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Blog • Perfecting your Craft

Posted on Jun 30, 2023

How to Write a Biography: A 7-Step Guide [+Template]

From time to time, nonfiction authors become so captivated by a particular figure from either the present or the past, that they feel compelled to write an entire book about their life. Whether casting them as heroes or villains, there is an interesting quality in their humanity that compels these authors to revisit their life paths and write their story.

However, portraying someone’s life on paper in a comprehensive and engaging way requires solid preparation. If you’re looking to write a biography yourself, in this post we’ll share a step-by-step blueprint that you can follow. 

How to write a biography: 

1. Seek permission when possible 

2. research your subject thoroughly, 3. do interviews and visit locations, 4. organize your findings, 5. identify a central thesis, 6. write it using narrative elements, 7. get feedback and polish the text.

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While you technically don’t need permission to write about public figures (or deceased ones), that doesn't guarantee their legal team won't pursue legal action against you. Author Kitty Kelley was sued by Frank Sinatra before she even started to write His Way , a biography that paints Ol Blue Eyes in a controversial light. (Kelley ended up winning the lawsuit, however).  

what to include in a biography of a person

Whenever feasible, advise the subject’s representatives of your intentions. If all goes according to plan, you’ll get a green light to proceed, or potentially an offer to collaborate. It's a matter of common sense; if someone were to write a book about you, you would likely want to know about it well prior to publication. So, make a sincere effort to reach out to their PR staff to negotiate an agreement or at least a mutual understanding of the scope of your project. 

At the same time, make sure that you still retain editorial control over the project, and not end up writing a puff piece that treats its protagonist like a saint or hero. No biography can ever be entirely objective, but you should always strive for a portrayal that closely aligns with facts and reality.

If you can’t get an answer from your subject, or you’re asked not to proceed forward, you can still accept the potential repercussions and write an unauthorized biography . The “rebellious act” of publishing without consent indeed makes for great marketing, though it’ll likely bring more headaches with it too. 

✋ Please note that, like other nonfiction books, if you intend to release your biography with a publishing house , you can put together a book proposal to send to them before you even write the book. If they like it enough, they might pay you an advance to write it.  

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Once you’ve settled (or not) the permission part, it’s time to dive deep into your character’s story.  

Deep and thorough research skills are the cornerstone of every biographer worth their salt. To paint a vivid and accurate portrait of someone's life, you’ll have to gather qualitative information from a wide range of reliable sources. 

Start with the information already available, from books on your subject to archival documents, then collect new ones firsthand by interviewing people or traveling to locations. 

Browse the web and library archives

Illustration of a biographer going into research mode.

Put your researcher hat on and start consuming any piece on your subject you can find, from their Wikipedia page to news articles, interviews, TV and radio appearances, YouTube videos, podcasts, books, magazines, and any other media outlets they may have been featured in. 

Establish a system to orderly collect the information you find 一 even seemingly insignificant details can prove valuable during the writing process, so be sure to save them. 

Depending on their era, you may find most of the information readily available online, or you may need to search through university libraries for older references. 

Photo of Alexander Hamilton

For his landmark biography of Alexander Hamilton, Ron Chernow spent untold hours at Columbia University’s library , reading through the Hamilton family papers, visiting the New York Historical Society, as well as interviewing the archivist of the New York Stock Exchange, and so on. The research process took years, but it certainly paid off. Chernow discovered that Hamilton created the first five securities originally traded on Wall Street. This finding, among others, revealed his significant contributions to shaping the current American financial and political systems, a legacy previously often overshadowed by other founding fathers. Today Alexander Hamilton is one of the best-selling biographies of all time, and it has become a cultural phenomenon with its own dedicated musical. 

Besides reading documents about your subject, research can help you understand the world that your subject lived in. 

Try to understand their time and social environment

Many biographies show how their protagonists have had a profound impact on society through their philosophical, artistic, or scientific contributions. But at the same time, it’s worth it as a biographer to make an effort to understand how their societal and historical context influenced their life’s path and work.

An interesting example is Stephen Greenblatt’s Will in the World . Finding himself limited by a lack of verified detail surrounding William Shakespeare's personal life, Greenblatt, instead, employs literary interpretation and imaginative reenactments to transport readers back to the Elizabethan era. The result is a vivid (though speculative) depiction of the playwright's life, enriching our understanding of his world.

Painting of William Shakespeare in colors

Many readers enjoy biographies that transport them to a time and place, so exploring a historical period through the lens of a character can be entertaining in its own right. The Diary of Samuel Pepys became a classic not because people were enthralled by his life as an administrator, but rather from his meticulous and vivid documentation of everyday existence during the Restoration period.

Once you’ve gotten your hands on as many secondary sources as you can find, you’ll want to go hunting for stories first-hand from people who are (or were) close to your subject.

With all the material you’ve been through, by now you should already have a pretty good picture of your protagonist. But you’ll surely have some curiosities and missing dots in their character arc to figure out, which you can only get by interviewing primary sources.

Interview friends and associates

This part is more relevant if your subject is contemporary, and you can actually meet up or call with relatives, friends, colleagues, business partners, neighbors, or any other person related to them. 

In writing the popular biography of Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson interviewed more than one hundred people, including Jobs’s family, colleagues, former college mates, business rivals, and the man himself.

🔍 Read other biographies to get a sense of what makes a great one. Check out our list of the 30 best biographies of all time , or take our 30-second quiz below for tips on which one you should read next. 

Which biography should you read next?

Discover the perfect biography for you. Takes 30 seconds!

