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Posted on Jun 30, 2023

How to Write a Biography: A 7-Step Guide [+Template]

From time to time, nonfiction authors become so captivated by a particular figure from either the present or the past, that they feel compelled to write an entire book about their life. Whether casting them as heroes or villains, there is an interesting quality in their humanity that compels these authors to revisit their life paths and write their story.

However, portraying someone’s life on paper in a comprehensive and engaging way requires solid preparation. If you’re looking to write a biography yourself, in this post we’ll share a step-by-step blueprint that you can follow. 

How to write a biography: 

1. Seek permission when possible 

2. research your subject thoroughly, 3. do interviews and visit locations, 4. organize your findings, 5. identify a central thesis, 6. write it using narrative elements, 7. get feedback and polish the text.



Biography Outline Template

Craft a satisfying story arc for your biography with our free template.

While you technically don’t need permission to write about public figures (or deceased ones), that doesn't guarantee their legal team won't pursue legal action against you. Author Kitty Kelley was sued by Frank Sinatra before she even started to write His Way , a biography that paints Ol Blue Eyes in a controversial light. (Kelley ended up winning the lawsuit, however).  

a biography layout

Whenever feasible, advise the subject’s representatives of your intentions. If all goes according to plan, you’ll get a green light to proceed, or potentially an offer to collaborate. It's a matter of common sense; if someone were to write a book about you, you would likely want to know about it well prior to publication. So, make a sincere effort to reach out to their PR staff to negotiate an agreement or at least a mutual understanding of the scope of your project. 

At the same time, make sure that you still retain editorial control over the project, and not end up writing a puff piece that treats its protagonist like a saint or hero. No biography can ever be entirely objective, but you should always strive for a portrayal that closely aligns with facts and reality.

If you can’t get an answer from your subject, or you’re asked not to proceed forward, you can still accept the potential repercussions and write an unauthorized biography . The “rebellious act” of publishing without consent indeed makes for great marketing, though it’ll likely bring more headaches with it too. 

✋ Please note that, like other nonfiction books, if you intend to release your biography with a publishing house , you can put together a book proposal to send to them before you even write the book. If they like it enough, they might pay you an advance to write it.  


Book Proposal Template

Craft a professional pitch for your nonfiction book with our handy template.

Once you’ve settled (or not) the permission part, it’s time to dive deep into your character’s story.  

Deep and thorough research skills are the cornerstone of every biographer worth their salt. To paint a vivid and accurate portrait of someone's life, you’ll have to gather qualitative information from a wide range of reliable sources. 

Start with the information already available, from books on your subject to archival documents, then collect new ones firsthand by interviewing people or traveling to locations. 

Browse the web and library archives

Illustration of a biographer going into research mode.

Put your researcher hat on and start consuming any piece on your subject you can find, from their Wikipedia page to news articles, interviews, TV and radio appearances, YouTube videos, podcasts, books, magazines, and any other media outlets they may have been featured in. 

Establish a system to orderly collect the information you find 一 even seemingly insignificant details can prove valuable during the writing process, so be sure to save them. 

Depending on their era, you may find most of the information readily available online, or you may need to search through university libraries for older references. 

Photo of Alexander Hamilton

For his landmark biography of Alexander Hamilton, Ron Chernow spent untold hours at Columbia University’s library , reading through the Hamilton family papers, visiting the New York Historical Society, as well as interviewing the archivist of the New York Stock Exchange, and so on. The research process took years, but it certainly paid off. Chernow discovered that Hamilton created the first five securities originally traded on Wall Street. This finding, among others, revealed his significant contributions to shaping the current American financial and political systems, a legacy previously often overshadowed by other founding fathers. Today Alexander Hamilton is one of the best-selling biographies of all time, and it has become a cultural phenomenon with its own dedicated musical. 

Besides reading documents about your subject, research can help you understand the world that your subject lived in. 

Try to understand their time and social environment

Many biographies show how their protagonists have had a profound impact on society through their philosophical, artistic, or scientific contributions. But at the same time, it’s worth it as a biographer to make an effort to understand how their societal and historical context influenced their life’s path and work.

An interesting example is Stephen Greenblatt’s Will in the World . Finding himself limited by a lack of verified detail surrounding William Shakespeare's personal life, Greenblatt, instead, employs literary interpretation and imaginative reenactments to transport readers back to the Elizabethan era. The result is a vivid (though speculative) depiction of the playwright's life, enriching our understanding of his world.

Painting of William Shakespeare in colors

Many readers enjoy biographies that transport them to a time and place, so exploring a historical period through the lens of a character can be entertaining in its own right. The Diary of Samuel Pepys became a classic not because people were enthralled by his life as an administrator, but rather from his meticulous and vivid documentation of everyday existence during the Restoration period.

