All About the Profile Essay

FROM YOUR TEXT: "Much of the pleasure of reading a profile comes from the way the writer presents detailed information about the subject. To make the information entertaining as well as readable and interesting, profile writers interweave bits of information into a tapestry that includes vivid descriptions, lively anecdotes, and arresting quotations" (Axelrod and Cooper 67).

Listen to one or more of these episodes of This American Life to hear examples of some very effective profiles:

Time to Save the WorldCiceroPrayMore is Less.Back From the Dead.

Preparing to write your Profile
First, answer these questions:

  1. Define or describe the subject.
  2. What are the subject's chief qualities or parts?
  3. Who do you associate with the subject?
  4. What is the subject's purpose or function?
  5. Why do you assume this subject will be interesting to you and your readers?
  6. What do you hope to learn about your subject?
  7. How does this subject reflect cultural or community ideas and values .

Then, decide the following:
  1. Do I still feel curious about the subject?
  2. Am I confident that I can make the subject interesting to my readers?
  3. Can I research it in the time allowed?

Allow yourself approximately 3 hours to prepare for your interview (see the chart on page 105).
See Chapter 22, "Field Research," to prep for the interview.

The Assignment: Write a Profile
  • Write an essay about an intriguing person, place, or activity in your community.
  • Observe your subject closely, and then present what you have learned in a way that both informs and engages readers.
  • Model your essay on those found in Chapter 3 of your text.
  • Like the essays in Chapter 3, your profile essay should also communicate your personal perspective; it should convey your attitude (as Conye does concerning the war on drugs in "The Long Goodbye").
  • You may include an image in your essay, if you choose.

Minimum Requirements:
  • Your profile essay must be FOUR FULL PAGES long.
  • Prepared using MLA format.

Suggested Resources:
  • Chapter 3, Writing Profiles
  • Chapter 11, Invention
  • Chapter 14, Description
  • Chapter 21, Designing Documents (if you use an image in your essay)
  • Chapter 22, Field Research
  • This American Life episodes 77, 179, 231, 299, and 391.

Assignment Details: Go out and research your subject, sort of like a reporter on assignment. Observe, interview, and take notes on your subject, and then compile this information in an essay that informs and engages readers. The final essay should incorporate observation AND interviews and should have something to say about the subject you are profiling. It should help readers reflect on and gain insight into the subject.

The person you profile should be someone to whom you have repeated access, since you will be visiting, seeing, and interviewing your subject more than once. It's okay to use the telephone, text, or email for FOLLOWUP questions, but your initial interview should be conducted in person.
YOU should not be the primary source for the essay. Please type up your interview notes and turn them in, along with your interview questions, at the beginning of class on Oct. 8.

Criteria for Evaluation:
  • Effectively incorporate field research (observation and interview) and synthesize information rather than present a straight reporting of facts;
  • Reveal the writer’s attitude toward the subject, offering an interpretation of it;
  • Contain evidence of careful planning and an attempt to present information vividly.
  • Meet the minimum requirements stated for the assignment.

We will perform whole class peer review and one session of read-around peer review during class. In addition, you will receive a one-on-one peer review from one of your classmates. If you choose, you may come and speak with me during office hours about your paper (although I won't edit your paper or tell you "what's wrong with it"). You are required to attend one Writing Center appointment appointment per assignment (although you may choose to have more) during the brainstorming, writing, and/or revision stage.

There will be tons of feedback on which to base your revision, so please do revise. Students who turn in a shitty first draft for grading will be graded accordingly.

Interim Due Dates:

Due Dates for Writers:
  1. Save the essay with your first initial followed by your last name and then the essay type: Example: DMooreProfile
  2. Post your draft TO YOUR PERSONAL WIKI PAGE by the beginning of class on October 1 (MWF) and October 2 (TR).

Due Dates for Readers performing Peer Review:
  1. Download your classmate’s essay.
  2. Use the Peer Review Guidelines to make inline comments.
  3. Include your name as peer reviewer at the end of your comments.
  4. Print 2 copies of the essay you peer reviewed and bring them with you to class on October 3 for MWF classes and October 4 for TR classes. (One copy is for the student to use in revision; the other is for the instructor.)

Final Due Dates:
Your workshopped, revised essays are due for grading on October 8. Upload these to your personal Wiki page with Final added to the document name:
Example: DMooreProfileFinal
(Please see the syllabus for information about late submission of essay assignments.)

Interview notes are worth 100 process writing points. Turn hard copies of these in on Monday October 8 (MWF). There will be a 10 point per day reduction in the final grade for each calendar day these are late. These notes should be typed in MLA format.

  1. What is the focus or subject of the essay?
  2. What one thing did you learn about the subject from reading the essay? Point out one passage where the description seems especially vivid, a quotation stands out, or another writing strategy—defining, comparing or contrasting, classifying, explaining causes and effects, narrating anecdotes or processes, giving examples or lists—works well to present information. Point out a passage where description could be added or where the description could be made more vivid, where a quotation falls flat and should be paraphrased or summarized, or where another writing strategy—defining, comparing or contrasting, classifying, explaining causes and effects, narrating anecdotes or processes, giving examples or lists—could be added or improved (see page 78).
  3. What is the writer’s purpose? Is the writer’s role that of spectator or participant (the eye or the “I”), or a combination of both? Point to a passage where the spectator or participant role enables you to identify with the writer, enhancing the essay’s immediacy or interest. Point out any problems with the role—for example, if the participant role becomes tiresome or distracting, or if the spectator role seems too mechanical or distant.
  4. What is the structure of the essay? Does it stay in the same location and time, or does it move about? Is it framed (or bookended)? Is it triangular, moving from specific to general, or the reverse?
  5. Is the organizational plan narrative or topical or both? (See pages 78-79.) Comment on the plan’s effectiveness. For example, point to a place where one topic leads logically to the next or where transitions help you follow the narrative organization. Also, indicate what in the opening paragraphs grabs your attention or why you think the ending works well. Point to information that seems out of place or where the chronology is confusing. If you think the opening or ending could be improved, suggest an alternative passage in the essay that could work as an opening or an ending.
  6. State briefly what you believe to be the writer’s perspective on the subject and the dominant impression you get from the essay. Give an example where you have a strong sense of the writer’s perspective through a comment, description, quotation, or bit of information. Tell the writer if the essay does not have a clear perspective or convey a dominant impression. To help him or her find one, explain what interests you about the subject and what you think is important. If you see more contradictions in the draft that could be developed to make the profile more complex and illuminating, briefly explain.
  7. Does the essay feel complete? Why or why not?
  8. What do you see as the strongest or most effective part of the essay? Was a portion particularly vivid?
  9. Other than the writer, the teacher, and this class, what group or groups of people would be included in the audience for this paper? In other words, who would be interested in reading about this subject

Profile Essay Post Assignment Reflection
Write a letter to next year’s Comp I class. In this letter, explain what you learned about yourself as a writer in the process of writing your profile essay. For example, what part of the process did you find most challenging? What was the most rewarding? Did you try anything new (like getting a critical reading of your draft or outline your draft in order to revise it; maybe this was the first time you had performed a substantial revision of your writing) and how well did it work? What do you wish you had done differently?