When you conduct your interviews, make sure to record them with high quality audio you can revisit later. Then use tools like Otter.ai or Descript to transcribe them 一 it’ll save you countless hours. 

You can approach the interview with a specific set of questions, or follow your curiosity blindly, trying to uncover revealing stories and anecdotes about your subject. Whatever your method, author and biography editor Tom Bromley suggests that every interviewer arrives prepared, "Show that you’ve done your work. This will help to put the interviewee at ease, and get their best answers.” 

Bromley also places emphasis on the order in which you conduct interviews. “You may want to interview different members of the family or friends first, to get their perspective on something, and then go directly to the main interviewee. You'll be able to use that knowledge to ask sharper, more specific questions.” 

Finally, consider how much time you have with each interviewee. If you only have a 30-minute phone call with an important person, make it count by asking directly the most pressing questions you have. And, if you find a reliable source who is also particularly willing to help, conduct several interviews and ask them, if appropriate, to write a foreword as part of the book’s front matter .

Sometimes an important part of the process is packing your bags, getting on a plane, and personally visiting significant places in your character’s journey.

Visit significant places in their life

A place, whether that’s a city, a rural house, or a bodhi tree, can carry a particular energy that you can only truly experience by being there. In putting the pieces together about someone’s life, it may be useful to go visit where they grew up, or where other significant events of their lives happened. It will be easier to imagine what they experienced, and better tell their story. 

In researching The Lost City of Z , author David Grann embarked on a trek through the Amazon, retracing the steps of British explorer Percy Fawcett. This led Grann to develop new theories about the circumstances surrounding the explorer's disappearance.

Still from the movie The Lost City of Z in which the explorer is surrounded by an Amazon native tribe

Hopefully, you won’t have to deal with jaguars and anacondas to better understand your subject’s environment, but try to walk into their shoes as much as possible. 

Once you’ve researched your character enough, it’s time to put together all the puzzle pieces you collected so far. 

Take the bulk of notes, media, and other documents you’ve collected, and start to give them some order and structure. A simple way to do this is by creating a timeline. 

Create a chronological timeline

It helps to organize your notes chronologically 一 from childhood to the senior years, line up the most significant events of your subject’s life, including dates, places, names and other relevant bits. 

Timeline of Steve Jobs' career

You should be able to divide their life into distinct periods, each with their unique events and significance. Based on that, you can start drafting an outline of the narrative you want to create.  

Draft a story outline 

Since a biography entails writing about a person’s entire life, it will have a beginning, a middle, and an end. You can pick where you want to end the story, depending on how consequential the last years of your subject were. But the nature of the work will give you a starting character arc to work with. 

To outline the story then, you could turn to the popular Three-Act Structure , which divides the narrative in three main parts. In a nutshell, you’ll want to make sure to have the following:

  • Act 1. Setup : Introduce the protagonist's background and the turning points that set them on a path to achieve a goal. 
  • Act 2. Confrontation : Describe the challenges they encounter, both internal and external, and how they rise to them. Then..
  • Act 3. Resolution : Reach a climactic point in their story in which they succeed (or fail), showing how they (and the world around them) have changed as a result. 

Only one question remains before you begin writing: what will be the main focus of your biography?

Think about why you’re so drawn to your subject to dedicate years of your life to recounting their own. What aspect of their life do you want to highlight? Is it their evil nature, artistic genius, or visionary mindset? And what evidence have you got to back that up? Find a central thesis or focus to weave as the main thread throughout your narrative. 

Cover of Hitler and Stalin by Alan Bullock

Or find a unique angle

If you don’t have a particular theme to explore, finding a distinct angle on your subject’s story can also help you distinguish your work from other biographies or existing works on the same subject.

Plenty of biographies have been published about The Beatles 一 many of which have different focuses and approaches: 

  • Philip Norman's Shout is sometimes regarded as leaning more towards a pro-Lennon and anti-McCartney stance, offering insights into the band's inner dynamics. 
  • Ian McDonald's Revolution in the Head closely examines their music track by track, shifting the focus back to McCartney as a primary creative force. 
  • Craig Brown's One Two Three Four aims to capture their story through anecdotes, fan letters, diary entries, and interviews. 
  • Mark Lewisohn's monumental three-volume biography, Tune In , stands as a testament to over a decade of meticulous research, chronicling every intricate detail of the Beatles' journey.

Group picture of The Beatles

Finally, consider that biographies are often more than recounting the life of a person. Similar to how Dickens’ Great Expectations is not solely about a boy named Pip (but an examination and critique of Britain’s fickle, unforgiving class system), a biography should strive to illuminate a broader truth — be it social, political, or human — beyond the immediate subject of the book. 

Once you’ve identified your main focus or angle, it’s time to write a great story. 

Illustration of a writer mixing storytelling ingredients

While biographies are often highly informative, they do not have to be dry and purely expository in nature . You can play with storytelling elements to make it an engaging read. 

You could do that by thoroughly detailing the setting of the story , depicting the people involved in the story as fully-fledged characters , or using rising action and building to a climax when describing a particularly significant milestone of the subject’s life. 

One common way to make a biography interesting to read is starting on a strong foot…

Hook the reader from the start

Just because you're honoring your character's whole life doesn't mean you have to begin when they said their first word. Starting from the middle or end of their life can be more captivating as it introduces conflicts and stakes that shaped their journey.