Once you’ve gotten your hands on as many secondary sources as you can find, you’ll want to go hunting for stories first-hand from people who are (or were) close to your subject.

With all the material you’ve been through, by now you should already have a pretty good picture of your protagonist. But you’ll surely have some curiosities and missing dots in their character arc to figure out, which you can only get by interviewing primary sources.

Interview friends and associates

This part is more relevant if your subject is contemporary, and you can actually meet up or call with relatives, friends, colleagues, business partners, neighbors, or any other person related to them. 

In writing the popular biography of Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson interviewed more than one hundred people, including Jobs’s family, colleagues, former college mates, business rivals, and the man himself.

🔍 Read other biographies to get a sense of what makes a great one. Check out our list of the 30 best biographies of all time , or take our 30-second quiz below for tips on which one you should read next. 

Which biography should you read next?

Discover the perfect biography for you. Takes 30 seconds!

When you conduct your interviews, make sure to record them with high quality audio you can revisit later. Then use tools like or Descript to transcribe them 一 it’ll save you countless hours. 

You can approach the interview with a specific set of questions, or follow your curiosity blindly, trying to uncover revealing stories and anecdotes about your subject. Whatever your method, author and biography editor Tom Bromley suggests that every interviewer arrives prepared, "Show that you’ve done your work. This will help to put the interviewee at ease, and get their best answers.” 

Bromley also places emphasis on the order in which you conduct interviews. “You may want to interview different members of the family or friends first, to get their perspective on something, and then go directly to the main interviewee. You'll be able to use that knowledge to ask sharper, more specific questions.” 

Finally, consider how much time you have with each interviewee. If you only have a 30-minute phone call with an important person, make it count by asking directly the most pressing questions you have. And, if you find a reliable source who is also particularly willing to help, conduct several interviews and ask them, if appropriate, to write a foreword as part of the book’s front matter .

Sometimes an important part of the process is packing your bags, getting on a plane, and personally visiting significant places in your character’s journey.

Visit significant places in their life

A place, whether that’s a city, a rural house, or a bodhi tree, can carry a particular energy that you can only truly experience by being there. In putting the pieces together about someone’s life, it may be useful to go visit where they grew up, or where other significant events of their lives happened. It will be easier to imagine what they experienced, and better tell their story. 

In researching The Lost City of Z , author David Grann embarked on a trek through the Amazon, retracing the steps of British explorer Percy Fawcett. This led Grann to develop new theories about the circumstances surrounding the explorer's disappearance.

Still from the movie The Lost City of Z in which the explorer is surrounded by an Amazon native tribe

Hopefully, you won’t have to deal with jaguars and anacondas to better understand your subject’s environment, but try to walk into their shoes as much as possible. 

Once you’ve researched your character enough, it’s time to put together all the puzzle pieces you collected so far. 

Take the bulk of notes, media, and other documents you’ve collected, and start to give them some order and structure. A simple way to do this is by creating a timeline. 

Create a chronological timeline

It helps to organize your notes chronologically 一 from childhood to the senior years, line up the most significant events of your subject’s life, including dates, places, names and other relevant bits. 

Timeline of Steve Jobs' career

You should be able to divide their life into distinct periods, each with their unique events and significance. Based on that, you can start drafting an outline of the narrative you want to create.  

Draft a story outline 

Since a biography entails writing about a person’s entire life, it will have a beginning, a middle, and an end. You can pick where you want to end the story, depending on how consequential the last years of your subject were. But the nature of the work will give you a starting character arc to work with. 

To outline the story then, you could turn to the popular Three-Act Structure , which divides the narrative in three main parts. In a nutshell, you’ll want to make sure to have the following:

  • Act 1. Setup : Introduce the protagonist's background and the turning points that set them on a path to achieve a goal. 
  • Act 2. Confrontation : Describe the challenges they encounter, both internal and external, and how they rise to them. Then..
  • Act 3. Resolution : Reach a climactic point in their story in which they succeed (or fail), showing how they (and the world around them) have changed as a result. 

Only one question remains before you begin writing: what will be the main focus of your biography?

Think about why you’re so drawn to your subject to dedicate years of your life to recounting their own. What aspect of their life do you want to highlight? Is it their evil nature, artistic genius, or visionary mindset? And what evidence have you got to back that up? Find a central thesis or focus to weave as the main thread throughout your narrative. 

Cover of Hitler and Stalin by Alan Bullock

Or find a unique angle

If you don’t have a particular theme to explore, finding a distinct angle on your subject’s story can also help you distinguish your work from other biographies or existing works on the same subject.

