ASSAY: A JOURNAL OF NONFICTION STUDIES
The Assignment: The Personality Profile
A key differentiator of literary journalism is the use of outside subject matter as a focal point, rather than concentrating on the life of the writer (as in memoir). This shift in emphasis requires not only secondary research to gain online and print knowledge of a particular source or topic, but also research in the field through interaction with sources. While most students have accessed secondary source materials in their research writing courses, they may be less familiar with primary research methods, such as interviewing. The personality profile assignment gives students an opportunity to gather primary research through both interviewing and observation, encouraging students to incorporate current information in a creative piece. Finally, the reporting role in this assignment reveals the complexity of character, from the source interviewed to the reporter, challenging students to depict both the personalities involved and their interaction.
The personality profile, as a mode of nonfiction, transcends disciplinary boundaries. I have taught this assignment to both undergraduate and graduate-level creative nonfiction students; in composition courses, I teach the interview as a research method for a cause and effect paper based on student majors – speaking with an expert not only provides evidence for student papers, but also motivates students to explore their areas of study. Providing students with experience as reporters and observers helps them engage with and learn from their communities. The applicability of the interview as a research method to several writing genres makes it a versatile learning exercise for students, whether undergraduate or graduate.
Through secondary sources such as web sites, newspaper articles, and journal articles, students arrive at the interview with an angle or theme in mind, be it the family business or a professor’s research. As with any type of writing, a planned theme is also subject to change throughout the writing process, leading to unexpected discoveries.
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The Blue Guide Project: Fresno
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