Anoka Ramsey Community College
English 1121: College Writing and Critical Reading
Fall 2001 / Sections 3 and 6
Portfolio #1: Profile Essay
an essay of 3-4 pages about an intriguing person, place, or activity in your
community. Choose one of the
two following options: (1) a brief profile of an event, a place, or an activity
observed once or twice; or (2) a brief profile of an individual based on one or
two interviews. (There are longer,
more fully developed profiles, but these are based on several observational
visits and interviews.) Observe
your subject closely, and then present what you have learned in a way that both
informs and engages readers. Two
restrictions: you cannot choose to profile a family member or the State Fair.
and newspapers are filled with profiles. Unlike
conventional news stories, which report current events, profiles tell about
people, places, and activities. Some
profiles take us behind the scenes of familiar places, giving us a glimpse of
their inner workings. Others
introduce us to the exotic—peculiar hobbies, unusual professions, bizarre
personalities. Still others probe the social, political, and moral
significance of our institutions.
share many features with autobiography, such as narrative, anecdote,
description, and dialogue. Yet profiles differ significantly from autobiography.
Whereas an autobiographer reflects on a remembered personal experience, a
profile writer synthesizes and presents newly acquired observations.
In writing a profile, you practice the field research methods of
observing, interviewing, and notetaking, commonly used by investigative
reporters, social scientists, and naturalists.
You also learn to analyze and synthesize the information you have
profile is a special kind of research project.
Profiles always involve visits: meeting with a person or going to
a place. Profile writers take notes
from observations and interviews and may pick up reading materials
at a place they are profiling. They
may even need to conduct library research to gather information about the
history and specialized aspects of a place or an activity.
based on a writer’s newly acquired observations.
readers behind the scenes of familiar places or introduce readers to unusual
places and people.
information while at the same time arousing readers’ curiosity.
scenes and people vividly and concretely through description, action, and
an attitude toward their subjects and offer—implicitly or explicitly—an
interpretation of them.
a dominant impression of the subject.
Purpose and Audience Considerations:
profile writer’s primary purpose is to inform readers.
Readers expect profiles to present information in an engaging way,
however. Whether profiling people, places, or activities, the writer
must meet these expectations. Although
a reader might learn as much about a subject from an encyclopedia entry, reading
the profile is sure to be more enjoyable.
of profiles expect to be surprised by unusual subjects.
If the subject is familiar, they expect it to be presented from an
unusual perspective. When writing a
profile, you will have an immediate advantage if your subject is a place, an
activity, or a person that is likely to surprise and intrigue your readers. Even if your subject is very familiar, however, you can still
engage your readers by presenting it in a way they had never before considered.
profile writer has one further concern: to be sensitive to readers’ knowledge
of a subject. Since readers must
imagine the subject profiled and understand the new information offered about
it, the writer must carefully assess what readers are likely to have seen and to
writers must also consider whether readers are familiar with the terminology
they want to use. Because profiles involve information, they inevitably require
definitions and illustrations. Since
profile writers are not writing technical manuals or textbooks, they can choose
to define only terms that readers need to know to follow what is going on.
Some concepts or activities will require extended illustrations.
Summary of Basic Features:
An Intriguing, Well-Focused Subject:
subject of a profile is typically a specific person, place,
or activity. And, although
profiles focus on a person, a place, or an activity, they usually contain all
three elements—certain people performing a certain activity at a particular
profile writers make even the most mundane subjects interesting by presenting
them in a new light. They many
simply take a close look at a subject usually taken for granted, or they
surprise readers with a subject they had never thought of.
Whatever they examine, they bring attention to the uniqueness of the
subject, showing what is remarkable about it.
A Vivid Presentation:
particularize their subjects rather than generalize about them.
Because profile writers are interested more in presenting individual
cases than in making generalizations, they present their subjects vividly and in
profile writers master the writing strategies of description, often using
sensory imagery and figurative language—the senses of sight,
touch, smell, taste, and hearing, and figures of speech such as simile and
writers often describe people in graphic detail.
They reveal personal habits and characteristic poses.
They also use dialogue to reveal character.
