Writing a biography is an exciting chance to learn interesting facts about someone else’s life. This person could be a historical figure, a Hollywood actress, an artist, a politician, an inventor – the list goes on and on. In order to write a great biography, you will need to choose a subject that you find interesting; plus, it should have had some sort of lasting impact on the world.
If you’re writing a biography for school, or simply interested in learning more about a certain person, follow this guide to create an engaging, informative and well-written story.
Let’s take it step by step to give you a clear idea of what it takes to write a biography that will get you an A+:
- Choosing your subject
In essence, any biography is simply an account of another person’s life – which is why the first and the most important step is choosing your subject. When deciding on whose life to research, whether it be a family member or a historical figure, there are several factors to consider.
The wisest way to start is to determine how much material is available on this subject. If it looks like it may take longer to find information on this person than to write their biography, you may want to consider having a backup.
Remember, you’re telling this person’s story and the more detailed you can be, the better so that your readers can feel as if they are watching this person’s life unfold before their eyes. Make sure you pick someone with a story worth telling.
- Get permission
Before you get started, make sure you get the thumbs up from the person you plan to write about. Most school students usually neglect this step (and some professors may even choose to ignore it as well); however, when writing a biography that is to be published, violating this rule may have drastic consequences.
Contact the subject of your biography directly, via email or telephone to get permission; then, schedule an interview. If you cannot schedule an interview right away, make a plan to do some initial research.
If you do not get your subject’s permission to write about them, you may need to choose a different subject.
If the person you have chosen is no longer alive, you will not need to ask permission.
- Make an outline
Another key to writing a biography is knowing what you will write about. Generally, you want to do this at the beginning (or during) your research so you can decide what details your piece will include. Will it cover the person’s entire life, or will it focus on a specific portion of their career?
Often, biographies tell the story of a subject’s life chronologically. To outline your biography, you should start by introducing their early life and childhood. Next, follow with adulthood and then the later or current parts of their life.
An example outline may include the following:
Childhood and early life
- Details about their family
- Where they grew up
- Details of their education
- Information about their upbringing
- Later education
- Key relationships with others
- Information about their career
- Accomplishments and achievements
Current situation in life
- Mention their current situation
- Details of their later years in life
- Information on their death, if applicable
- Reflect on their impact
Unless otherwise instructed, your outline should follow the standard essay format, which includes an introduction, three body paragraphs, and a conclusion. This outline will help you organize your thoughts, the information you gathered and help you decide where you want to start your research.
- Conduct research
Now that you’ve chosen your subject and made your outline, the real fun begins! It’s important that you research your subject as thoroughly as possible. You can use the Internet, conduct interviews with other people and use any other resources you can find, such as reading books and watching documentaries online or on YouTube.
If your subject is in your community, the best way to conduct your research will be by contacting them directly. To help you formulate a list of questions, consider the following:
- Why is this person’s life worth writing about?
- Why do I feel strongly about this person?
- Why should others feel strongly about this person?
- How has this person made a difference in the world?
It can also be helpful to learn about your subject from the perspective of others. The more insight you gather, the better you will be able to tell this person’s full story. While you may not use all the information you gather, you can highlight some ideas you think are most important.
Drafting your biography
- Format chronologically
Now that you’ve collected all of your research, it’s finally time to write! Just as your subject’s life moves chronologically, your biography should, too. Look back at both your outline and the timeline you created and keep them handy along the way.
Ask yourself what the most impressive thing you learned about this person was. From there, you can circle important facts that you want to highlight throughout your biography.
- Write the introduction
This is, obviously, the first thing your reader will learn about this person, and it’s your chance to get them enthusiastic about reading the rest of your biography. To engage your reader, try one of these “attention-grabbing” introduction styles:
- A quote either directly from or about your subject
- Startling information about your subject
- An interesting story or anecdote about your subject
- A notable accomplishment your subject has made
Next, you will want to follow up with 2-3 sentences of background information that will give context to your biography. This can include important dates, locations or historical moments. In your final sentence, you will introduce your thesis statement – a general statement that explains what you will be writing about. Further on, you will build your body paragraphs on this very statement. A good tip here would be to make the thesis controversial – this way, it has higher chances of getting the reader emotionally involved (and, as a result, interested) in your story.
- Body paragraphs
The body paragraphs are exactly what they sound like – they are what truly form the bulk of your biography. In the body, you will want to cover all the important facts, fun tidbits and other relevant information you uncovered in your research.
If you are not sure how to structure your body paragraphs, try choosing three points you think are most important to the story, then follow each of those points with supporting facts. The following are some core components of all body paragraphs:
- A clear, concise topic sentence
- Evidence and supporting details
- A concluding sentence that wraps up and ties it all together
Having well-written body paragraphs is essential to successfully create an engaging biography. As you’re writing, make sure that each sentence and paragraph is clear and cohesive so that your reader can move effortlessly through your narrative and fully immerse themselves in the story.
The conclusion brings closure to your biography and to the reader through a summary of the points made throughout your biography. Given that the conclusion is the last thing your reader will remember about your biography and the person you are describing, it should leave a lasting (preferably, positive – unless your goal is to prove otherwise) impression.
In your final paragraph, rather than simply restating your thesis statement, try to look deeper and reflect on your subject’s legacy to the world. For example, you may want to consider the following questions:
- Who or what did they have a major influence on?
- What kind of contributions have they made?
- Why is their work still relevant today?
- How will they be remembered?
The best biographies often do more than just recreate a person’s life; they offer little-known facts, opinions and even new ways of thinking about the subject. Do your best to dig deeper and discover what truly makes this person special.
The finishing touches
Once your first draft is completed, go back and check your work for any spelling, grammar or punctuation errors. You can highlight any mistakes you catch, then try reading your essay backward for any flaws you may have missed.
Once you’ve double checked spelling and grammar, go back and edit any awkward or wordy sentences. Read your story aloud and listen for anything that sounds incorrect or unclear. By proofreading thoroughly, you can ensure your work reads as clearly and smoothly as possible.
- Get feedback
In addition to asking others to proofread your biography, you should also ask for overall feedback. Have them read the essay once all the way through, then again to add any notes or initial feedback they may have. To get the best feedback possible, consider asking the following questions:
- Did you understand the purpose of the biography?
- Do you feel as if you learned something after reading the biography?
- Was the structure easy to follow?
You may have more specific questions; however, this provides a good starting point for the reviewer to give his or her opinions. It’s important that you are open to feedback and willing to make all the necessary changes to make your final version your best.
- Cite your sources
This is where all your initial organization will come in handy. Most websites, books, articles, etc. will include sources, or you can site each of them directly. If you use any direct quotes, be sure to give the appropriate credit where it is due to avoid copyright issues.
Depending on your preference or specific directions, you can find various guides on how to cite your sources for different styles such as MLA, APA or Chicago Style.