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 first step in writing a biography is to decide what to include. The length and content of biographies can vary significantly, but there are some common elements in all types. Consider including these elements about the subject of the biography.
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:
- date and place of birth (and death, if applicable)
- current location of residence
- educational background
- professional experience
- area of expertise
- major achievements
These elements don’t all have to be included in every bio. Consider what makes the most sense in light of the story of the person the bio is about and the purpose for which the bio is being created. Use that information to determine what parts of a biography need to be included.
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:
- birth and childhood - Providing details about the time and place someone was raised will give your readers historical context. For example, when writing about a 1960s civil rights activist, share information about what type of situation the person grew up in.
- adult life - The majority of your biography is probably going to focus on the subject's adult life, when significant events started to unfold. Focus on notable events, such as the start of a relationship, a dramatic life change or another major turning point.
- death - If the subject of your story is deceased, you'll probably want to cover the events that unfolded before their passing. What legacy did they leave behind?
- interesting facts or anecdotes - Share interesting stories about the individual’s life story, selecting things that will be engaging to readers or particularly relevant to the purpose for which the biography is being written
- quotes about the person - If the person has been the subject of articles, books or news stories, consider working in a few quotes illustrating what others have said about the individual.
- photograph of the person - If the bio will be distributed via print, published online or highlighted in a PowerPoint prior to a presentation, include a photo of the person.
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.
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, 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 to introduce a new employee, keep in mind the occasion and audience.
- This kind of bio should focus on the person's work history and experience, with perhaps a few personal facts that will help co-workers get to know the new team member.
- This kind of bio wouldn't contain details about the person’s parents or anything too personal. 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 and early experiments that led to the great discovery.
- It may also talk about how the discovery impacted the person’s life, the lives of others, or the individual’s profession or field of study.
These are the things that people reading about the subject are probably interested in learning.
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. Consider examples of bios with different focuses.
Student bios should include current information and future goals. Use a third person point of view (POV) for this type of bio.
A senior at ABC High School, Sharon Ellis is a dedicated student who has a passion for math and science. She serves on the student council as treasurer, a role she enjoys because she is able to combine her enjoyment of all things mathematical with an opportunity to serve her school while developing leadership skills. She plans to study math and secondary education in college with the ultimate goal of becoming a middle school math teacher.
Professional bios intended to be published online should be engaging, upbeat and focused on business. This type of bio is also used to introduce someone who is presenting at a meeting or public speaking occasion. It should be written in third person POV.
An experienced digital marketing professional, Michelle Rogers spends her days helping companies build their brands and attract customers as the Chief Marketing Officer for Digital Dynamics. Not only is she recognized for her outstanding technical skills, she has a reputation for crafting visually appealing websites that increase sales and boost bottom line results. Colleagues and clients alike describe Michelle as a true expert in her field.
In some circumstances a longer personal bio in essay format may be called for. In such situations, expand what you would include in a brief bio like the ones above to be more of an “about me” essay. Use first person POV for this type of bio.
As I reflect on the early days of my career in web design, I’m amazed at how much things have changed. This career I have chosen did not exist for my parents generation, but it’s so much a part of what I do and who I am, that it’s difficult to think of it as a fairly young profession. I love branding and marketing so much that I expect I would have pursued an advertising career even in the days before digital marketing.
As a digital marketer, my first concern is to build and protect the brands of the companies I work with. That involves creating beautiful website designs, of course, but there’s so much more to it than that. I love design, but I’m also passionate about quality content, the overall user experience, search optimization, social engagement, and so much more. My motto is that no business is complete unless customers can find it, identify with it, and easily make a purchase. I apply that same principle to my own life and career. I started out ….
John Robert Lewis (1940-2020) will be remembered not only as a long-serving Congressional representative, but also as one of the most influential, respected and admired civil rights leaders of the 20th and 21st centuries. In 80 years on this earth, John Lewis witnessed a great deal of change, but witness is not really an appropriate word to describe his role. Instigator is a better term for the part he played in history. John Lewis was a true agent of change, and his impact will be felt for generations to come.
John Lewis was a leader who never wavered from his steadfast commitment to the fight for equality. From his childhood in Alabama to his early days as a young adult demonstrating for civil rights via 1960 sit-ins in Nashville, striving for civil rights as a Freedom Rider in Mississippi in 1961 and being severely injured as he crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma in 1965, and on throughout his 1987-2020 career in Congress, John Lewis made a difference. We are well served to hear and heed his call to stir up good trouble.
If you’re planning to write a book-length biography, think of it as a greatly expanded essay, with even more information about the person.
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.
Whether the biography you’re writing is about yourself or another person, the key is to tell the true story of an individual in a vivid and engaging way. Provide only factual information, but do so in a vivid way. Review how to engage the reader for tips and strategies that can help you do just that. You may also find these examples of compelling hooks to be good sources of bio-writing inspiration.