Profile Part II: Putting It Together


Now that you are familiar with the structure and content of profiles, you are ready to write one of your own. The following will show you how to apply the ideas and genre elements presented earlier in this chapter to develop your profile essay. Even if you do not complete the following profile, reading through the steps should help you get started on your own project.

Summary of Assignment: A Profile in Courage or Other Admirable Trait

For this assignment, you will develop an essay that profiles the courage—or another admirable aspect—of someone or something associated with your college campus. You will create a profile of a person, group, place, or event that exemplifies the admirable aspect as you define it. For your profile, you will conduct the specific kinds of research done by profile writers: interviews, field research, and secondary research from credible sources.

Once you have compiled your research, you will decide on the focus and angle of your piece, then plan and develop your draft. You will also participate in peer review to receive guidance for any needed revisions. Throughout the process, you will focus on developing an essay that shows readers how your subject exemplifies the admirable trait you have chosen.

Another Lens. Another option for this assignment is a group writing project for your class or smaller groups within the class. Your instructor will decide whether the project will be completed by the whole class or smaller groups. With your peers, you will write a collaborative profile on the courage of your class or group as a whole, showing how you all exemplify courage together. All students will contribute anecdotes about courage from their own lives in addition to conducting all other research on which profiles are based. The class or group will then work together to organize, draft, revise, edit, and proofread the collective composition.

Defining the Admirable Trait

Before beginning your profile, choose the admirable trait on which you will focus, and then create your own definition of it. This definition will help you select your subject and focus your research. Consider including the definition in your final product as well.

First, to decide on the trait, follow these steps:

  • Set a timer for five minutes. During that time, write or record a comprehensive list of traits you admire in other people. Include a wide range of possibilities, such as “humor,” “generosity,” “patience,” and so on. To generate a robust list, think also of the people you admire and then pinpoint the attributes you admire about them.
  • Consider all of the traits you have listed, and select one to focus on for this project.

Next, use one or more of the following methods to begin defining the aspect of the subject that you admire:

  • Think about the admirable trait you have chosen, and write down a few words or phrases that you associate with it.
  • Assemble a collage of images that make you think of the admirable trait.
  • Write brief notes about moments when you have personally shown the trait you are focusing on—or about times you have seen others exhibit this trait.

Looking at all of these notes, write your personal definition of the admirable trait. Your draft definition will probably evolve as you develop your profile. If so, great! That means you have been thinking more about the idea.

Here is a sample definition of an admirable trait: Kindness is grace in action; it shows itself when people are willing to truly listen to others and to understand the world from another vantage point. People embody kindness when they choose to respond gently rather than angrily or when they help others without complaining.

Choosing a Subject

Now that you have a working definition of the trait you are using to focus your profile, you can choose your subject. Members of the campus community are usually willing subjects: professors, librarians, resident assistants, alumni, staff, and coaches, to name a few. You might also consider buildings, public spaces, or public art on campus. In addition, the local community may contain potential subjects—for example, business owners, city administrators, and other local individuals, groups, or events peripherally associated with your school. Also, consider discussing your project with an archivist if one is available on campus or in your community; these specialist librarians always have interesting subjects to recommend for research. Follow these steps to choose a subject:

  • Jot down notes about intriguing buildings, public spaces, pieces of public art, people, events, and groups on or near campus.
  • Do a quick online search—perhaps on the campus website—to see what information is available about several potential subjects that most intrigue you. Remember that this research is simply to narrow your options; you will conduct more careful and thorough research after making your final choice.
  • Having gathered preliminary information, consider which potential subject best relates to the definition of the admirable trait you have developed and which subject most interests you.