Plenty of biographies have been published about The Beatles 一 many of which have different focuses and approaches: 

  • Philip Norman's Shout is sometimes regarded as leaning more towards a pro-Lennon and anti-McCartney stance, offering insights into the band's inner dynamics. 
  • Ian McDonald's Revolution in the Head closely examines their music track by track, shifting the focus back to McCartney as a primary creative force. 
  • Craig Brown's One Two Three Four aims to capture their story through anecdotes, fan letters, diary entries, and interviews. 
  • Mark Lewisohn's monumental three-volume biography, Tune In , stands as a testament to over a decade of meticulous research, chronicling every intricate detail of the Beatles' journey.

Group picture of The Beatles

Finally, consider that biographies are often more than recounting the life of a person. Similar to how Dickens’ Great Expectations is not solely about a boy named Pip (but an examination and critique of Britain’s fickle, unforgiving class system), a biography should strive to illuminate a broader truth — be it social, political, or human — beyond the immediate subject of the book. 

Once you’ve identified your main focus or angle, it’s time to write a great story. 

Illustration of a writer mixing storytelling ingredients

While biographies are often highly informative, they do not have to be dry and purely expository in nature . You can play with storytelling elements to make it an engaging read. 

You could do that by thoroughly detailing the setting of the story , depicting the people involved in the story as fully-fledged characters , or using rising action and building to a climax when describing a particularly significant milestone of the subject’s life. 

One common way to make a biography interesting to read is starting on a strong foot…

Hook the reader from the start

Just because you're honoring your character's whole life doesn't mean you have to begin when they said their first word. Starting from the middle or end of their life can be more captivating as it introduces conflicts and stakes that shaped their journey.

When he wrote about Christopher McCandless in Into the Wild , author Jon Krakauer didn’t open his subject’s childhood and abusive family environment. Instead, the book begins with McCandless hitchhiking his way into the wilderness, and subsequently being discovered dead in an abandoned bus. By starting in medias res , Krakauer hooks the reader’s interest, before tracing back the causes and motivations that led McCandless to die alone in that bus in the first place.

Chris McCandless self-portrait in front of the now iconic bus

You can bend the timeline to improve the reader’s reading experience throughout the rest of the story too…

Play with flashback 

While biographies tend to follow a chronological narrative, you can use flashbacks to tell brief stories or anecdotes when appropriate. For example, if you were telling the story of footballer Lionel Messi, before the climax of winning the World Cup with Argentina, you could recall when he was just 13 years old, giving an interview to a local newspaper, expressing his lifelong dream of playing for the national team. 

Used sparsely and intentionally, flashbacks can add more context to the story and keep the narrative interesting. Just like including dialogue does…

Reimagine conversations

Recreating conversations that your subject had with people around them is another effective way to color the story. Dialogue helps the reader imagine the story like a movie, providing a deeper sensory experience. 

a biography layout

One thing is trying to articulate the root of Steve Jobs’ obsession with product design, another would be to quote his father , teaching him how to build a fence when he was young: “You've got to make the back of the fence just as good looking as the front of the fence. Even though nobody will see it, you will know. And that will show that you're dedicated to making something perfect.”

Unlike memoirs and autobiographies, in which the author tells the story from their personal viewpoint and enjoys greater freedom to recall conversations, biographies require a commitment to facts. So, when recreating dialogue, try to quote directly from reliable sources like personal diaries, emails, and text messages. You could also use your interview scripts as an alternative to dialogue. As Tom Bromley suggests, “If you talk with a good amount of people, you can try to tell the story from their perspective, interweaving different segments and quoting the interviewees directly.”



How to Write Believable Dialogue

Master the art of dialogue in 10 five-minute lessons.

These are just some of the story elements you can use to make your biography more compelling. Once you’ve finished your manuscript, it’s a good idea to ask for feedback. 

If you’re going to self-publish your biography, you’ll have to polish it to professional standards. After leaving your work to rest for a while, look at it with fresh eyes and self-edit your manuscript eliminating passive voice, filler words, and redundant adverbs. 

Illustration of an editor reviewing a manuscript

Then, have a professional editor give you a general assessment. They’ll look at the structure and shape of your manuscript and tell you which parts need to be expanded on or cut. As someone who edited and commissioned several biographies, Tom Bromley points out that a professional “will look at the sources used and assess whether they back up the points made, or if more are needed. They would also look for context, and whether or not more background information is needed for the reader to understand the story fully. And they might check your facts, too.”  

In addition to structural editing, you may want to have someone copy-edit and proofread your work.



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Importantly, make sure to include a bibliography with a list of all the interviews, documents, and sources used in the writing process. You’ll have to compile it according to a manual of style, but you can easily create one by using tools like EasyBib . Once the text is nicely polished and typeset in your writing software , you can prepare for the publication process.  