When he wrote about Christopher McCandless in Into the Wild , author Jon Krakauer didn’t open his subject’s childhood and abusive family environment. Instead, the book begins with McCandless hitchhiking his way into the wilderness, and subsequently being discovered dead in an abandoned bus. By starting in medias res , Krakauer hooks the reader’s interest, before tracing back the causes and motivations that led McCandless to die alone in that bus in the first place.

Chris McCandless self-portrait in front of the now iconic bus

You can bend the timeline to improve the reader’s reading experience throughout the rest of the story too…

Play with flashback 

While biographies tend to follow a chronological narrative, you can use flashbacks to tell brief stories or anecdotes when appropriate. For example, if you were telling the story of footballer Lionel Messi, before the climax of winning the World Cup with Argentina, you could recall when he was just 13 years old, giving an interview to a local newspaper, expressing his lifelong dream of playing for the national team. 

Used sparsely and intentionally, flashbacks can add more context to the story and keep the narrative interesting. Just like including dialogue does…

Reimagine conversations

Recreating conversations that your subject had with people around them is another effective way to color the story. Dialogue helps the reader imagine the story like a movie, providing a deeper sensory experience. 

what to include in a biography of a person

One thing is trying to articulate the root of Steve Jobs’ obsession with product design, another would be to quote his father , teaching him how to build a fence when he was young: “You've got to make the back of the fence just as good looking as the front of the fence. Even though nobody will see it, you will know. And that will show that you're dedicated to making something perfect.”

Unlike memoirs and autobiographies, in which the author tells the story from their personal viewpoint and enjoys greater freedom to recall conversations, biographies require a commitment to facts. So, when recreating dialogue, try to quote directly from reliable sources like personal diaries, emails, and text messages. You could also use your interview scripts as an alternative to dialogue. As Tom Bromley suggests, “If you talk with a good amount of people, you can try to tell the story from their perspective, interweaving different segments and quoting the interviewees directly.”

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These are just some of the story elements you can use to make your biography more compelling. Once you’ve finished your manuscript, it’s a good idea to ask for feedback. 

If you’re going to self-publish your biography, you’ll have to polish it to professional standards. After leaving your work to rest for a while, look at it with fresh eyes and self-edit your manuscript eliminating passive voice, filler words, and redundant adverbs. 

Illustration of an editor reviewing a manuscript

Then, have a professional editor give you a general assessment. They’ll look at the structure and shape of your manuscript and tell you which parts need to be expanded on or cut. As someone who edited and commissioned several biographies, Tom Bromley points out that a professional “will look at the sources used and assess whether they back up the points made, or if more are needed. They would also look for context, and whether or not more background information is needed for the reader to understand the story fully. And they might check your facts, too.”  

In addition to structural editing, you may want to have someone copy-edit and proofread your work.

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Importantly, make sure to include a bibliography with a list of all the interviews, documents, and sources used in the writing process. You’ll have to compile it according to a manual of style, but you can easily create one by using tools like EasyBib . Once the text is nicely polished and typeset in your writing software , you can prepare for the publication process.  

In conclusion, by mixing storytelling elements with diligent research, you’ll be able to breathe life into a powerful biography that immerses readers in another individual’s life experience. Whether that’ll spark inspiration or controversy, remember you could have an important role in shaping their legacy 一 and that’s something not to take lightly. 

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The Elements of a Biography: How to Write an Interesting Bio

  • March 30, 2022

While these books are generally non-fiction, they may include elements of a biography in order to more accurately reflect the nature of the subject’s life and personality, Writing about someone who actually existed, whether it’s a family member, close friend, famous person, or historical figure, involves certain elements. A person’s life story is being told, and the subject’s life needs to be organized in such a way that the reader is interested and engaged. 

Biographies can easily read as boring announcements of only a human’s accomplishments in life, and if you want the bio you write to stand out, you should try to avoid that.

When you’re writing a biography or even a short professional bio, ask yourself what sorts of things you’d like included if someone was writing your biography. 

You would most likely want people to get a feel of who you were as a person, and to be able to understand the way that you felt, what moved and motivated you, and what changes you wanted to see and make in the world.

Do the same thing when you write about someone else. Do the subject the favor of treating them like a real person instead of a stiff and boring character that students will dread having to learn about at school each year. Getting students excited about history, historical figures, and people of interest can inspire them to work hard to make a difference as well.

What Does Biographical Mean?

The term “biographical” is an adjective that means having the characteristics of a biography or constituting a set of personal information or details. For instance,  biographical notes  contain information about a specific person’s life or narrate stories and experiences of that person. Another example is  biographical details . Biographical details include who the person is, what they have become, what they have struggled with, and any other information unique to them.

Keep It Real

Don’t fictionalize the life of the person you are writing about, but remember your sense of humanity when you write, and do what you can to make sure that your subject can be viewed as a real person who existed, rather than just a name on a monument.

It’s a thin line between rumor, speculation, and fact when telling the stories of people, especially people who are long dead and can’t verify or refute it for themselves. Be sure that if you do research and something is speculated, you state that in your writing.

Never claim something is fact when it’s isn’t a known and proven fact. This will cause you to lose credibility as a nonfiction writer.

What to Include in a Biography

When you read or write a biography, most of them have the same basic details of a person’s life. The person’s date of birth, date of death, and the major accomplishments and key events in between those two dates are all important to include in the writing process. These are elements that need to exist within the story of the person to be considered a full biography.

Keep in mind that these are the minimum elements that need to be included. Expanding on these elements and adding meat to the bones of your story will engage readers. 

elements of a biography

If you only include important dates and accomplishments, you might as well direct the reader to visit the headstone of the person you are writing about, and they’ll get almost as much information.