Now weigh the factors you have considered here, and choose the subject you would most like to pursue. If you are having trouble choosing between two subjects, discuss your options with your instructor or with someone in the campus writing center. Once you have cho

Image 2.2  Carmichael Library, University of Montevallo, April 19, 2007. Professor Art Scott Stephens speaks to research students at the Prints and Poems program. (credit: “Prints and Poems 2007” by carmichaellibrary from used according to CC BY 2.0.)

sen a subject, you can plan your research. You will need to schedule interviews, field observations, and time for secondary research before you begin organizing your findings and drafting your paper.

Profile writers learn as much about their subjects as possible. Be sure to take advantage of all available sources of information and follow up on new leads wherever you find them. After completing your research, you will be able to refine your angle and draft your piece. As you gather your research, keep your target audience in mind, and look for details about your subject that will interest them. For example, Carla D. Hayden included information about events in which John Lewis participated at the Library of Congress. These details would interest Library of Congress blog readers, the audience for this piece.


For your profile, you will need to complete three kinds of research: interviews, field research, and secondary research. These types of research are outlined in Table 2.1 for efficient planning and discussed in detail below.

Table 2.1 Research Planning Calendar
Plan Your Research Calendar


  • If you can speak to your subject, find their contact information.
  • If you cannot speak directly to your subject, make a list of professionals with knowledge about your subject, and decide which person to contact first. One or two interviews should provide enough information for this assignment.
  • In either case, compose a professional email (see below) to respectfully ask for a brief phone call, video conference, or in-person meeting. Send these emails as soon as you have chosen your subject so that you have time to schedule the interview before you begin drafting.

Field Research

  • If your subject is a person, send a professional email (see below) to ask when you might observe them doing their job.
  • If your subject is not a person, decide when to be in the space to make your field notes. Be sure to obtain any needed permission to be in the space.
  • In both cases, set aside 30 minutes to an hour to make your field notes using thick descriptions (explained below).

Secondary Research

  • Set aside time for several research sessions to find credible information about your subject. For research guidance, refer to Chapters Research Process: Accessing and Recording Information and Annotated Bibliography: Gathering, Evaluating, and Documenting Sources.
  • If you have trouble finding the information you need, contact one of your research librarians; they would be happy to help.

Professional Email Standards

Before you begin to do research, you will need to contact people via email about setting up interviews or gathering other necessary information. To come across as a credible researcher, follow professional email protocol when contacting subjects for interviews or other information. Subjects will take you and your requests far more seriously when you follow the protocols in Table 2.2

Table 2.2 Email Protocols
Professional Email
Take care to use professional email etiquette when contacting potential interview subjects.
  • Subject Line. Your subject line, like an essay title, should represent your main point.
  • Salutation. Open with a polite greeting; use the person’s title or honorific (such as Mr., Ms., Mrs., or Dr.).
  • Introduction. Introduce yourself to the person. Your name will appear in the signature line; here, offer information that shows the relationship you have to the request.
  • Statement of Purpose. State your purpose clearly.
  • Statement of Request. Make a polite request.
  • Next Steps. Say what you would like to happen next.
  • Closing. Include a polite closing line, use a professional complimentary close, and type your full name.
  • Subject: Interview Request
  • Dear Dr. Kamau,
  • I am a student in Dr. Liu’s first-year composition class. I am researching the English Language Institute (ELI) on campus to write a profile on tenacity in relation to the ELI.
  • I am writing to ask for a brief interview with you to find out more about the ELI.
  • Would you have 15 minutes within the next week to speak with me by phone or video conference?
  • I hope to hear from you soon.
  • Thank you for considering this request.
    [Best, Regards, Sincerely, Yours]
    Sylvia Varela


Talking with your subject—or a professional who knows a great deal about your subject—is often the best place to start your research. Interviews generally fall into the category of primary research or research you collect directly for yourself. Try to interview your profile subject directly if the subject is a person. You also may find interviews with or about your subject that journalists have completed and published, though these would not be primary research. If you are unable to interview your subject directly, try to interview someone who has credible information about your subject; such interviews would be primary research as well. People who know, live, and work with your subject can provide additional, helpful background information. Try to set up a few short interviews with these people to deepen your insights.

