Profile essay

preferably want it done on a scenary involving lake michigan

Like documentary films and reality tv, profiles give the audience a chance to go behind the scenes through “slice-of-life” vignettes. Profiles could simply be a day in the life, or they could be an in-depth study of people at work or at play. Most importantly, though, both writer and reader get to experience something for the first time through a series of detailed observations. A profile offers fresh perspective on an intriguing person, place, or activity.

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Moving from profile to narrative is actually quite easy. The main transition is from a “remembered experience” to a “firsthand experience.” To that end, this type of writing forces you to get out and try something new…or at least observe it for a few hours. In this module, you will be reading both a professionally written profile as well as one written by a student. You’ll probably notice that the one written by the student is very similar in both style and structure to the narrative essay you were just working on. While the professionally written essay certainly has a number of narrative qualities, it tends to move from one “topic” to the next.

When beginning a profile project, it’s important to pick an intriguing subject. I encourage you to go out and try something new; you could also meet someone new, as long as that person does something interesting. Once you’ve selected a subject (person, place, activity), try to find out as much as you can about it before visiting/interacting with it. This will give you a better idea of what the audience still wants you to find out. If you discover that a lot is already known about your subject, that’s okay. Through your firsthand experience and observations, you will work to develop a new perspective on the subject that allows the audience to view it through your own eyes.

So what do you write about?

Not so fast…before you can write anything, you’ll need to do some “Field Research.” Different from library research, this is a record of your observations and interactions with the subject. This is where the journalistic questions (Who,what,when,where,why,how?) and your five senses (sight, sound, taste, touch, smell) come into play. Through interaction and observation, you will answer as many questions about your subject you think your audience might have. In fact, you probably have some questions that need answers, too. While answering these questions, you’ll simultaneously describe the experience through which you obtained them. Sounds easy, right?

Fortunately, you’ve already acquired a lot of the necessary skills through your experience with narrative writing (description, development, organization, etc.); the biggest difference now is that you have three specific organizational plans to choose from:

NARRATIVE: (you’re used to this one) A story about your experience/field research
SPATIAL: A guided tour of the subject (usually works best for a place)
TOPICAL: Organizes observations into categories

The good news is that these plans generally overlap. For instance, in “I’m Not Leaving Until I eat This Thing” (one of your required readings), you’ll notice a series of narrative paragraphs arranged topically. Don’t worry, though, we’ll spend a lot of time on outlining this essay!

Once you’ve chosen a subject and an organizational strategy, you’ll need to decide on your role in the essay. Frequently, the writer is a spectator who, like the reader, is just observing the people and their activities. This is also known as the “detached-observer” role, and it limits the use of the pronoun “I” because the writer is on the outside looking in.

The other role you could choose is that of “participant-observer.” In this role, the writer participates just like a character would in the story and acquires insider-knowledge on the subject as a result. Because of the narrative nature of this role, participant observers usually rely on the pronoun “I” as they profile the experience.

When doing your field research, you’ll want to think about what role you’ll choose so you record the information in a suitable way. For instance, if you choose to be a detached observer, you’ll want to make observations from afar; if you choose to profile a person, though, you’ll probably want to interview that person, which would make you more of a participant observer. Just make sure that your subject a method for field research line-up!

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, you’ll need to think about your perspective on the subject. This is very similar to the “dominant impression” discussed in the descriptive writing practice. What feeling does your profile subject give you? Consequently, this is also the thesis of your essay. Your observations/research should help you to illustrate the perspective you gain after observing or taking part in this experience.

So if you’re confused, the best thing to do is read examples. I think the two I’ve included in this module are pretty good, but there are many different ways to write a profile. If you have the time, just search for a few more examples on the internet! Trust me, by the end of this module, you’ll all be experts!

ENG 111
Essay #2: The Profile

Write an essay about an intriguing person, place, or activity. Observe your subject closely, and then present what you have learned in a way that both informs and engages readers. Use the steps below to help you get started.

1. Make a list of subjects you might consider for your profile.
People: a coach, a teacher, a boss, someone with an unusual job, etc.
Places: a diverse public space, a place you’ve always been curious about, etc.
Activity: a sporting event, getting a tattoo, bucket list, etc.

2. Explore your initial thoughts and feelings about the subject.
What do you already know?
What is your attitude towards the subject?
What do you expect to find out about the subject?

3. Pick a topic from your list and begin working on the Profile Breakdown (found in Profile folder of Learning Units).

Essays should be a minimum of 4 pages long. This essay does require “field research,” and I ask that you remain safe and practice reasonable distancing while gathering information. I recommend the “fly on the wall” approach for this essay. Go somewhere and observe what is happening (parks, hikes, drives, etc. are some of the easiest things to do). It is usually best to observe or participate in something you haven’t.

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