Personal details offer a more intimate look into the subject’s life and can help the reader to relate or at least understand some of the decisions made by the person, as well as the influences that played a part in steering the person’s life. 

If the subject had any passions that he or she voiced throughout his or her life, mentioning those in your story of their life will elevate your biography.

Relevant Information

Family members are often mentioned in biography and major details of the person’s career. If the person was known for their accomplishments in their field of work, there is often more content there than a brief career summary.

The result is usually more of a professional bio than a personal one. Basic facts of the person’s education are often mentioned as well. If you are writing a biography about someone, try to remember to write about more than just their job.

Remember that you aren’t writing a resume, and the subject isn’t asking you to help them get a job. You are tasked with writing about the entire life of someone. You are more than your job, so the subject of the biography you are writing should get to be more, as well.

Personal Information

Biographies don’t have to be boring. Personal stories, interesting stories, and funny quips are sometimes used to make the readers identify with the subject. 

When included in a biography, these details give the reader a chance to feel as though the subject was a real person with opinions, feelings, flaws, and a personality, rather than a stuffy person who is significant to history and not much else.

Providing the audience with these lighthearted but not necessarily crucial elements of a biography will make the biography more interesting and appealing.

Narrator and Order

Point of view.

An important element in most biographies is establishing the point of view. You don’t want to write it like a novel and have it written in a first-person point of view. This will result in something that is somewhat fictionalized and something that more closely resembles an autobiography, which is the personal story of a person’s own life.

Biographies should be written in the third person point of view. In third person, someone outside of the story, who has all of the information, is the narrator. 

Try not to be biased. Stick to the basic facts, major events that you have researched, and keep the story interesting but accurate. A biography is not meant to be a fictional adventure, but the subject’s life was significant in some manner, and the details of that can still be interesting.

Chronological Order

Biographies usually begin, well, in the beginning, at the birth of the subject. The first sentence usually includes the basic information that a reader needs to know: who the person is, where the person is from, and when the person was born. A biography that doesn’t include these details but starts at the most important life events can exist, but they aren’t common. You may see this tactic used in a short biography or a brief bio.

Usually, chronological order is the best course of action for a biography. A person’s life begins in childhood, so details of that childhood, even briefly, are necessary before getting to the subject’s adult life.

Describing the subject’s early life to the audience usually means you should research and write about the family they came from, their early education, what kind of student the person was, where they came from, any close bonds they had as children with people. 

As well as their interests and whether or not they pursued the life they ended up with as an adult, or if greatness and accomplishments were thrust upon them by events outside of their control.

As you progress into a subject’s adult life, you should add achievements to the biography. Focus not only on the major achievements as acts but also try to fill the audience in on what the motivation for the achievements was.

For example,  Abraham Lincoln  was the sixteenth President of the United States. That’s a well-known fact. Students learn about him in American grade schools and then over and over until their educational careers are over. In a bio about Lincoln, you may discuss the fact that Lincoln freed the slaves.

While this is true, you need to research deeper into that. Just stating that a person did something doesn’t make it an interesting read. Ask yourself why he freed the slaves.

Do your research, speak to an expert, and search for journals and letters that a subject might have written to describe how they felt to the audience and how they drove the person to do what they did.

Focus on the Impact the Person’s Life Had

After you have gone over the person’s life in the biography, you should share with readers what impact the subject’s life had on the rest of the world, even (sometimes especially) after their death. Many of the important people in history who have biographies written about them are deceased.

When you write a biography, ask yourself why anyone cares what that person accomplished. What did they do for one or two people to make them important enough to have a biography?

For example, many students learn about George Washington. He gave America the sense of hope and patriotism that they needed to declare and then achieve freedom from English rule. 

When we search for information about Washington, we find not only his bio and his painted picture, but we also see and learn about the things he influenced, inspired, and the feelings he invoked among the people around him.

When we give a well-rounded look at not only what the person did in their lives, but how they changed the world, even just for those around them, we start to see the bigger picture and appreciate the person more.

Students can go from being bored and obligated to reading sentence after sentence about a boring guy who lived hundreds of years ago to being excited to learn more about the founding fathers. As a writer, it is your job to inspire these feelings for the reader.

elements of a biography

When you write a biography, it’s important that you thoroughly research and fact-check everything you are writing about. Everyone knows that Lincoln freed the slaves, but you should still research it to ensure that everything is accurate as far as dates, places, speeches, and motivations go.

Make sure that you are getting your information from reputable resources. If you are interviewing live people, be sure to verify their credentials and use a tape recorder when doing so.

A biography is not an opinion piece or a novel, and there is no room for error, miscalculation, or falsification when you write a biography.

Actor Bio Example

An actor’s bio tells about the details of a specific person with regard to a person’s acting career. Below is an example. ( This example is created to serve as a guide for you and does not describe an actual person .)

Edgar Anderson and his family reside in Washington. He is currently taking up a Business Management course and striving to achieve a balance between schooling and his career. Edgar first experienced acting when he was still a junior high school student in 2015, where he played  Horton  in a Seussical-inspired school theater play. His manager discovered him in 2018 when the former watched him portray the lead role in a play about the history of their school during the school’s Foundation Day.

In 2022, he got his first nomination for best actor at the Oscars. Recently, Edgar has found a new set of hobbies. He enjoys learning karate and foreign languages. Edgar often thanks his family and friends because they have fully supported him in his acting career. He also extends his gratitude to the directors he has worked with and the talent agency that has helped him ascend the ladder of his career.