The easiest way to conduct an interview is to schedule a brief, informal conversation in a comfortable setting. For a successful interview, have questions prepared and be ready to take notes as you talk. Table 2.3 contains sample questions you might ask. To add to this list, think about your preliminary research and the definition of the admirable trait you are using for your profile.


Note that you will need to cite any interviews you conduct, both within the text and in the Works Cited list. The Works Cited entry for an interview will read as follows:

[Last name of interviewee], [First name of interviewee]. Personal interview. Day Month (abbreviated) Year.

Table 2.3
Interview Planning Worksheet

If you are interviewing your subject:

  • What have you been doing or thinking about recently?
  • What about your work/hobby/area of focus is most interesting to you?
  • What aspect of your work/hobby/area of focus has surprised you?
  • What do you wish people knew about your work/ hobby/area of focus?
  • How might you define [the admirable trait]?
  • How do you see the idea of [the admirable trait] relating to your work/hobby/area of focus?
  • As I was preparing for this interview, I learned <WOL>. Could you tell me more about that?

If you are interviewing someone about your subject:

  • How did you learn about this subject?
  • What is the most fascinating part about this subject for you?
  • What should people know about this subject that may be overlooked?
  • How might you define [the admirable trait]?
  • Do you see the idea of [the admirable trait] relating to this subject? If so, how?
  • As I was preparing for this interview, I learned <WOL>. Could you tell me more about that?

Thick Description

Another form of primary research is field observation. If at all possible, observe your subject in their element—watch them (with permission!) during their workday, spend an extended period of time in a related space, or watch available videos of your subject. In all cases, take thorough and detailed notes to create a thick description or a careful record of every sensory detail you can capture—smells, sounds, sights, textures, physical sensations, and perhaps tastes. This thick description can provide meaningful details to illuminate the points in your piece. Meticulously record all sensory information about your subject and its setting, writing in-depth notes about what you see, smell, hear, feel, and taste. Remember to use words that express size, shape, color, texture, and sound. If you are taking notes on a person, describe their clothing, gestures, and physical characteristics. At the same time, take note of the interview setting. If the interview takes place in a neutral space, the setting can provide a backdrop for the profile. If the interview setting is a person’s room or apartment, record the details that tell the most about your subject’s special interests. If you are not used to taking these kinds of notes, practice doing so by following the steps in Table 2.4.

Table 2.4 Field notes and thick description guide
Practice Field Notes and Thick Description

Practice creating field notes with a peer. Take about 10 minutes to record as much sensory information as possible.

  • What do you hear, close by and farther away?
  • What do you feel? Are there specific textures in your surroundings?
  • What do you smell? What seems to be the source of the smells?
  • Can you taste anything?
  • What do you see? Describe the space as well as your peer (without judgment).

When the 10 minutes are up, discuss the experience with your peer. Use these techniques to enliven the points you make in your profile.

You will also need to cite your field notes, both within the text and in the Works Cited list. The Works Cited entry for the field notes should be arranged according to this model:

[Your last name], [Your first name]. Field notes. [Name of the department you are affiliated with], [Name of your university], Day Month (abbreviated) Year. Raw data.

Secondary Research and Other Written and Published Information

Profile writers supplement their primary research findings through secondary research or research that others have completed and published. Ensure that any supplemental information you use comes from credible sources; these include peer-reviewed journals for academic sources and well-established, highly regarded organizations for public and nonacademic ones. Keep careful records of this research so that you can cite each source appropriately. Use the tools available from the Modern Language Association and Purdue’s OWL.

Additionally, ask your subject for their résumé and any writing samples they may have developed. While this type of research may not be available about your subject, as many ordinary people have not published anything, find and read any existing publications on or about your subject. Additionally, you can focus your secondary research on information related to your subject rather than on your subject specifically. For example, Carla D. Hayden, in writing the profile of John Lewis, could have researched Bloody Sunday more generally, or she could have found secondary research about the AIDS quilt to which she refers. To see how authors can use such secondary research, read the sample of student work that appears in the next chapter.

