There are certain situations in life where you’ll be asked to write about people – either about yourself or someone else – and knowing what information to include in a biography can be a helpful first step.
Sometimes a person’s life is so full of rich details and interesting facts that it’s difficult to know what to include and what to leave out; but, there are some guidelines to follow that will help you figure out what to include in a biography.
The key to writing a great biography is really found within this idea: choose facts that are both relevant and interesting to your audience. In order to do this, you should consider why the biography is needed, and who will be reading it, and then focus on those areas of the person’s life that the audience will likely want to know about.
If you’re writing a short biography that will be sent out in a company-wide email in order to introduce a new employee, you’ll probably write about the person’s work history and experience, with perhaps a few personal facts thrown in that will help co-workers get to know him on a personal level.
However, such a biography probably wouldn’t contain details about his parents, for example, and what they did, and how they influenced him while he was growing up. Such information isn’t appropriate for the situation or for the target audience. On the other hand, that information might be highly relevant if you’re writing a biography that will be used in a psychological study.
Of course, you won’t always know who your target audience is – if you’re writing a book, for example, you can't always tell who will read it. In these cases, it’s safe to assume that those who will read the biography are interested in the person, and that’s why they’re reading.
In such a situation, a good approach is to focus primarily on what makes this person special, and target your research accordingly. A biography about someone who achieved a great scientific discovery may focus on the person’s education, for example, and on his early experiments that led to the great discovery. It may also talk about how the discovery impacted his life for better or for worse. These are the things that someone reading about the subject are probably interested in learning.
Consider the length of the biography – this will help determine how much, or how little, information you should include, and how in-depth that information should be. A simple paragraph will contain just some general, basic facts such as:
What is included in a biography will become more complex as the biography gets longer: the more words you have to use, the more facts you can consider for inclusion. A biography that’s several pages long will go into more detail about the person’s history; a book will further discuss what events throughout life made them who they were, and what is significant about them.
A few key components you may want to include in a longer biography are:
Also, knowing how you’d like to divide the story and what points you’d like to discuss will help you determine what information is most important. For example, if the focus of your biography is on someone's service in a war, then you wouldn't need to spend a lot of time on their early career as a salesman, unless that had an impact on their actions during the war.
A biography can contain almost anything about a person – their entire life, or just one key event. What information you include is up to you. Most biographies, regardless of their length and target audience, will provide basic facts like the time and place in which the person lived. But other, more involved details will depend largely on the situation – and on the writer.
As you write more involved biographies, you’ll find yourself faced with questions about what to include and how to talk about it. Just keep in mind why this person is interesting to you, and who might be interested enough to read the biography. Then write the biography based on the facts that will be most important to your audience and that tell the most about your subject.