In conclusion, by mixing storytelling elements with diligent research, you’ll be able to breathe life into a powerful biography that immerses readers in another individual’s life experience. Whether that’ll spark inspiration or controversy, remember you could have an important role in shaping their legacy 一 and that’s something not to take lightly. 

Continue reading

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How to Write a Biography: 10 Step Guide + Book Template

POSTED ON Nov 14, 2023

Nicole Ahlering

Written by Nicole Ahlering

So you’d like to know how to write a biography. We can help with that! In this guide, we show you how to get from the initial book idea to publishing your book , and we throw in a free template to help you on your way. 

Let’s jump right in. 

This guide teaches you how to write a biography in the following steps:

Get Our 6″ x 9″ Pre-Formatted Book Template for Word or Mac

We will send you a Book Template for US Trade (standard paperback size).

Step 1: Read other biographies 

Austin Kleon, Author of Steal Like an Artist , says “the writer tries to master words. All of these pursuits involve the study of those who have come before and the effort to build upon their work in some way.”

In other words, to be a great writer, you need to read the best biographies written by other excellent authors!

In this case, it would behoove you to read several biographies – whether historical or celebrity biographies is up to you and your sub-genre. 

A good author to start with? Walter Isaacson . He’s written highly acclaimed biographies on everyone from Abraham Lincoln and Steve Jobs to Leonardo Da Vinci and Elon Musk. 

Step 2: Identify your subject

Next, it’s time to choose who you’d like to write about – if you don’t already have someone in mind.  

The most important factor will be, of course, your interest in the person you’re planning to write about. You’ll spend months (or even years) deep-diving into this person’s history, so you want to choose someone who you’re unlikely to tire of. 

Here are a few other factors to consider: 

  • How impactful has your potential subject’s life been? In other words, will people care to learn more about this person? 
  • How readily available is information about your potential subject? Biographies require extensive research, so it’s critical to choose someone who has enough information out there to dig into! Consider whether your subject has done interviews, written journals, has family or a partner willing to speak with you, and more. 
  • Are there already books written about your potential subject? Just because there’s an existing biography about the person you’re interested in doesn’t (necessarily) mean you can’t write another one. But if there are two or three biographies, you may want to reconsider. If you do choose to write about someone who has already been well-documented, be mindful about approaching the topic with a new angle or perspective. For instance, there are several biographies about George Washington, but author Alexis Coe wrote one about how Washington isn’t “quite the man we remember.” This brilliant iteration has over 12,000 ratings on Goodreads .
  • Is there a market demand for a book about your potential subject? If you’d like to publish your book, you need to be mindful of whether folks will want to read it. Do some research to determine if readers will be receptive to a book about the person you’re interested in. 

Related: Is a Biography a Primary Source?

Step 3: Get permission to write about your subject

We’ll start by stating the obvious. It’s a good idea to get permission to write about your subject, even if you’re not legally required to. For one thing, it’s just good manners. Plus, you’re much more likely to get unfettered access to the information and sources you need to write your book. 

But do you have to get permission? It depends.

In some cases, if your subject is considered a “public figure,” permission may not be required. The definition of a public figure varies depending on your jurisdiction, so you should always consult a lawyer before writing a biography. 

If you do decide to proceed without permission, be mindful of how your book will be received and any legal issues that may arise. 

Related : Difference Between A Memoir and Biography

Step 4: Create an outline

It’s critical to outline your biography before you begin writing it. Among other things, it helps ensure you cover every topic you’d like to and get the book in the correct chronological order. It also helps you identify themes that emerge as you organize your ideas. 

YouTube video

Need help creating your outline? Learn how to do it (and take advantage of free templates!) in our guide to outlining a book . 

Step 5: Select a working title (using a title generator) 

Now is the fun part! It’s time to create a working title for your book. A working title is just what it sounds like: it’s a title that works – for now. 

Of course, it’s helpful to have something to call the book as you’re working on it. And it encourages you to think about the message you’d like your book to convey. When your biography is complete, you can always do a little more research on how to write book titles for your specific sub-genre and update your working title accordingly.

Or, you can decide you still love your initial title and publish your book with that one! 

We’ve made it easy for you to develop a working title – or multiple – using our book title generator . 

Don't like it?

Step 6: Write a rough draft 

Okay, now it’s time to start writing your rough draft. Don’t be intimidated; just focus on getting something down on the page. As experts on all things writing and self-publishing, we’ve got a rough draft writing guide to help you get through this phase of writing a biography.

Remember to be as balanced and objective as possible.

Make good use of your primary and secondary sources, and double-check all of your facts. You’ve got this!  

