Six Steps to Writing Compelling Profile Stories

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While most writers seem to specialize on one form of writing over others, such as short stories or marketing, there’s a lesser known type of business writing that’s worth looking into. That’s the personal profile.

A profile is a written portrait of a person. The profile is gleaned from research and interviews with the subject and perhaps other people who know that person well. It can be as long as 2,000 words or as brief as 500 words.

You’ve likely seen profiles in newspapers, magazines and websites, usually has a narrative non-fiction piece. I find profiles to be one of the most interesting things to read – and to write. People make interesting subjects because every person has a story to tell. That story can be about their time serving in the military, or going through a divorce or overcoming cancer. You can learn about their hopes, dreams, successes and failures. You can find out what they believe and what they value, and how they see the world.

The subject doesn’t have to be a celebrity or VIP either. They can be a parent who is fighting the city to save the local library from demolition. It could be a doctor who has decided to set up a clinic in an underserved community, or a formerly incarcerated woman who is starting her own business.

Profiles are one of the most enjoyable pieces I’ve written in my career. Most of the ones I’ve done required me to interview only the subject individual. Other lengthier, more detailed profiles include interviews with people who know the profile person well.

There are four things I learned from writing profiles:

  • Everyone has a story to share, something they’ve gone through that molded them into who they are today.
  • Profile subjects can inspire others to follow in their footsteps, or take their own leap of faith.
  • Profiles put you in touch with outstanding individuals who have achieved great things, sometimes against all odds.
  • There is a market for these types of stories. Sometimes entire magazines are devoted to profiles.

At first glance, profiles may seem simple to do, but the key is to create a clear, accurate picture of the person. Getting to the heart of their story isn’t always easy, but necessary. Here are the steps I take to write a profile. You can find other tips on Masterclass and The Write Life.

Step 1: Do research. Gather as much background information as you can about the person. Check their LinkedIn profile or other social media, read any articles that were written about them, and visit their website, which usually has an About Me page. Make notes of the key events in their life that you might want to include in the profile.

Step 2: Find an angle. As you sort through the background information and articles, notice if there’s a recurring trend. Or alternately, notice if an event has been glossed over. I recently worked on a profile about a quadriplegic fashion model. While most articles focused on her accident and her rise in the fashion world, I noticed the initiatives she was involved in that opened doors for other young women in wheelchairs to enjoy a career in fashion. That became the focus of my profile of her. The focus of the profile can be anything from their career, family life or contributions to the community.

Step 3: Draft an outline. Once you know what you want to focus on, draft an outline for the profile. The outline can help you determine what types of questions you need to ask. Then create a short list of questions to prepare for the interview.

Step 4: Schedule the interview. Some people are nervous about being interviewed, so make sure you put them at ease. It might help to make small talk at first so they feel more comfortable talking to you. I usually try to keep the interview brief, no more than 30 minutes, especially if it’s a short piece. It might also help to record the interview so you can go back to listen to it later in case you missed an important detail.  

Step 5: Draft the profile article. Integrate interview notes with the rest of your research material and begin writing. When the first draft is complete, let it rest for a few hours. Then begin editing and rewriting until it is clear and cohesive.

Step 6: Send the profile to the individual to review. I believe this step is especially helpful to make sure you’ve quoted the person accurately and the story is true. This way the person knows what the story will look like, and you get their approval before it gets published.

Once you get the person’s approval, make whatever changes they request, then submit it to the editor.

Writing personal profiles is one of the most enjoyable aspects of being a freelancer. It’s a satisfying feeling when you know that you’re helping people tell their stories.

Find Your Niche as a Creative Writer


Check out my new white paper, Find Motivation to Start Writing — and Keep Writing, which you can download here.

Also check out this week’s writing prompt: “What is your writing superpower? What can you do that no one else can do?


When I first embarked on my writing journey, it was a challenge to shift from writing magazine features and website content to creative writing. It was a far cry from the business world, where the criteria was set by employers and clients. I had to shift from writing for business to creating whole new worlds in fiction.