A Dominant Impression:
expect profile writers to convey a particular impression or interpretation of
the subject. They want to know the
writer’s insights into the subject after having spent time observing the scene
and talking to people. Indeed, this interpretation is what separates profiles from
mere exercises in description and narration.
convey a dominant impression, writers carefully select details of scene
and people and put these details together in a particular way.
They also express an attitude toward the subject, an attitude that
can be implied through details or stated explicitly.
For example, a writer may express admiration, concern, detachment,
fascination, skepticism, amusement—perhaps even two or three different
feelings that complement or contradict one another.
also offer interpretations of their subjects.
An interpretation may be implied or stated directly.
It can be announced at the beginning, woven into the ongoing
observations, or presented as a conclusion.
In combination with carefully orchestrated details and a clearly
expressed attitude, these interpretations give readers a dominant impression of
the subject being profiled. The
effort to create a dominant impression guides all the writer’s decisions about
how to select materials and how to organize and present them.
An Engaging and Informative Plan:
profile writers know that if they are to keep their readers’ attention, they
must engage as well as inform. For
this reason, they tell their stories dramatically and describe people and places
vividly. They also control the flow of unfamiliar information
carefully. Whether the overall plan
is topical or chronological, writers give much thought to where unfamiliar
information is introduced and how it is introduced.
present a great deal of factual detail about their subject.
However, the information can be woven into the essay in bits and
pieces—conveyed in dialogue, interspersed throughout the narrative, given in
description—rather than presented in one large chunk.
out information in this way makes it easier to comprehend: Readers can master
one part of the information before going on to the next.
Perhaps even more important, such control injects a degree of surprise
and thus makes readers curious to know what will come next.
Controlling the information flow may, in fact, help to keep readers
reading, especially when the essay is organized around topics or aspects of the
may be even more important, for it is used by many profile writers to organize
their essays. Some profiles even
read like stories, with suspense building to a dramatic climax.
Writers can organize their narratives to develop and sustain suspense and
Topics for Profiles:
you list possible subjects, consider realistically the time you have available
and the amount of observing and interviewing you will be able to accomplish.
You will have about a week to plan and write up one observational visit
or interview, so this should determine what kinds of subjects will be
appropriate for you. Consult with
your professor if you need help defining the scope of your writing project.
When you list subjects, consider every subject you can think of, even
unlikely ones. Consider unfamiliar
subjects – people, places, or activities you find fascinating or bizarre or
perhaps even forbidding. Take
risks. People like to read about
with an unusual or intriguing job or hobby – a private detective,
beekeeper, classic-car owner, dog trainer
prominent local personality – parent of the year, labor organizer,
politician, consumer advocate, television or radio personality, community
campus personality – ombudsman, coach, distinguished teacher
recently recognized for service or achievement
whose predicament symbolizes that of other people
weight-reduction clinic, tanning salon, body-building gym, health spa, nail
court, juvenile court, consumer-fraud office
used-car lot, old movie house, used-book store, antique shop, historic site,
auction hall, flower show, farmers’ market
hospital emergency room, hospice, birthing center, psychiatric unit
local diner; the oldest, biggest, or quickest restaurant in town; a
campus radio station, computer center, agricultural research facility,
student center, faculty club, museum, newspaper office, health center
book, newspaper, or magazine publisher; florist shop, nursery, or
greenhouse; pawnshop; boatyard; automobile restorer or wrecking yard
recycling center; fire station; airport control tower; theater, opera, or
symphony office; refugee center; orphanage; convent or monastery
citizens’ volunteer program – voter registration, public television
auction, meals-on-wheels project, tutoring program
unconventional sports event – marathon, Frisbee tournament, chess match,
dancing, rollerblading, rock climbing, poetry reading
Note: This information was taken from Chapter 4 of The St. Martin’s Guide to Writing, 5th edition, by Rise B. Axelrod and Charles R. Cooper, New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997, pp. 108-155.
©2001 Scott Stankey / All rights reserved
Last revised on July 09, 2009 by Scott Stankey
Please address comments to Stankesc@an.cc.mn.us