Step 7: Self-edit

There are several different types of editing that we recommend each manuscript undergo. But before you give your rough draft to anyone else to review, you should edit it yourself. 

The first step to self-editing?

Take a break! It’s essential to give your mind some time to recuperate before you go over your work. And never self-edit as you go!

After you’ve completed your break, here are a few things to consider as you edit: 

  • Grammar. This one is self-explanatory and usually the easiest. You can use an AI editor to make a first pass and quickly catch obvious spelling errors. Depending on prompts and your experience with the tool, you can also use AI to catch some grammar and syntax issues as well.
  • Content and structure . This is the time to make sure the bones of your piece are good. Make sure your content flows logically (and in chronological order), no important pieces of information are missing, and there isn’t redundant or unhelpful information. 
  • Clarity and consistency. Keep an eye out for any confusing copy and ensure your tone is uniform throughout the book.
  • Try reading your draft aloud. You’d be surprised at how many errors, shifts in tone, or other things you’d like to change that you don’t notice while reading in your head. Go ahead and do a read-through of your draft out loud. 

Step 8: Work with an editor

Once you’ve created the best draft you can, it’s time to hire an editor. As we mentioned, there are multiple types of book editing, so you’ll need to choose the one(s) that are best for you and your project. 

For instance, you can work with a developmental editor who helps with big-picture stuff. Think book structure, organization, and overall storytelling. Or you might work with a line editor who focuses on grammar, spelling, punctuation, and the like. 

There are also specialized copy editors, content editors, fact-checkers, and more.

It’s in your best interest to do a substantial amount of research before choosing an editor since they’ll have a large impact on your book. Many editors are open to doing a paid trial so you can see their work before you sign them on for the entire book. 

Step 9: Hire a book cover designer + get an ISBN 

Once you’ve worked with your editor(s) to finalize your book, it’s time to get your book ready to go out into the world. Your first step is to hire a book cover designer to create a cover that grabs readers’ attention (pssst: did you know that all SelfPublishing authors get done-for-you professional book design? Ask us about it !).

Then, you’ll need to get an ISBN number for your book – or an International Standard Book Number. It’s a unique way to identify your book and is critical for ordering, inventory tracking, and more. 

Bear in mind that each rendition of your book – regardless of when you publish them – will need their own ISBN numbers. So if you initially publish as a softcover and hardcover book and then decide to publish an ebook with the same exact content, you'll need 3 total ISBN numbers.

To get an ISBN, head to and follow the steps they provide.  Or reference our guide right here for step-by-step instructions (complete with photos) on how to get an ISBN number for self-published books.

Step 10: Create a launch plan 

Now is the most exciting part. It’s time to get your book out into the world! You’ll need to map out your plan, schedule events , finalize your pricing strategy, and more. 

We have an entire guide to launching a book to help you figure it out. 

YouTube video

Get your free book template!

Learning how to write a biography can be challenging, but when you have a clear plan and guidance, the process is much easier. We've helped thousands of aspiring authors just like you write and self-publish their own books. We know what works – and how to become a successfully published author faster.

Take the first step today and down the book template below!

And, if you need additional help writing your biography, remember that we’re standing by to help. Just schedule a book consultation and one of our team members will help answer any of your questions about the writing process.

a biography layout

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Last updated on Dec 8th, 2023

How to Write a Biography

When you click on affiliate links on and make a purchase, you won’t pay a penny more, but we’ll get a small commission—this helps us keep up with publishing valuable content on QuillMuse.  Read More .

Table of Contents

How to write a biography can be a fun challenge as you share someone’s life story with readers. You may need to write a biography for a class or decide to write a biography as a personal project. Once you’ve identified the subject of your biography, do your research to learn as much as you can about them. Then, immerse yourself in writing the biography and revising it until it’s best. What I am going to share with you in today’s post is how to write a biography. If you want to know the rules of how to write a biography correctly then this post of ours is essential for you. 


While it’s true that most biographies involve people in the public eye, sometimes the subject is less well-known. But most of the time, famous or not, the person we’re talking about has an incredible life. Although your students may have a basic understanding of How to write a biography, you should take some time before putting pen to paper to come up with a very clear definition of biography.

Before knowing how to write a biography, let’s first understand what a biography is. A biography is an account of a person’s life written by someone else. Although there is a genre called fictional biography, by definition biographies are mostly non-fiction. In general, biographies trace the subject’s life from early childhood to the present day or until death if the subject is deceased. 

Biography writing is not limited to describing the bare facts of a person’s life. Instead of just listing basic details about their upbringing, interests, education, work, relationships, and deaths, a well-written biography should also paint a picture of a person’s personality as well as that person’s life experiences.