He dedicates his early success to all who have believed in him over the years. According to Edger, he loves his career even more because of the overflowing love and support he continually receives from his fans and loved ones.

The Importance of a Biography

It is important to include all of the elements of a biography because a biography is the story of a person’s life, and that’s a big undertaking. The subject is often no longer alive and can’t dispute what we write about them, so we have to get the information right and do the best we can when writing.

Students work on writing biographies and research papers about people in school so that they can learn more about the people who helped us get to where we are today in terms of society.

We teach students the skills and elements of a biography so that the practice of telling the story of a person’s life never gets lost. We need to focus on the future, but we cannot do that without understanding the past.

Other people may one day come along and write your bio, and when that happens, you have to hope that the first step they take is to do the research thoroughly so that they can do your story justice. That is what we owe the person we are writing about when we start to search for information about them.

Be respectful of the biography because it is the telling of those who came before us and can serve as a guidebook for the future or even a warning.

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Literacy Ideas

How to Write a Biography

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Biographies are big business. Whether in book form or Hollywood biopics, the lives of the famous and sometimes not-so-famous fascinate us.

While it’s true that most biographies are about people who are in the public eye, sometimes the subject is less well-known. Mostly though, famous or not, the person who is written about has led a life that is in some way incredible.

While your students will most likely have a basic understanding of a biography, it’s worth taking a little time before they put pen to paper to tease out a crystal clear definition of a biography.

Visual Writing Prompts

What Is a Biography?

how to write a biography | how to start an autobiography | How to Write a Biography | literacyideas.com

Simply put, a biography is an account of someone’s life written by someone else . While there is a genre known as a fictional biography, for the most part, biographies are, by definition, nonfiction.

Generally speaking, biographies provide an account of the subject’s life from the earliest days of their childhood right up to the present day or their death if the subject is deceased.

The job of a biography is more than just to outline the bare facts of a person’s life.

Rather than just listing the basic details of their upbringing, hobbies, education, work, relationships, and death, a well-written biography should also paint a picture of the subject’s personality, and as well as their experience of life.

A COMPLETE UNIT ON TEACHING BIOGRAPHIES

how to write a biography | biography and autobiography writing unit 1 | How to Write a Biography | literacyideas.com

Teach your students to write AMAZING BIOGRAPHIES & AUTOBIOGRAPHIES using proven RESEARCH SKILLS and WRITING STRATEGIES .

  • Understand the purpose of both forms of biography.
  • Explore the language and perspective of both.
  • Prompts and Challenges to engage students in writing a biography.
  • Dedicated lessons for both forms of biography.
  • Biographical Projects can expand students’ understanding of reading and writing a biography.
  • A COMPLETE 82-PAGE UNIT – NO PREPARATION REQUIRED.

What Are the Main Features of a Biography?

Before students begin writing a biography, they’ll need to have a firm grasp of the main features of the genre. A good way to determine how well they understand these essential elements of the genre is by asking them to compile a checklist.

At a minimum, their checklists should contain the items below. Be sure to help them fill in any gaps before moving on to the writing process.

The purpose of a biography is to provide an account of someone’s life.

Biography structure.

ORIENTATION (BEGINNING) Open your biography with a strong hook to grab the reader’s attention

SEQUENCING: In most cases, biographies are written in chronological order unless you are a very competent writer consciously trying to break from this trend.

COVER: childhood, upbringing, education, influences, accomplishments, relationships, etc. – everything that helps the reader to understand the person.

CONCLUSION: Wrap your biography up with some details about what the subject is doing now if they are still alive. If they have passed away, make mention of what impact they have made and what their legacy is or will be.

BIOGRAPHY FEATURES

LANGUAGE Use descriptive and figurative language that will paint images inside your audience’s minds as they read. Use time connectives to link events.

PERSPECTIVE Biographies are written from the third person’s perspective.

DETAILS: Give specific details about people, places, events, times, dates, etc. Reflect on how events shaped the subject. You might want to include some relevant photographs with captions. A timeline may also be of use depending upon your subject and what you are trying to convey to your audience.

TENSE Written in the past tense (though ending may shift to the present/future tense)

THE PROCESS OF WRITING A BIOGRAPHY

Like any form of writing, you will find it simple if you have a plan and follow it through. These steps will ensure you cover the essential bases of writing a biography essay.

Firstly, select a subject that inspires you. Someone whose life story resonates with you and whose contribution to society intrigues you. The next step is to conduct thorough research. Engage in extensive reading, explore various sources, watch documentaries, and glean all available information to provide a comprehensive account of the person’s life.

Creating an outline is essential to organize your thoughts and information. The outline should include the person’s early life, education, career, achievements, and any other significant events or contributions. It serves as a map for the writing process, ensuring that all vital information is included.

Your biography should have an engaging introduction that captivates the reader’s attention and provides background information on the person you’re writing about. It should include a thesis statement that summarizes the main points of the biography.

Writing a biography in chronological order is crucial . You should begin with the person’s early life and move through their career and achievements. This approach provides clarity on how the person’s life unfolded and how they accomplished their goals.

A biography should be written in a narrative style , capturing the essence of the person’s life through vivid descriptions, anecdotes, and quotes. Avoid dry, factual writing and focus on creating a compelling narrative that engages the reader.

Adding personal insights and opinions can enhance the biography’s overall impact, providing a unique perspective on the person’s achievements, legacy, and impact on society.

