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What is a Biography?

Have you ever wondered what leads someone to become a real-life hero? How someone’s heroic action affected your life? How different are famous artists, musicians, athletes, scientists, and politicians from you and people you know? How did the achievements of these people shape the modern world? One of the best ways to discover and reveal answers to these fascinating questions is to write biographies

biography is a literary form that is an account of a person’s life that includes everything from birth to death, revealing these facts in an outsider’s objective tone. In other words, a biography is the story of a person’s life written by someone else.

A biography covers the entire life of a notable person and takes the reader into the world the subject lives or lived in. One of the most famous biographies in American literature is Carl Sandburg’s multivolume Life of Abraham Lincoln. Other examples include William Roper’s Life of Sir Thomas Moore and Alfred Kroeber’s Ishi, Last of His Tribe.


How to Write a Biography?

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In order to write a biography, biographers analyze and interpret the events in a person’s life by conducting interviews, and by reading letters, diaries, and books. A biographer researches not just his subject’s life, but also the time in which his subject lived. This might explain why the subject acted as he/she did, or why his/her achievements were so significant. Remember that biographies could be short or book-length. The short biographies focus on one period of time or on a major accomplishment of the subject. Long biographies delve into the life history of the person, focusing on every aspect of the person’s life.

Follow the steps given below to draft a biography:
  • Determine the person you want to write about (for example, your parents, grandparents, friends, idols, or other notable figures).
  • When you have a person in mind about whom to write, gather all the basic facts of the person’s life that include:
  1. Date and place of birth and death
  2. Family information
  3. Lifetime accomplishments
  4. Major events of life
  5. Effects/impact on society, historical significance
  • Describe his or her appearance, habits, features and way of talking. 
  • To discover, organize, and support what you know and what you need to learn about your subject, these are some questions you may contemplate.
  1. How can he or she be best described?
  2. What makes this person interesting? 
  3. Which events in the person’s life shaped him/her? 
  4. What hurdles did the person overcome in order to accomplish what he/she did?
  5. How did he or she influence the family or society?
  • Keep your research questions in mind as you compile information from different sources. Look for letters, journals, newspaper clippings, pictures, and most importantly, set up interviews.
  • Develop a thesis that effectively expresses the reason for the person being a popular personality and also what he has done for the society.
  • After gathering required information, connect all of the ideas that you have collected about your subject. You should concentrate on developing the ideas, not on producing a final copy.
  • Follow chronological order and give an account of the events from birth to present time or death of the person.
  • Break the content into different phases of life or time frame to facilitate organized writing.

Sample of Biography

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The Introduction

After analyzing the writing task, you should be ready to write an introduction to your biographical narrative. Your introduction should include a thesis and a brief explanation of your thesis.

Here is an introduction about the character, Robinson Crusoe:

During my time in school, I have read many stories. While I don’t always recall the names of the characters in these stories, I do remember a few important ones that I will never forget. Robinson Crusoe is one of these characters. He is the main character in The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe. Robinson Crusoe is important to me because he overcomes many tough challenges. His story is also based on the adventures of a real person named Alexander Selkirk.

Remember that a well-organized introduction provides the focus for the rest of your essay.

The Body

The body of an essay consists of several paragraphs that support the thesis in your introduction. Each paragraph in the body of the essay must relate to and explain the thesis.

The introduction says that Robinson Crusoe is an important character for two reasons:

1) Robinson Crusoe overcomes many tough challenges; and 

2) Robinson Crusoe’s story is based on the adventures of a real person named Alexander Selkirk.

In the body of the biographical narrative, there must be at least one paragraph for each of the two reasons. In these paragraphs, you must include events, details and examples from Robinson Crusoe’s story to support the discussion. Here is a sample: 

One of the reasons that Robinson Crusoe is important to me is because he overcomes many tough challenges. Marooned on a desert island, he must find ways to survive with no one to help him. At first, he is very sad and lonely, and he fears that he will not survive. Then, he tames wild goats he finds on the island. They provide him with food, and he makes his own clothes from their skins. The goats become his friends. He also builds a house for himself from grass, leaves, and goat skins. Later, he rescues a man chased by cannibals. He names this man Friday, and they become trusted friends. Finally, after 28 years, a ship finds them, and the two men go back to England.

Another reason Robinson Crusoe is important to me is because the story is based on the adventures of a real person named Alexander Selkirk. I enjoy reading about people who really lived. As a boy, Selkirk ran away from home, took a job on a pirate ship, and searched for Spanish treasure. He argued with the captain who cast him off on an island near South America. Like Robinson Crusoe, he had to survive on this island by himself with only a knife, a gun, and his courage. He also tamed goats. The cats he found ate the rats that chewed on his feet at night. After over four years, some ships also found him and brought him home.

How each paragraph begins with a topic sentence. In each topic sentence (bolded above), there is a reason stated why Robinson Crusoe is important to the writer. In the first paragraph, he uses examples and describes events that explain how Robinson Crusoe “overcomes many tough challenges.” Likewise, in the second paragraph, he presents facts and events in logical order to show why Alexander Selkirk was the real-life Robinson Crusoe.

The Conclusion

The conclusion of an essay summarizes your key ideas and restates your thesis. It usually consists of one brief paragraph that ends the essay.

Here is a sample conclusion to the biographical writing:
In conclusion, Robinson Crusoe is one of my favorite literary characters. He is important to me because he overcomes many obstacles. He learns how to survive on his own on a lonely, deserted island. In addition, Robinson Crusoe’s adventures are based on the real-life experiences of Alexander Selkirk. To me, these two reasons make Robinson Crusoe one of the most memorable and exciting characters in literature.

The writer restates his thesis and the key ideas that support the thesis. He ends his conclusion with a sentence that expresses the significance of Robinson Crusoe’s character.

Editing and Proofreading

After you complete a rough draft of your biographical narrative, remember to edit and proofread your essay. Revise your writing for sentence structure and correct tense. In addition, add clarifying information and delete unnecessary words.

Remember also to vary the length of your sentences. Using only simple sentences makes your writing dull and monotonous. Writing only long and complex sentences complicates your ideas and confuses the reader. Therefore, strive for a variety of sentences. Use simple, compound, and complex sentences.

Writing Prompt

Topic: Famous Americans

Directions: After brainstorming a list of famous Americans, choose one and write a biography presenting what the subject did (accomplishments) and how he/she influenced the world. This entry should be based on fact. Don't forget to include specific details about his or her life and experiences, as well as his or her personal feelings.

Biography Examples

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During your time in high school, you have learned or read about many famous characters in your literature classes. Think about one of these characters and why this character is important to you.

Write an essay in which you discuss this character. Share your thoughts about the importance

Checklist for Your Writing

The following checklist will help you do your best work. Make sure you
  • Read the description of the task carefully.
  • Use specific details and examples.
  • Organize your writing with a strong introduction, body, and conclusion.
  • Choose specific words that are appropriate for your audience and purpose.
  • Vary your sentences to make your writing interesting to read.
  • Check for mistakes in grammar, spelling, punctuation, and sentence formation.

Notice that this writing task requires you to think about famous characters in literature. A good way to prepare for this writing task would be to brainstorm about some of your favorite characters in stories or novels that you have read. Then, you need to decide why these characters are important to you.
Here is how you can brainstorm for this writing task:

 Famous Characters in Literature   Why They Are Important to Me 
 Captain Ahab in Moby Dick  his courage and determination
 Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz  wants to be home with her family
 Robinson Crusoe in Robinson Crusoe   knows how to survive
 Esperanza in House on Mango Street  know someone like her
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