Synthesizing Research

After you have completed your research, the next step is to synthesize it or put it all together. You can simplify this task by filling in a graphic organizer, such as Table 2.5, with your findings and potential angles you might take in your profile.

Table 2.5 Synthesizing Table
Synthesizing: Putting Your Research Together
Source Element Potential Angle
List your sources by type: List the elements you can draw from the sources—quotations, anecdotes, facts, background information, contextual information: List potential angles you could take relating to the information in the other columns:
Field observation location and date
Sources from secondary research

 Consider the Angle

Figure 2.1 Planning web (Credit: “Planning Web” by Rice University from OpenStax, used under CC BY 4.0.)

After completing and synthesizing your research, consider your information carefully to decide on the most compelling angle and supporting information for your audience. While your general angle is the idea of the admirable trait in relation to your subject, aim to develop a personal insight within that focus. Brainstorm different points you can make about the trait that may surprise and engage your audience. Review the table you completed for synthesizing information, and then complete a web diagram such as Figure 2.1 with possible ideas.


After considering your notes and the completed web, decide which angle will work best. To help you make that decision, consider the information you have gathered so far and potential audience appeal. Review the model texts in this chapter to determine how each presents a unique angle on its subject.

Drafting: Finalizing and Supporting Your Angle

Remember that the writing process is recursive, meaning you will move back and forth among the steps in the process multiple times rather than progress through each step only once. For example, you may decide to conduct a bit more research while you are drafting or after you have received feedback from peer review. To include this new research, you may need to rearrange the structure of your draft. As you draft, keep focused on your angle at all times. Losing focus and including irrelevant material may weaken your profile and cause readers to lose interest in the subject.


As discussed earlier, profiles can be organized in several ways: chronologically, spatially, or topically. Review the information you inserted in response to Table 2.1, along with your admirable trait definition, to decide which organizational strategy would work best for your piece. Then use the following sections to organize the introduction, body, and conclusion of your work. When organizing your draft, think about where to place each piece of information to convey your points most effectively. Rather than using a strict chronological structure throughout your draft, you may find your piece is more effective if you begin with a topical structure and then provide some information chronologically.

Introduction and Thesis

Like introductions in most of the writing you do, the profile introduction establishes some background and context for readers to understand your main point. Think about what readers need to know in order to appreciate your angle, and include that information in the introduction. Some writers prefer to compose their introductions first, whereas others wait until after they have developed a draft of the body. Whichever strategy you use, be sure that the introduction engages readers so that they want to continue reading. Refer to the sample texts in this chapter for models of introductory texts.

Remember, too, that your thesis should appear as the last sentence or close to the end of the introduction. For the profile, your thesis would be a sentence or two explaining your angle. For example:

  • [Name of subject] showed [the admirable trait] not only in [doing something that shows the trait] but even more so by refusing to [accept or participate in something].
  • [Name of subject] plays a unique part in the [history, life, culture] of [place, group] because [reason for angle].

Try one of these models, or a variation of it, as the first draft of your thesis.

Body Paragraphs

Each body paragraph should support the angle you have taken, advancing your thesis or main point. For each paragraph, synthesize details—examples, anecdotes, quotations, location, background information, or descriptions of events—from more than one source to support your angle. By including all of these elements, necessary explanations, and a combination of narrative and reporting, you will create the strongest possible profile piece.