Editing and proofreading are vital elements of the writing process. Thoroughly reviewing your biography ensures that the writing is clear, concise, and error-free. You can even request feedback from someone else to ensure that it is engaging and well-written.

Finally, including a bibliography at the end of your biography is essential. It gives credit to the sources that were used during research, such as books, articles, interviews, and websites.

Tips for Writing a Brilliant Biography

Biography writing tip #1: choose your subject wisely.

There are several points for students to reflect on when deciding on a subject for their biography. Let’s take a look at the most essential points to consider when deciding on the subject for a biography:

Interest: To produce a biography will require sustained writing from the student. That’s why students must choose their subject well. After all, a biography is an account of someone’s entire life to date. Students must ensure they choose a subject that will sustain their interest throughout the research, writing, and editing processes.

Merit: Closely related to the previous point, students must consider whether the subject merits the reader’s interest. Aside from pure labors of love, writing should be undertaken with the reader in mind. While producing a biography demands sustained writing from the author, it also demands sustained reading from the reader.

Therefore, students should ask themselves if their chosen subject has had a life worthy of the reader’s interest and the time they’d need to invest in reading their biography.

Information: Is there enough information available on the subject to fuel the writing of an entire biography? While it might be a tempting idea to write about a great-great-grandfather’s experience in the war. There would be enough interest there to sustain the author’s and the reader’s interest, but do you have enough access to information about their early childhood to do the subject justice in the form of a biography?

Biography Writing Tip #2: R esearch ! Research! Research!

While the chances are good that the student already knows quite a bit about the subject they’ve chosen. Chances are 100% that they’ll still need to undertake considerable research to write their biography.

As with many types of writing , research is an essential part of the planning process that shouldn’t be overlooked. If a student wishes to give as complete an account of their subject’s life as possible, they’ll need to put in the time at the research stage.

An effective way to approach the research process is to:

1. Compile a chronological timeline of the central facts, dates, and events of the subject’s life

2. Compile detailed descriptions of the following personal traits:

  •      Physical looks
  •      Character traits
  •      Values and beliefs

3. Compile some research questions based on different topics to provide a focus for the research:

  • Childhood : Where and when were they born? Who were their parents? Who were the other family members? What education did they receive?
  • Obstacles: What challenges did they have to overcome? How did these challenges shape them as individuals?
  • Legacy: What impact did this person have on the world and/or the people around them?
  • Dialogue & Quotes: Dialogue and quotations by and about the subject are a great way to bring color and life to a biography. Students should keep an eagle eye out for the gems that hide amid their sources.

As the student gets deeper into their research, new questions will arise that can further fuel the research process and help to shape the direction the biography will ultimately go in.

Likewise, during the research, themes will often begin to suggest themselves. Exploring these themes is essential to bring depth to biography, but we’ll discuss this later in this article.

Research Skills:

Researching for biography writing is an excellent way for students to hone their research skills in general. Developing good research skills is essential for future academic success. Students will have opportunities to learn how to:

  • Gather relevant information
  • Evaluate different information sources
  • Select suitable information
  • Organize information into a text.

Students will have access to print and online information sources, and, in some cases, they may also have access to people who knew or know the subject (e.g. biography of a family member).

These days, much of the research will likely take place online. It’s crucial, therefore, to provide your students with guidance on how to use the internet safely and evaluate online sources for reliability. This is the era of ‘ fake news ’ and misinformation after all!

COMPLETE TEACHING UNIT ON INTERNET RESEARCH SKILLS USING GOOGLE SEARCH

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Teach your students ESSENTIAL SKILLS OF THE INFORMATION ERA to become expert DIGITAL RESEARCHERS.

⭐How to correctly ask questions to search engines on all devices.

⭐ How to filter and refine your results to find exactly what you want every time.

⭐ Essential Research and critical thinking skills for students.

⭐ Plagiarism, Citing and acknowledging other people’s work.

⭐ How to query, synthesize and record your findings logically.

BIOGRAPHY WRITING Tip #3: Find Your Themes In Biography Writing

Though predominantly a nonfiction genre, the story still plays a significant role in good biography writing. The skills of characterization and plot structuring are transferable here. And, just like in fiction, exploring themes in a biographical work helps connect the personal to the universal. Of course, these shouldn’t be forced; this will make the work seem contrived, and the reader may lose faith in the truthfulness of the account. A biographer needs to gain and maintain the trust of the reader.

Fortunately, themes shouldn’t need to be forced. A life well-lived is full of meaning, and the themes the student writer is looking for will emerge effortlessly from the actions and events of the subject’s life. It’s just a case of learning how to spot them.

One way to identify the themes in a life is to look for recurring events or situations in a person’s life. These should be apparent from the research completed previously. The students should seek to identify these patterns that emerge in the subject’s life. For example, perhaps they’ve had to overcome various obstacles throughout different periods of their life. In that case, the theme of overcoming adversity is present and has been identified.

Usually, a biography has several themes running throughout, so be sure your students work to identify more than one theme in their subject’s life.

BIOGRAPHY WRITING Tip: #4 Put Something of Yourself into the Writing

While the defining feature of a biography is that it gives an account of a person’s life, students must understand that this is not all a biography does. Relating the facts and details of a subject’s life is not enough. The student biographer should not be afraid to share their thoughts and feelings with the reader throughout their account of their subject’s life.

The student can weave some of their personality into the fabric of the text by providing commentary and opinion as they relate the events of the person’s life and the wider social context at the time. Unlike the detached and objective approach we’d expect to find in a history textbook, in a biography, student-writers should communicate their enthusiasm for their subject in their writing.