Tips and Tricks For How To Write a Biography

1. ask the subject’s permission to write a biography.

Here are the first tips on how to write a biography. Before starting your research, make sure you get your subject’s consent to write their biography. Ask them if they’re ready to be the subject. Getting their permission will make writing a biography much easier and ensure that they are open to information about their lives.

If the theme does not allow you to write a bio, you can choose another theme. If you decide to publish a profile without the subject’s permission, you may be subject to legal action from the subject. 

If the topic no longer exists, you don’t need to ask permission to write about them. 

2. Research primary sources on the topic

Primary sources may include books, letters, photographs, diaries, newspaper clippings, magazines, Internet articles, magazines, videos, interviews, existing biographies, or autobiographies on the subject. Find these resources in your local library or online. Read as much as you can about the topic and highlight any important information you come across in your sources. 

You can create research questions to help you focus your research on this topic, such as: 

What do I find interesting about this topic? Why is this topic important to readers? 

3. Conduct interviews with subjects and their relatives

Interviewing people will turn your research into reality: the people you interview will be able to tell you stories you can’t find in history books. Interview the subject as well as people close to them, such as spouses, friends, business associates, family members, co-workers, and friends. Interview in person, over the phone, or via email.

For in-person interviews, record them with a voice recorder or voice recorder on your computer or phone. You may need to interview the subject and others multiple times to get the documents you need.

4. Visit places important to the topic

Whenever you want to know how to write a biography, to understand the history of the subject, spend time in places and areas that are significant to the subject. This may be the subject’s childhood home or neighborhood. You can also visit the subject’s workplace and regular meeting places. 

You may also want to visit areas where the subject made important decisions or breakthroughs in their life. Being physically present in the area can give you an idea of what your subjects may have felt and help you write about their experiences more effectively.

5. Research the time and place of the subject’s life

Contextualize your subject’s life by observing what’s going on around them. Consider the period in which they grew up as well as the history of the places they lived. Study the economics, politics, and culture of their time. See current events happening where they live or work.

When you studying how to write a biography, ask yourself about time and place: 

What were the social norms of this period? 

What happened economically and politically? 

How has the political and social environment influenced this topic?

6. Make a timeline of a person’s life

To help you organize your research, create a timeline of a person’s entire life, from birth. Draw a long line on a piece of paper and sketch out as many details about a person’s life as possible. Highlight important events or moments on the timeline. Include important dates, locations, and names. 

If you think about how to write a biography You can also include historical events or moments that affect the topic in the timeline. For example, a conflict or civil war may occur during a person’s lifetime and affect their life.

7. Focus on important events and milestones

Major events can include marriage, birth, or death during a person’s lifetime. They may also achieve milestones like their first successful business venture or their first civil rights march. Highlights key moments in a person’s life so readers clearly understand what’s important to that person and how they influence the world around them.

For example, you might focus on one person’s achievements in the civil rights movement. You could write an entire section about their contributions and participation in major civil rights marches in their hometowns.

8. Cite all sources used in  biography

Most biographies will include information from sources such as books, journal articles, magazines, and interviews. Remember to cite any sources that you directly quote or paraphrase. You can use citations, footnotes, or endnotes. If the biography is for a course, use MLA, APA, or Chicago Style citations according to your instructor’s preference.

9. Reread the biography

Check the biography for spelling, grammar, and punctuation. Circle all punctuation marks in the text to confirm they are correct. Read the text backward to check for spelling and grammar errors. 

Having a biography full of spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors can frustrate readers and lead to poor grades if you submit your work to the class.

10. Show your biography to others to get their feedback

It is a momentous step of how to write a biography. Once you have completed your draft biography, show it to your colleagues, friends, teachers, and mentors to get their feedback. Ask them if they have a good understanding of someone’s life and if the biography is easy to read. Be open to feedback so you can improve the biography and make it error-free. Revise profile based on feedback from others. Don’t be afraid to trim or edit your biography to suit your readers’ needs.

11. Use flashbacks

Flashbacks happen when you move from the present to the past. You can start with the present moment, and then bring in a scene from the person’s past. Or you could have one chapter focusing on the present and one focusing on the past, alternating as you go.

The flashback scene must be as detailed and realistic as the present-day scene. Use your research notes and interviews with subjects to better understand their past to reminisce. 

For example, you can move from a person’s death in the present to reminiscing about their favorite childhood memory.

12. Outline Your Story Chronologically 

This is another important step in how to write a biography is to write an outline that describes your story in chronological order. An outline is a tool that helps you visualize the structure and key elements of your story. This can help you organize your story into chapters and sections. 

