how to write a biography

How to Write a Biography: 9 Tips That Will Guide You

by Oluwanifemi Akintomide

Some people have lived their lives so well that their stories are worth telling. Their experiences and accomplishments have become lessons for those who are and will live. Can you remember Abraham Lincoln, Mother Theresa, and others?

We can remember these people because the details of their lives were penned down. The simple aim of a biography is to give an account of someone’s life, whether dead or alive.

Do you want to write about the life events of a person, be it a family member, historical figure or influential person? Here’s all you need to know how to write a biography that will be impactful.

What is a Biography?

A biography is a comprehensive account of a person’s life written by someone else. It includes their date and place of birth, interests, education, family and other unique relationships, without leaving out all the significant events in the person’s life and accomplishments.

We learn about the lives of men through their biographies. A good biography provides all the facts and figures and, at the same time, is exciting and engaging.

Choosing a Subject for a Biography

Before you learn how to write a biography, you need to choose your subject. i.e. the person you want to write about. Your subject could be a celebrity, a dead person, an unpopular person or whatever. No matter who it is, take note of the following things in choosing a subject;

  • Impact: is the person’s life worth writing about? Have they done any impactful things that others can learn from? Will their lives connect with an audience?
  • Interest: You, as the writer, must choose a subject that is of interest to you. Writing a biography can be tedious, but that is what will sustain you throughout the writing process.
  • Information: Before you choose a subject, is there enough information available on that subject to make up a biography? Do you have access to information about all aspects of their lives? 

Read also: A Complete Guide to Technical Writing and How to Become a Technical Writer. 

How to Structure a Good Biography

  1. Opening

Let your opening be captivating. This is to make your readers keep reading. Your introduction should be engaging and give your readers background information on your subject.

  1. Sequence

Write the details in chronological order, i.e. the order in which they happened. You can make use of chapters and titles. Using a timeline may also be helpful depending on your subject and what information you’re trying to convey. 

  1. Body

Include the details of the life of the person, their accomplishments, failures, lessons learnt, etc. Give details of people, events, times and places. You can also include relevant images with captions.

  1. Conclusion  

Conclude your write-up well. Writing a biography is not just about stating facts and figures. It should be presented in a way that will engage the reader and make them feel a connection with what is being written. 

Read also: How to Write a Book Review and Build a Freelancing Career With it. 

Tips for Writing a Good Biography 

For you to write a biography that will be worth reading and helpful to your readers, these tips will help you.

  1. Ask for permission

Before you start a project of writing about a person’s life, you should get their permission. When they are in support, they’ll be willing to give you all the information and support you’ll need. The only time where consent is not relevant is if the subject is no longer alive. 

  1. Research

To write a good biography, you can’t do away with research. If your subject is still alive, you can get a significant amount of information from them. But if not, you can get details from books, pictures, relations, interviews, articles or their websites and social media accounts.

You should read as much as you can about the person and take note of essential details.

You can also create research questions to help your writing further or have an interview with the people who were close to or worked with the subject, such as friends, business partners, co-workers, etc. You can also visit locations that were dear to the subject.

This will help you to get first-hand and original detailed information.

  1. Have a plan

Before you start writing at all, make a plan of how you’ll arrange key events. This will help you organize your thoughts and information, ensuring that all vital facts are not left out. Most times, a biography structures the main event in a person’s life in chronological order. 

Start from childhood to adulthood, then to death if they are no longer alive.

  1. Create a theme/thesis

There may be a main idea for the biography. You can create a theme around this central idea so that everything you’ll write will be around the theme. Your theme could be about the business acumen of a person and how that person was able to set up chains of businesses and excel at it. This theme/thesis will help you organize the rest of the biography.

Read also: An Easy Guide on How to Write a Query Letter.

  1. Focus on major events

Bring out key moments in the person’s life and write well about them. It could be about their childhood, marriage or business. This will help your reader to understand the subject well, how they lived their lives, and the lessons that can be drawn from that.

  1. Include your thoughts

You can make the biography more engaging and exciting to a reader by including your thoughts. As a biographer, share your feelings and opinions on some note-worthy events in a person’s life and how others can learn from it. 

  1. Use flashbacks

As you write the biography, using flashbacks can enable you to introduce relevant past information. Flashbacks occur when you move from the present to the past. It’s a way of adding spice and creativity to your writing, so you won’t have to write too much background history at the beginning. 

Read also: How to Write News Stories: Path to Becoming a Successful Journalist in Nigeria.

  1. Proofread and edit/Get a review

After writing, proofread, edit and show it to other people to get their feedback, as they’ll tell you what to improve on. Check all errors, mistakes, facts and grammar to ensure that they are accurate.

  1. Cite all sources

Make sure you cite all the sources of your information, be it books, journals, interviews or websites. You can make use of footnotes, endnotes or in-text citations.

Have these sources to back up your statements about the subject’s life. Untruthful written statements can lead to prosecution. If it is your opinion, be clear that it is such and not fact (although you can support your opinion with facts).

Would you love to develop and hone your writing skills? Intern with us at Insight.ng.

Popular Examples of Biographies

These are some famous examples of biographies that have been written. You can look through them to further aid your writing process.

  1. Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
  2. Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow
  3. Churchill: A Life by Martin Gilbert
  4. Pontius Pilate by Ann Woe
  5. The Life of Zora Neale Hurston by Valerie Boyd

Wrapping up

A biography is not just a random story or compilation of facts and figures. It is about expressing in words the greatness of a real person and the impact they’ve had in the lives of others. It is to show that your subject has lived an incredible life that is worth knowing about. Put these in mind while writing your biography, and you’ll come up with nothing but the best. 

Oluwanifemi Akintomide edited this article. 

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About Author

Avatar of Oluwanifemi Akintomide
Oluwanifemi Akintomide
Oluwanifemi Akintomide is an exceptional content writer who helps brands come up with impressive content that engages their audience and turns them into loyal customers.

She has interests in personal growth and development, entrepreneurship, and lifestyle.

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