This makes for a more intimate experience for the reader, as they get a sense of getting to know the author and the subject they are writing about.

Student Examples of Biography Writing

  • Year 5 Example
  • Year 7 Example
  • Year 9 Example

“The Rock ‘n’ Roll King: Elvis Presley”

Elvis Aaron Presley, born on January 8, 1935, was an amazing singer and actor known as the “King of Rock ‘n’ Roll.” Even though he’s been dead for nearly 50 years, I can’t help but be fascinated by his incredible life!

Elvis grew up in Tupelo, Mississippi, in a tiny house with his parents and twin brother. His family didn’t have much money, but they shared a love for music. Little did they know Elvis would become a music legend!

When he was only 11 years old, Elvis got his first guitar. He taught himself to play and loved singing gospel songs. As he got older, he started combining different music styles like country, blues, and gospel to create a whole new sound – that’s Rock ‘n’ Roll!

In 1954, at the age of 19, Elvis recorded his first song, “That’s All Right.” People couldn’t believe how unique and exciting his music was. His famous hip-swinging dance moves also made him a sensation!

Elvis didn’t just rock the music scene; he also starred in movies like “Love Me Tender” and “Jailhouse Rock.” But fame came with challenges. Despite facing ups and downs, Elvis kept spreading happiness through his music.

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Tragically, Elvis passed away in 1977, but his music and charisma live on. Even today, people worldwide still enjoy his songs like “Hound Dog” and “Can’t Help Falling in Love.” Elvis Presley’s legacy as the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll will live forever.

Long Live the King: I wish I’d seen him.

Elvis Presley, the Rock ‘n’ Roll legend born on January 8, 1935, is a captivating figure that even a modern-day teen like me can’t help but admire. As I delve into his life, I wish I could have experienced the magic of his live performances.

Growing up in Tupelo, Mississippi, Elvis faced challenges but found solace in music. At 11, he got his first guitar, a symbol of his journey into the world of sound. His fusion of gospel, country, and blues into Rock ‘n’ Roll became a cultural phenomenon.

The thought of being in the audience during his early performances, especially when he recorded “That’s All Right” at 19, sends shivers down my spine. Imagining the crowd’s uproar and feeling the revolutionary energy of that moment is a dream I wish I could have lived.

Elvis wasn’t just a musical prodigy; he was a dynamic performer. His dance moves, the embodiment of rebellion, and his roles in films like “Love Me Tender” and “Jailhouse Rock” made him a true icon.

After watching him on YouTube, I can’t help but feel a little sad that I’ll never witness the King’s live performances. The idea of swaying to “Hound Dog” or being enchanted by “Can’t Help Falling in Love” in person is a missed opportunity. Elvis may have left us in 1977, but he was the king of rock n’ roll. Long live the King!

Elvis Presley: A Teen’s Take on the Rock ‘n’ Roll Icon”

Elvis Presley, born January 8, 1935, was a revolutionary force in the music world, earning his title as the “King of Rock ‘n’ Roll.” Exploring his life, even as a 16-year-old today, I’m captivated by the impact he made.

Hailing from Tupelo, Mississippi, Elvis grew up in humble beginnings, surrounded by the love of his parents and twin brother. It’s inspiring to think that, despite financial challenges, this young man would redefine the music scene.

At 11, Elvis got his first guitar, sparking a self-taught journey into music. His early gospel influences evolved into a unique fusion of country, blues, and gospel, creating the electrifying genre of Rock ‘n’ Roll. In 1954, at only 19, he recorded “That’s All Right,” marking the birth of a musical legend.

Elvis wasn’t just a musical innovator; he was a cultural phenomenon. His rebellious dance moves and magnetic stage presence challenged the norms. He transitioned seamlessly into acting, starring in iconic films like “Love Me Tender” and “Jailhouse Rock.”

how to write a biography | Elvis Presley promoting Jailhouse Rock | How to Write a Biography | literacyideas.com

However, fame came at a cost, and Elvis faced personal struggles. Despite the challenges, his music continued to resonate. Even now, classics like “Hound Dog” and “Can’t Help Falling in Love” transcend generations.

Elvis Presley’s impact on music and culture is undeniable. He was known for his unique voice, charismatic persona, and electrifying performances. He sold over one billion records worldwide, making him one of the best-selling solo artists in history. He received numerous awards throughout his career, including three Grammy Awards and the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

Elvis’s influence can still be seen in today’s music. Many contemporary artists, such as Bruno Mars, Lady Gaga, and Justin Timberlake, have cited Elvis as an inspiration. His music continues to be featured in movies, TV shows, and commercials.

Elvis left us in 1977, but his legacy lives on. I appreciate his breaking barriers and fearlessly embracing his artistic vision. Elvis Presley’s impact on music and culture is timeless, a testament to the enduring power of his artistry. His music has inspired generations and will continue to do so for many years to come.

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Teaching Resources

Use our resources and tools to improve your student’s writing skills through proven teaching strategies.

BIOGRAPHY WRITING TEACHING IDEAS AND LESSONS

We have compiled a sequence of biography-related lessons or teaching ideas that you can follow as you please. They are straightforward enough for most students to follow without further instruction.

BIOGRAPHY LESSON IDEA # 1:

This session aims to give students a broader understanding of what makes a good biography.

Once your students have compiled a comprehensive checklist of the main features of a biography, allow them to use it to assess some biographies from your school library or on the internet using the feature checklist.