You can write your plan in a digital document or draw it with pen and paper. Remember to store your outline in an easily accessible place so you can refer to it throughout the writing process.

What citation style should I use for my biography?

Use MLA, APA, or Chicago Style citations based on your instructor’s preference when citing sources in your biography.

Should I include personal opinions in a biography?

No, a biography should be objective and based on facts. Avoid injecting personal opinions or bias into the narrative.

What’s the difference between a biography and an autobiography?

A biography is written by someone else about a person’s life, while an autobiography is written by the subject themselves about their own life.

Can I write a biography about a living person?

Yes, you can write a biography about a living person with their consent. Ensure you respect their privacy and follow ethical guidelines when writing about them.


Other than creating a sense of closure, there are no set rules about how a biography ends. An author may want to summarize their main points about the subject of their biography. If the person is still alive, the author can inform the reader about their condition or circumstances. If the person has died, inheritance can be discussed. Authors can also remind readers how they can learn from the biographical subject. Sharing a closing quote or about a person can leave the audience with a point to consider or discuss in more detail.

For further insights into writing and to avoid common mistakes, check out our article on Most Common Mistakes in Writing . Additionally, explore the Best Writing Tools for Writers to enhance your writing skills and discover the tools that can assist you. If you’re looking to improve your typing speed and accuracy, our article on How to Type Faster with Accuracy offers valuable tips.

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Last Updated: April 13, 2024 Fact Checked

This article was co-authored by Stephanie Wong Ken, MFA . Stephanie Wong Ken is a writer based in Canada. Stephanie's writing has appeared in Joyland, Catapult, Pithead Chapel, Cosmonaut's Avenue, and other publications. She holds an MFA in Fiction and Creative Writing from Portland State University. There are 7 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been fact-checked, ensuring the accuracy of any cited facts and confirming the authority of its sources. This article has been viewed 1,855,622 times.

Writing a biography can be a fun challenge, where you are sharing the story of someone’s life with readers. You may need to write a biography for a class or decide to write one as a personal project. Once you have identified the subject of the biography, do your research so you know as much about them as possible. Then, dive into the writing of the biography and revising it until it is at its finest.

Researching Your Subject

Step 1 Ask the subject for permission to write the biography.

  • If the subject does not give you permission to write the biography, you may want to choose a different subject. If you decide to publish the biography without the subject’s permission, you may be susceptible to legal action by the subject.
  • If the subject is no longer alive, you obviously do not need to ask permission to write about them.

Step 2 Look for primary sources about the subject.

  • You may create research questions to help focus your research of the subject, such as, What do I find interesting about the subject? Why is this subject important to readers? What can I say that is new about the subject? What would I like to learn more about?

Step 3 Conduct interviews with the subject and those close to them.

  • For in person interviews, record them with a tape recorder or a voice recorder on your computer or phone.
  • You may need to interview the subject and others several times to get the material you need.

Step 4 Visit locations that are important to the subject.

  • You may also want to visit areas where the subject made a major decision or breakthrough in their life. Being physically in the area can give you a sense of how the subject might have felt and help you write their experiences more effectively.

Step 5 Study the time and place of the subject’s life.

  • When researching the time period ask yourself: What were the social norms of that time? What was going on economically and politically? How did the social and political climate affect the subject?

Step 6 Make a timeline...

  • You may also include historical events or moments that affected the subject on the timeline. For example, maybe there was a conflict or civil war that happened during the person’s life that affected their life.

Writing the Biography

Step 1 Go for a chronological structure.

  • You may end up focusing on particular areas of the person’s life. If you do this, work through a particular period in the person’s life chronologically.

Step 2 Create a thesis for the biography.

  • For example, you may have a thesis statement about focusing on how the person impacted the civil rights movement in America in the 1970s. You can then make sure all your content relates back to this thesis.

Step 3 Use flashbacks....

  • Flashbacks should feel as detailed and real as present day scenes. Use your research notes and interviews with the subject to get a good sense of their past for the flashbacks.
  • For example, you may jump from the person’s death in the present to a flashback to their favorite childhood memory.

Step 4 Focus on major events and milestones.

  • For example, you may focus on the person’s accomplishments in the civil rights movement. You may write a whole section about their contributions and participation in major civil rights marches in their hometown.

Step 5 Identify a major theme or pattern in the person’s life.

  • For example, you may notice that the person’s life is patterned with moments of adversity, where the person worked hard and fought against larger forces. You can then use the theme of overcoming adversity in the biography.

Step 6 Include your own opinions and thoughts about the person.

  • For example, you may note how you see parallels in the person’s life during the civil rights movement with your own interests in social justice. You may also commend the person for their hard work and positive impact on society.

Polishing the Biography

Step 1 Show the biography to others for feedback.

