shop serves, but they don't need to know the names of all her employees or the price of each kind of pie.

Next, check your order: Paragraphs should usually be ordered from the most interesting or important at the top, to the least important at the bottom.

Finally, edit for correct spelling, grammar and punctuation.

About the Author

Katrina Ballard is an expansion manager for a network of high-performing charter schools based in New York, overseeing the establishment of new schools across the country. She previously taught middle school in a low-income neighborhood outside of Denver, Co., advocates for gender equality and loves to travel.

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