a pen illustration illustrating Margot Lester's post on bio writingIt's hard to write about ourselves. Even if we're great writers, we aren't quite as confident or eloquent when the sentences we're stringing together are about us.

I ran into this phenomenon again last night, when a friend wrote me struggling with a major overhaul of his professional bio and Linkedin profile. I suggested he try a technique I've used successfully to write about my own self, and to coach other people on writing about their own selves.

How to Write a Linkedin Summary or Professional Bio

Step 1: Capture the Ideas

  • Grab 5 sticky notes.
  • Write one trait or accomplishment on each one – in 5 words or less. Make it a mix of things you’re really proud of and things others have indicated they value about working with you. When in doubt, err on the side of things other people value. Read more on finding your main idea for clearer writing.
  • Stick the notes on the wall and gut check each in a lighting round review. If these were the only 5 things someone could know about you, would you feel good about that? If not, what should be replaced and with what? Make new stickies as necessary, but don't do more than 5 total.
  • Go do something else for a while, maybe even overnight.
  • Review your Big 5. Make changes as needed.

Step 2: Provide the Support

  • Pull 3 stickies for each of your Big 5.
  • Jot down a supporting detail on each note, again in 5 words or less. These are top-level details, so think about evidence (data, research, etc.), explanations (why or how/rationale or process) and examples (of assignments, successes, etc.). You don't necessarily need one of each, but you need details from at least one of these categories. Learn more about the 3 Es for more detailed and descriptive writing.
  • Stick the details under each Big 5 and gut check each in a lighting round review. If these were the only 3 things someone could know about each Big 5 item, would you feel good about that? If not, what should be replaced and what will you replace it with? Maybe you think of an additional relevant details. Make new stickies as necessary, but don't have more than 5 key details for each Big 5 topic.
  • Go do something else for a while, maybe even overnight.
  • Review your details. Make changes as needed, never exceeding  5.

Step 3: Produce a Draft

  • Write a 75-word paragraph for each Big 5 item. Aim one or two sentences for each sticky. Set a time limit of 12 minutes for each topic. Keep the language as plain and concise as possible. Make it sound like a conversation, not a lecture or thesis. Your goal is a rough draft that captures the ideas and details even if not in the exactly right words.
  • Do one revision, looking for opportunities to tighten further, choose stronger words, flesh out details and ensure the voice is friendly and knowledgeable, not show-offy or overly formal. Read it out loud and make corrections. See how to use revision for a better Linkedin summary.
  • Share your draft with 3-5 people you trust, asking for specific feedback like: what’s good about it, what would make it better and what’s missing. You’re looking for insights in voice/tone, big ideas/key details, organization, etc. Check out some more questions you can ask to get better feedback.
  • Consider the feedback, choosing to employ the suggestions that feel most right to you.
  • Revise as needed, but keep within your original word count. Don't let the feedback make your writing too wordy or less clear (and believe me, it might!).

Step 4: Publish

  • Use the final version in the about section of your website or a as professional bio. It’s also great fodder for a cover letter.
  • Distill each paragraph of your bio down to its barest bones to meet the Linkedin summary word count requirement. I brought my Linkined Profile back to bullet points to allow me more room. Short descriptive paragraphs also work. Basing your Linkedin profile off the longer, vetted draft ensures you’re using the best ideas and language, so it remains potent even in a shorter form.
  • Make one final pass on each document to find and correct spelling, punctuation, usage and grammar errors (hint: it helps to read out loud). Understand why we save these edits for last.
  • Publish.