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What Is a Profile Essay?

By Meghan Perry
Updated May 23, 2024
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Observation and interview are two important aspects of a profile essay. This type of essay can be about a place, a person, or an event, but it is more than just a description. The profile essay also usually includes the writer's interpretation of the person, place, or event. It is because of this interpretation that almost any subject can be suitable for a profile essay.

If the profile essay is about a person, it doesn't necessarily have to be someone well known. For example, profile essays may be used as assignments in college composition courses in which two classmates partner up and write profiles about each other. They must prepare interview questions, conduct the interview, and then arrange the information in a way that provides what is known as a dominant impression. This is usually the interpretation of the profile subject that the writer wants to convey. Doing this type of essay in this context not only provides students with an opportunity to improve their interviewing and writing skills but can introduce them to their classmates as well.

Interviewing may also be used if the profile essay is about a place or an event. In this case, interviews may be conducted with people who are familiar with the place or event in order to get background information and opinions. Another way to gather impressions in this situation is to go to the place or attend the event and record observations. This may include observing the actual setting itself, as well as observing the people who inhabit the place or attend the event.

A profile essay should include specific ideas and details rather than generalizations. In other words, including descriptive detail provides a stronger dominant impression for the reader. Details about a person being profiled may include a character sketch, while details about a place may include a vivid description about what the place looks like or how it affects the senses. The point of view the writer is trying to convey helps determine which details the writer chooses to include in the essay.

There are many different writing devices that can be used in a profile essay. In addition to description, some of these may include anecdotes — or stories about the person, place, or event — narrative, and dialogue. It is important to take careful notes when interviewing if dialogue or direct quotes are going to be used in the profile essay, as they should be exactly what was said by the person being interviewed.

A unique aspect of profile essays is that they are both objective and subjective. This means that, while the writer is stating facts to inform the reader about the person, place, or event, he or she is also conveying a perspective to the reader. One way to learn more about profile essays is to read profiles and interviews. These will demonstrate how the writer uses a combination of facts and observation to convey an impression.

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Discussion Comments
By Mor — On Oct 30, 2013

@umbra21 - Well, to be honest, an interview might work there as well. Either find one online, or make one up and then answer the questions.

I find that can help even when you're writing a profile of a place rather than a person. It makes you think outside the box. And a lot of the questions can be applied to a place (even though you are guessing the answers). Like "what has been the most exciting thing to happen to you" or "what was your life like when you were young?".

It just gives you a list of starting points and major events to mention in your profile and can help you to see whether or not they are important.

By umbra21 — On Oct 30, 2013

@irontoenail - Another example of that might be a fictional essay profile with a famous person who has passed away. That was very popular among the students at my high school for a while because it allowed them to use some humor and creativity without missing the facts about a historical figure.

It's the personal profile essay that I find the most difficult, to be honest. There have been a couple of occasions when I've had to write about myself in the third person and it's always difficult to know what to include.

By irontoenail — On Oct 29, 2013

It's a good idea to think about how you want to come across in your essay before you start. Is it supposed to just be a plain essay, with thorough coverage of the facts and maybe a bit of theorizing thrown in for interest? Because if you've got the freedom to explore the subject matter it can be a lot more interesting to try and approach it from a particular angle.

This is especially the case when you are writing a profile essay on a person or a place that has a lot of ground to cover. A person writing about Leonardo Da Vinci, for example, might focus on inventions or art or personal relationships, or the impact he's had on modern society, or they might go off on what seems like a complete tangent and talk about how he might have actually been a time traveler.

The time traveler example wouldn't work if you were writing a university essay, but if you were writing for a popular magazine it could introduce the man in a way with which modern people could identify.

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