Profiles are one of the most difficult types of articles to write—at least, that’s true for me. If you find profiles easy, then consider yourself lucky.
Difficult or not, with profiles as with any other writing, research can do a lot to pull you through.
Unless you’re a veteran writer, you may think that, in order to do a profile, you simply interview the person (if you’re profiling a person), and maybe a few other people for added interest. That’s partly true, but here’s a tip: Research the basics beforehand so you can focus on the juicy stuff during the interview.
What do I mean by basics? I mean the not-so-juicy details that form the framework of the profile. These are details like where the person was born; where they went to high school, college or grad school; what jobs they’ve held; if they’ve ever served in the military; or if they’ve ever received any honors or awards. Consider them the skeleton of your story. They’re small and mundane, but necessary. With them out of the way, you can go in ready to tackle the real muscle without wasting time on the small stuff.
Here are a few ways to research a person before a profile:
1. Obtain their resume or vita. Think about it; a resume is a person’s professional life in a one-page nutshell. Much of the basic information you need—such as education and previous employment—you’ll find in this document. Some people will have their resumes posted on their websites. Others will send them to you if you call and ask.
2. Find previous articles written about the person. If other journalists have worked to dig into this person’s life, why not reap some of the rewards? You’ll often find answers to deeper questions, which can form the foundation for even more probing questions of your own. Again, check the person’s website; website often contain articles favorable to the person. However, if you’re not after a strictly feel-good piece, you’ll also want to check other sources.
3. Read what they’ve written. If the person has written articles, books, theses, etc., you can often use them to find out a lot about the person’s personality and philosophy. If the person is a prolific writer, you probably won’t have time to read everything. However, even a snippet of their writing will be better than nothing.
Use the information you gain from these sources to form detailed, probing questions…or silly questions to lighten the mood of your article. Armed with a little knowledge, you can walk into any profile interview with confidence. You’ll appear prepared and professional—a sure hit with interviewees and editors!