How to Write a Profile Essay
A well-written profile essay gives the reader a vivid portrait of a person, place, organization or happening. It's comprehensive, balanced and sensory, capturing the details that help readers feel as though they really know the subject. A profile is a type of descriptive essay, allowing the writer more literary freedom than an expository or persuasive essay. But it's still important to plan thoroughly, organize carefully and make sure your facts stay straight.
Think about what you already know about your subject and what you can determine through preliminary research. Putting this information together gives you a better idea of what you don't already know and need to find out during the interview or at the event. Do in-depth background research. If you discover that your subject attended a particular college or held a particular job, or that an event has a history dating back several years, look for more information: what's unusual about that college, what the corporate culture is like at that company, how the event originally got started. When you spot gaps in your knowledge, make note of them as questions to be asked.
Respect Your Subject
Even if your essay is a profile of someone or something you absolutely love or don't especially like, as a good writer, you must put that aside. Strong emotions and preconceived ideas can blind you to important facts and details. If you're interviewing a person, give the interviewee an idea of the types of questions you'll be asking. (You can always throw in a few more as the conversation progresses.) If you're attending an event, make contact with the organizers first to get preliminary details and find out what aspects they consider most important and not to be missed.
Engage Your Senses, Dig Deep
A profile is a portrait, not just a recitation of facts. Be aware of taste, touch, background noise, odors, body language. These are the sensory details that help the reader feel as though she is sitting on your shoulder. Take detailed notes. If you're profiling an event, don't just talk to the people in charge, interview some of the ones who show up and find out why and what they think of the presentation.
Write Your Essay
Review your notes to get the big picture. Don't forget to include what reporters call the "nut graf," a paragraph that includes the basic facts of who, what, where, when and why, within the first three paragraphs. Organize your facts and impressions clearly and logically. Use detailed, specific descriptions: Did your subject arrive in a black Lexus or a battered Buick covered with bumper stickers? Did the event draw mostly young families or mostly teens, and how were they dressed?
To organize, use the chronological sequence of your interview conversation or attendance at the event as a general framework into which you can fit background information like puzzle pieces, forming a complete scene that leaves the reader with a thorough understanding. Read your essay aloud and check for awkward transitions, poorly constructed sentences or cliches that need correcting in a final draft.
Anne Pyburn Craig has written for a range of regional and local publications ranging from in-depth local investigative journalism to parenting, business, real estate and green building publications. She frequently writes tourism and lifestyle articles for chamber of commerce publications and is a respected book reviewer.