Part of the challenge of being a creative writer is finding a niche. What kind of creative writer do you want to be? Do you want to focus only on novels, or are short stories more your thing? Maybe you enjoy baring your soul in creative non-fiction essays, or the challenge of rhyming words in poetry while still expressing a heartfelt emotion. I thought I knew what I was doing as a creative writer. After all, I’d already had magazine features published and had received positive feedback about my writing from teachers and editors.

But I quickly realized there was a lot I didn’t understand. It was necessary to start from the beginning – to take classes, read up on technique from writing blogs and magazines. And to practice, practice, practice. Further, I experimented with different writing styles. I attempted several novels before moving on to short stories and, more recently, novellas. I submitted essays to competitions, and sought feedback from writer’s groups. It’s all been part of a learning, growing process.

I still hope to get published one day. It takes more than talent though; it takes grit and determination. It takes a consistent writing practice.

Here’s what I’ve learned about finding a creative writing niche.

1. It’s important to read a lot, and to read a variety. Stephen King says the best way to learn about writing is to read and to read widely. You learn how to craft stories, develop plot and character, create suspense and satisfy readers. I read an average of 30 books per year, and I try to read a variety of genres and authors. By reading, you naturally absorb their writing styles and adapt to develop your own style. By reading, you also notice what works well and what doesn’t. Reading other authors’ works is a must to advance your own writing aspirations.

2. Know who you are and what you stand for. Julie Anne England of the Self-Publishing School says it’s important to assess yourself – your interests, your strengths and weaknesses as a writer, and your writing goals. It also means knowing what you can tolerate and what you can’t. Maybe writing critique groups aren’t your thing. Not everyone is cut out for them. Maybe you feel more inspired by writing in a semi-public place were other people are nearby rather than alone in your home. England advises writers to “be true to who you are. Trying to be someone you’re not will only impede your progress.”

3. Pay attention to the feedback you receive. Whether you get feedback from a writing buddy, a coach, a boss, or your website audience, pay attention to what they tell you. Do they like the way you describe a scene or the way you draw your characters? Conversely, are they confused by your plot structure or is your protagonist flat, lacking in emotion and personality. You know from their feedback that you have to rework the plot and create a stronger protagonist that readers will root for.

4. Learn as much as you can about the writing craft. Whether you are just beginning your creative writing journey or you’ve traveled this road for some time, it’s important to keep learning the craft. Publishers’ needs and tastes change so what was in demand one year may be passé a couple of years later. You need to stay on top of the publishing trends. Further, by keeping up with your professional development, you keep your skills fresh and learn new story telling techniques. You show agents and editors that you are willing to do whatever it takes to produce the best story possible.

5. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different genres and writing styles. You may not have any experience writing magazine features but you think it might be worthwhile to learn how to write them, even though you specialize as an essayist. Don’t be shy about taking a workshop about magazine writing. You may decide after completing one or two stories that it just isn’t right for you. That’s okay. At least you tried, and there may be some things you learned about the research and writing process that can be carried over to your other projects. Don’t be afraid to experiment to see what works best for you.

6. Be flexible and open-minded. Don’t get locked into your niche or specialty because it will likely change over time, writes Shaunta Grimes at The Write Brain blog. You may start out with an interest in writing essays, but over time, you find yourself writing more short stories. For example, when I started my blog in 2016, I wrote about a variety of writing and communications topics because that was my professional background. As time went on and I gravitated toward more personal writing and less business communications, my blog reflected that shift. Now I focus almost exclusively on the writing life. Allow your personal interests to dictate your path.

If you want to know more about what kind of writer archetype you are, check out this quiz at The Write Brain blog. Find out if you are a Hesitater, a Skipper, a Spiller, a Teacher or an Artist. It will help you learn what you write and why. (Btw, I’m a teacher, which should be obvious from my blog.)

The beauty of creative writing is that there are multiple paths to choose from, and it’s not uncommon for writers to specialize in more than one genre or writing style. Finding that niche depends on knowing who you are and what you have to offer readers.