What is a profile?
A profile essay attempts to capture
the essence of a person, concept,
place, institution, tradition, process,
or anything worth knowing about.
How does this paper differ from
the narrative and descriptive
Mainly in its focus on the topic.
You’ll still use narration for
anecdotes or to depict necessary
chronology, and you’ll need to use
However, you will not focus on
your personal past but on newly
acquired, outside information.
The best profile papers have
incongruous detail; in other words,
they reveal the unexpected or the
little know behind a topic.
Example of incongruous detail…
Profiling a shoe repair shop can be
an interesting topic. Revealing the
young female cobbler who runs the
shop is an incongruity. We don’t
expect this profession to have
young women in it.
Talking with the owner of a corner
grocery might reveal a little-known
history about the business.
Profiling a glamorous profession
(cops, athletes, flight attendants,
ER doctors) and detailing the
moments that are unexpectedly
tedious and mundane will teach
the readers something new.
What kind of structure can I use?
Profiling a process will require a
narrative organization, such as that
used in “Inside the Brain” in Ch. 4.
An essay like “Soup,” which gives
overall impressions will be better
with an expository structure,
breaking the body paragraphs
down by sub-point rather than sub-
What makes a good profile
Profile essays are based on a writer's newly
• They take readers behind the scenes of familiar
places or introduce them to unusual places and
• They provide information while at the same time
arousing readers’ curiosity.
They present scenes and people
vividly and concretely through
description, action, and dialogue.
They reveal an attitude toward their
subjects and offer—implicitly or
explicitly—an interpretation of
• They create a dominant impression
of their subjects.
Ways to Research
Conduct an interview.
Visit a place, observe and take
Search sources, such as books
Do an internet search.
Prepare questions in advance.
Don’t ask yes or no questions. Ask
your interviewee to explain and
detail, even to show.
Conduct the interview in the
Take detailed notes. Perhaps use
a tape recorder.
Put your subject at ease so he or
she will reveal more.
Choose a topic that you can research
further, either by interviewing a person or
by getting secondary research from
books, periodicals or the Internet.
After gathering information, decide on
the best structure for you profile and
outline a paper. Bring that outline to
class for our rough draft session. Review
Ch 4 in both texts to see examples. Also,
review the student papers at the class
web site and on the college network.
The history behind ethnic holidays
Odd occupations (or common ones with
Interesting locale’s (parks, towns, etc.)
Hobbies and pastimes
Clubs and organizations