In each paragraph, consider drawing on the following:

  • Show and Tell. In balancing between interviews and biographies, profile writers use both narrative and reporting techniques—that is, they both show and tell readers information about the subject. As you read your notes, decide which elements you will use to show readers something about your subject and which elements you will simply report.
  • Quoted Material. If your subject has said something in a memorable way, present their words directly to readers. Doing so increases your readers’ sense of the subject’s voice.
  • Anecdotes. Very brief scenarios or stories about something your subject has done or about the subject itself contribute to readers’ understanding. Often, anecdotes reflect field research, showing the subject “in action” or reflecting what others think about the subject. For example, Carla D. Hayden relates anecdotes about John Lewis’s actions leading 600 protesters in Selma, Alabama.
  • Background Information. You may have one or more paragraphs in which you present background information—but only information that is relevant to the profile. If you highlight an individual’s success or their contributions to society or a cause, then that person’s humble beginnings may be relevant as a contrast. Hayden mentions Lewis’s impoverished youth for this reason. Including background information helps readers place the subject in time and within their culture.
  • Location. Placing your subject in a setting, in either the past or the present, helps readers understand and visualize the subject in a particular context. Be sure to include location in at least one body paragraph.

The sample text in the next chapter provides models for you to use when developing your draft. Use a graphic organizer like Table 2.6 to identify the following profile genre elements in one or more of the model texts featured in this chapter. Remember that single paragraphs often synthesize more than one type of information and use more than one strategy.

Table 2.6 Strategy table
Strategies Used in the Sample Texts Example of the Strategy That You Found in One or More Sample Texts
Draw the reader in with a brief, compelling description of the subject.
Offer quoted material.
Connect to both current and historical contexts.
Offer background information.
Use narrative or storytelling techniques.
Use reporting techniques, providing supporting facts and answering questions of who, what, when, where, why, and how.
Provide a brief anecdote.
Offer “thick description” from field notes.
Synthesize information from multiple sources within a paragraph.

Additionally, tone, a writer’s attitude toward their subject, is particularly important in profiles because it conveys authenticity to readers. If you praise a subject but your tone or attitude reflects detachment or lack of interest, readers will notice the discrepancy. Hayden’s attitude toward her subject, John Lewis, is one of respect and admiration. If you are writing about someone courageous, then your tone will probably be similar to hers. Remember, though, that you are the narrator, and thus you set the tone. If you insert quotations from people who don’t think as you do, make sure that doing so suits your purpose. By including information in the areas covered above and maintaining a consistent and appropriate tone, you will have the basis of a strong and engaging profile.


The conclusion is your opportunity to pull all the points of the essay together. Many writers like to restate the main point they have sustained throughout the essay in the conclusion. Another strong move for the conclusion is to tell readers the exigency of the piece—in other words, why the information is important and why they should care about it. After your introduction and body are complete, read through your draft; this process will often give you a sense of what still needs to be said in the conclusion. Refer to the sample texts in this chapter for models of conclusion paragraphs.

Review Your Draft

After you have written a rough first draft, including the introduction and conclusion, read the entire piece three times:

  • Revise. Read once for the big picture to judge whether you have enough content and whether the content is arranged in a way that makes sense. Revise your work as needed.
  • Edit. Read a second time for mid-level concerns such as sentence variety, word choice, and consistent use of tenses: Editing Focus: Verb Tense Consistency. Think about whether you need to break some sentences apart or combine some sentences for smoother flow. Follow the chronology of your profile to ensure that the narration stays in the present or past tense and that events are clearly set in time. Read your composition aloud to see whether you overuse some words. Edit your work as needed.
  • Proofread. After editing, read through a third time with an eye on small details to proofread your work. Change spelling or punctuation as needed to meet the expectations of the rhetorical situation. Check that you have formatted according to the required style guide or standards of writing, such as Modern Language Association (MLA) or American Psychological Association (APA) style.

Revisit these three steps after you have received feedback from the peer review exercise that follows. If you have access to a campus writing center, you may consult with tutors there for support at any stage of your writing process.


Adapted from ”5.5: Writing Process: Focusing on the Angle of Your Subject by OpenStax and is used according to CC BY 4.0.



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