When students have assessed a selection of biographies, take some time as a class to discuss them. You can base the discussion around the following prompts:

  • Which biographies covered all the criteria from their checklist?
  • Which biographies didn’t?
  • Which biography was the most readable in terms of structure?
  • Which biography do you think was the least well-structured? How would you improve this?

Looking at how other writers have interpreted the form will help students internalize the necessary criteria before attempting to produce a biography. Once students have a clear understanding of the main features of the biography, they’re ready to begin work on writing a biography.

When the time does come to put pen to paper, be sure they’re armed with the following top tips to help ensure they’re as well prepared as possible.

BIOGRAPHY LESSON IDEA # 2:

This session aims to guide students through the process of selecting the perfect biography subject.

Instruct students to draw up a shortlist of three potential subjects for the biography they’ll write.

Using the three criteria mentioned in the writing guide (Interest, Merit, and Information), students award each potential subject a mark out of 5 for each of the criteria. In this manner, students can select the most suitable subject for their biography.

BIOGRAPHY LESSON IDEA # 3:

This session aims to get students into the researching phase and then prioritise events and organise them chronologically.

Students begin by making a timeline of their subject’s life, starting with their birth and ending with their death or the present day. If the student has yet to make a final decision on the subject of their biography, a family member will often serve well for this exercise as a practice exercise.

Students should research and gather the key events of the person’s life, covering each period of their life from when they were a baby, through childhood and adolescence, right up to adulthood and old age. They should then organize these onto a timeline. Students can include photographs with captions if they have them.

They can present these to the class when they have finished their timelines.

BIOGRAPHY LESSON IDEA # 4:

Instruct students to look over their timeline, notes, and other research. Challenge them to identify three patterns that repeat throughout the subject’s life and sort all the related events and incidents into specific categories.

Students should then label each category with a single word. This is the thematic concept or the broad general underlying idea. After that, students should write a sentence or two expressing what the subject’s life ‘says’ about that concept.

This is known as the thematic statement . With the thematic concepts and thematic statements identified, the student now has some substantial ideas to explore that will help bring more profound meaning and wider resonance to their biography.

BIOGRAPHY LESSON IDEA # 5:

Instruct students to write a short objective account of an event in their own life. They can write about anyone from their past. It needn’t be more than a couple of paragraphs, but the writing should be strictly factual, focusing only on the objective details of what happened.

Once they have completed this, it’s time to rewrite the paragraph, but they should include some opinion and personal commentary this time.

The student here aims to inject some color and personality into their writing, to transform a detached, factual account into a warm, engaging story.

Biography Graphic Organizer

Get our FREE Biography Writing Graphic Organizer

Use this valuable tool in the research and writing phases to keep your students on track and engaged.

WRITING CHECKLIST & RUBRIC BUNDLE

writing checklists

To Conclude

By this stage, your students should have an excellent technical overview of a biography’s essential elements.

They should be able to choose their subject in light of how interesting and worthy they are, as well as give consideration to the availability of information out there. They should be able to research effectively and identify emerging themes in their research notes. And finally, they should be able to bring some of their personality and uniqueness into their retelling of the life of another.

Remember that writing a biography is not only a great way to develop a student’s writing skills; it can be used in almost all curriculum areas. For example, to find out more about a historical figure in History, to investigate scientific contributions to Science, or to celebrate a hero from everyday life.

Biography is an excellent genre for students to develop their writing skills and to find inspiration in the lives of others in the world around them.

HOW TO WRITE A BIOGRAPHY TUTORIAL VIDEO

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Personal Narrative Writing Guide

IMAGES

  1. 30 Professional Biography Examples (& Templates)

    what to include in a biography of a person

  2. Biography Template

    what to include in a biography of a person

  3. 45 Biography Templates & Examples (Personal, Professional)

    what to include in a biography of a person

  4. How to Write A Bio: Useful Steps and Tips

    what to include in a biography of a person

  5. What a Biography is about, who writes it, and what are its features

    what to include in a biography of a person

  6. 45 Biography Templates & Examples (Personal, Professional)

    what to include in a biography of a person

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COMMENTS

  1. 11 Tips On How To Write A Personal Biography + Examples -

    1. How to write a bio about yourself that checks all the boxes. When it comes to writing a personal or professional bio, there are a few items that are standard to include. While a bio may not have all of these things, if any of the following apply to you, then they should be included.

  2. How to Write a Biography: A 7-Step Guide [+Template]

    How to write a biography: 1. Seek permission when possible. 2. Research your subject thoroughly. 3. Do interviews and visit locations. 4. Organize your findings. 5. Identify a central thesis. 6. Write it using narrative elements. 7. Get feedback and polish the text. 🤓 Obsessed about someone's life enough to want to write their biography?

  3. How to Write a Biography: 8 Steps for a Captivating Story

    The most interesting things typically included in a biography are: the subject’s family background and childhood. stories that illustrate their personality. their motivations, goals, and achievements. their key relationships, such as their siblings, spouse, children, best friends, colleagues, mentors, rivals. their hidden fears or desires.

  4. The Elements of a Biography: How to Write an Interesting Bio

    The person’s date of birth, date of death, and the major accomplishments and key events in between those two dates are all important to include in the writing process. These are elements that need to exist within the story of the person to be considered a full biography. Keep in mind that these are the minimum elements that need to be included.

  5. How to Write a Biography

    Rather than just listing the basic details of their upbringing, hobbies, education, work, relationships, and death, a well-written biography should also paint a picture of the subject’s personality, and as well as their experience of life. A COMPLETE UNIT ON TEACHING BIOGRAPHIES.