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Writing Guide with Handbook

5.3 Glance at Genre: Subject, Angle, Background, and Description

Writing Guide with Handbook5.3 Glance at Genre: Subject, Angle, Background, and Description

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Identify elements of the profile genre.
  • Identify research methods for writing profiles.

Profile writing are articles or essays in which the writer focuses on a specific trait or behavior that reveals something essential about the subject. Much profile material comes from interviews either with the subject or with people who know about the subject. However, interviews may not always be part of a profile, for profile writers also draw on other sources of information. In creating profiles, writers usually combine the techniques of narrative, or storytelling, and reporting, or including information that answers the questions of who, what, when, where, why, and how.

Potential Profile Subjects and Angles

You can find profile subjects everywhere. The purpose of a profile is to give readers an insight into something fundamental about the subject, whether that subject is a person, a social group, a building, a piece of art, a public space, or a cultural tradition. Writers of profiles often conduct several types of research, including interviews and field observations, as well as consult related published sources. A profile usually reveals one aspect of the subject to the audience; this focus is called an angle. To decide which angle to take, profile writers look for patterns in their research, then consider their audience when making choices about both the angle and the tone, or attitude toward the subject.

Defining Terms and Writing in the Genre

These terms, or genre elements, are frequently used in profile writing. The following definitions apply specifically to the ways in which the terms are used in this genre.

  • Anecdotes: brief stories about specific moments that offer insights into the profile subject.
  • Background information: key to understanding the profile’s significance. Background information includes biographical data and other information about the history of the profile subject. It often helps establish context as well.
  • Chronological order: information or a narrative presented in time order, from earliest to most recent.
  • Context: the situation or circumstances that surround a profile subject. Situating profile subjects within their contexts can offer deeper insights about them.
  • Factual information: accurate and verifiable data and other material gathered from research.
  • Field notes: information gathered and recorded by observing the profile subject within a particular environment.
  • Location: places relevant to the profile subject. For a person, location might include birthplace, place of residence, or place where events occurred.
  • Narrative structure: text organized as narratives, or stories, weaving research into the story as applicable.
  • Quotation: words spoken or written by the subject or from interviews about the subject.
  • Reporting structure: structure that relays factual information and answers who, what, when, where, why, and how questions.
  • Show and tell: descriptive and narrative techniques to help readers imagine the subject combined with reporting techniques to relay factual information.
  • Spatial structure: used in profiles of buildings, artworks, and public spaces. This structure reflects a “tour” of the space or image.
  • Thick description: combination of sensory perceptions to create a vivid image for readers.
  • Tone: the writer’s attitude toward the subject. For example, tone can be admiring, grateful, sarcastic, disparaging, angry, respectful, gracious, neutral, and so on.
  • Topical structure: structure that focuses on several specific topics within the profile.
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