Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Tips for Writing Dynamic Profile Articles

Are you writing a profile article? I have published many types of writing, ranging from poetry, to fiction, to feature articles, and one of my favorite types of nonfiction writing is the profile article. What is a profile? An in-depth description of someone's life, art, passion, family, origins, challenges, triumphs, etc. I find people fascinating, so of course writing about them is always a thrill. In the last ten years alone, I have written about teachers, chefs, accountants, dancers, dogwalkers, therapists, entrepreneurs, environmentalists, authors, and many others.

One of the best profiles I read recently was the New Yorker's in-depth story and dual profile about Tyler Clementi and Dharun Ravi, which was both poignant and emotional, and left me feeling like I had met them both, and actually witnessed the frightening escalation of events at Rutgers. If any of you read it and have comments, please share here.

In any case, over time I've learned some of these key factors in making your profile article unique and multidimensional:

Follow publication guidelines.

Every publication, whether print or online, has guidelines both in terms of the writing, graphics, length, style, etc. Pay attention to these details, as not following their style can interfere with your chances of getting the next assignment, even if your writing is great.

If you are doing a direct interview put the person you are interviewing at ease.

Your interview subject is probably not going to share with you any worthwhile stories or details about their life if they don't feel comfortable with you. Take a few minutes before the start of the interview to get to know them, and share a bit about yourself so you can develop a rapport with them. It's important not to rush, and allow them to express themselves at their own pace. Another way to establish trust is to be consistent and do what you said you would. If you said it would take an hour, then take an hour. If you said you wouldn't ask about something that was private, don't ask it.

Do your homework.

Just as you wouldn't walk into a job interview knowing nothing about the company, you would not waltz into an interview with your profile candidate without having researched their background already. If they are authors, read their books. If they are entrepreneurs, study their websites or products.

Start with an exciting lead.

No one is going to continue reading if they are bored by a generic and ordinary lead. How interesting can you make your first line, sentence, and paragraph? Starting with an interesting quote, unusual statistic, or a surprising statement, will create interest in your topic and profile subject.

It's all in the (quirky) details.

Great writing is about the descriptive details, which make characters and situations come to life. Make sure you get the relevant details to bring your profile story alive. If your profile is a chef, what are their favorite ingredients and tools? If they are musicians or artists, what inspires them each day? What are the colors, lights, sounds, and textures of their world?

Get a great quote, or tweet.

Everyone's voice is different. Your job is to capture the unique voice of your subject, by selecting those quotes that reveal their personality the most. Experienced speakers already seem to instinctively speak in tweets.

Take notes effectively.

Find a notetaking program that you like, and stick with it. Some prefer to take notes by hand, and that's fine if it works for them. Others might use their iPads or notebok computers. I like the notepad on the iPad2, which allows me to email myself the notes afterwards, and also keeps them on file for future reference. Evernote fans already know how cool that is for notetaking and file sharing. Lately, I've been using my Flip video camera to film my subjects, and then I just replay it afterwards as I need to make sure I have quotes and factual information correct. The video then works as a nice upload for my YouTube channel and blog. Another trick I learned is that if I am at a live event, live tweeting, I can use my tweets from the session as a record of what was said, and take a screenshot of the twitterstream for an interesting graphic.

Write a draft and take a break.

No matter how thrilled you are with what you've written, or if you aren't thrilled and want to do a rewrite, most of us benefit from taking a break--overnight if possible-- so you can review your article in a fresh light. This is a great chance to spellcheck and check for typos, tweak any sentences, and make sure you have followed the stylesheet.

What are your tips? Did I miss anything? Comment here.


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