How to write a compelling profile (part one) : Tips for the interview

Karlea Lewis

A profile piece tells someone’s story to capture what makes them newsworthy. This requires delving beneath the surface to discover their motivations and passions. To tell this story, you need to start by conducting a great interview.

If this is your first profile, a good place to start is to read other profiles for inspiration. This will help you understand the kind of information that is important to cover and how to make your subject come alive for the reader.

The first step is to request an interview. Make sure you let your profile subject know the purpose of the piece, where it will be published and when it will be published. If they agree, find an interview time and location that works for both of you.

The next step is research and preparation. Make sure you know as much basic information about your subject as you can (however, don’t make assumptions and keep an open mind). With this information, prepare your questions for the interview. Your questions should be thought provoking and open-ended (nothing with a simple yes or no answer) to make sure you have a focused interview that results in compelling answers.

Plan how you are going to record the interview. I recommend taking notes and audio recording the interview. Most smartphones are equipped to record audio (e.g., the “Voice Memos App” on iPhones) this way you can go back and ensure the accuracy of quotes and information. However, taking notes is always a good idea in case technology fails. If you choose to record the interview, make sure you ask permission first and let your subject know it is to ensure accuracy.

During the interview, be a good listener and pay attention to what your subject is passionate about. Use your prepared questions but don’t force yourself to stick to them. Follow the natural flow of the conversation and allow yourself to go in new directions based on the subject’s answers. Always ask follow-up questions to get additional details and ask for examples when an interesting topic comes up during your conversation.

Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification. You want to make sure you get accurate information. Always confirm important details such as dates, titles, names, locations, and degree titles. At the end of the interview ask if you can get in touch with any follow-up questions in case you need to confirm any facts during the writing process.

Once you have all of the information you need to capture your subject’s story make sure you thank him or her for their time. Now you have all of the information you need to start the writing process. By being prepared for your interview and asking the right questions, your profile should be easy to write!

This is part one of a two-part series on “How to Write a Compelling Profile Piece”. The next installment will cover tips for the actual writing process.