We consider four families of functions - the super-Gaussian, flattened Gaussian, Fermi-Dirac, and super-Lorentzian-that have been used to describe flattened irradiance profiles. We determine the shape and width parameters of the different distributions, when each flattened profile has the same radius and slope of the irradiance at its half-height point, and then we evaluate the implicit functional relationship between the shape and width parameters for matched profiles, which provides a quantitative way to compare profiles described by different families of functions. We conclude from an analysis of each profile with matched parameters using Kirchhoff-Fresnel diffraction theory and M2 analysis that the diffraction patterns as they propagate differ by small amounts, which may not be distinguished experimentally. Thus, beam shaping optics is designed to produce either of these four flattened output irradiance distributions with matched parameters will yield similar irradiance distributions as the beam propagates. © 2006 Optical Society of America.