  • Revise the biography based on feedback from others. Do not be afraid to cut or edit down the biography to suit the needs of your readers.

Step 2 Proofread the biography.

  • Having a biography riddled with spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors can turn off your readers and result in a poor grade if you are handing in the text for a class.

Step 3 Cite all sources...

  • If the biography is for a class, use MLA , APA , or Chicago Style citations based on the preferences of your instructor.

Biography Help

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Community Q&A

Community Answer

  • Be careful when publishing private or embarrassing information, especially if the person is not a celebrity. You may violate their "Right of Privacy" or equivalent. Thanks Helpful 31 Not Helpful 5
  • Have the sources to back up your statements about the subject's life. Untruthful written statements can lead to litigation. If it is your opinion, be clear that it is such and not fact (although you can support your opinion with facts). Thanks Helpful 16 Not Helpful 15

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About This Article

Stephanie Wong Ken, MFA

Before you write a biography, gather as much information about the subject that you can from sources like newspaper articles, interviews, photos, existing biographies, and anything else you can find. Write the story of that person’s life, including as much supporting detail as you can, including information about the place and time where the person lived. Focus on major events and milestones in their life, including historical events, marriage, children, and events which would shape their path later in life. For tips from our reviewer on proofreading the biography and citing your sources, keep reading! Did this summary help you? Yes No

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  • Learn How to Write a Biography: A Step-by-Step Guide.
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Learn How to Write a Biography: A Step-by-Step Guide.

Human lives are intricate tapestries woven with experiences, emotions, challenges, and triumphs. Biographies and autobiographies serve as windows into these remarkable stories, offering insight into the lives of individuals who have left their mark on history or those who wish to chronicle their own journeys. 

I n this guide, we will explore the art of writing biographies and autobiographies, delving into the nuances of both genres and providing valuable tips on how to craft compelling narratives.

Understanding Biography and Autobiography

  • Biography: Exploring Lives Beyond the Surface A biography is a literary exploration that unveils the intricate layers of a person’s existence, transcending the mere listing of events. It provides a comprehensive account of an individual’s life, offering insights into their achievements, struggles, societal impact, and distinct qualities that define them. These narratives serve as windows into history, allowing readers to traverse time and understand the legacy left by remarkable individuals. Biographies are usually crafted by biographers, individuals skilled in research and storytelling. They undertake a meticulous journey of gathering information from diverse sources, such as historical records, interviews, letters, and secondary literature. The biographer’s role is to curate these fragments of information into a coherent narrative, painting a vivid portrait of the subject. This comprehensive approach lends credibility and depth to the portrayal, enriching the reader’s understanding of the subject’s contributions and character. Example:  Consider the biography of Mahatma Gandhi. A biographer compiling his life story would explore not only his role in India’s fight for independence but also his principles of nonviolence, his experiments with truth, and his impact on the world’s political landscape. By presenting a holistic view of Gandhi’s life, the biography reveals the nuances of his personality, beliefs, and the larger context in which he operated.
  • Autobiography: The Intimate Dialogue of Self-Discovery An autobiography is a narrative journey undertaken by the subject themselves—a profound sharing of one’s life experiences, emotions, and reflections. This genre provides readers with an intimate insight into the subject’s psyche, allowing them to witness their life’s trajectory through personal recollections. Autobiographies carry a unique authenticity, as they are composed from the vantage point of the person who lived those moments, providing a firsthand account of their journey. Autobiographies draw from the subject’s reservoir of memories, emotions, and introspections. This self-exploration leads to a narrative that is often more than a linear chronicle; it becomes a tapestry woven with the threads of emotions, thoughts, and personal revelations. By directly communicating with the reader, the autobiographer creates a powerful connection, allowing readers to step into their shoes and experience their story from within. Example:  A notable example of an autobiography is “The Diary of a Young Girl” by Anne Frank. Written during her time in hiding during World War II, the book offers a candid portrayal of Anne’s life, fears, hopes, and dreams. Through her own words, readers gain a deep understanding of the challenges faced by Jews during the Holocaust, as well as the resilience and humanity that Anne exudes even in the face of adversity.

Writing a Biography:

Research: The Foundation of a Compelling Biography Thorough research is the cornerstone of a captivating biography. Delve into reputable sources like books, articles, interviews, and archives to gather a comprehensive view of your subject’s life. By immersing yourself in these materials, you gain insights into their experiences, motivations, and contributions. Scrutinise the historical context to understand the era’s impact on their journey. Successful research forms the bedrock of your biography, enabling you to present an accurate and nuanced portrayal that resonates with readers. It’s through meticulous research that you uncover the hidden stories and connect the dots, allowing the subject’s essence to shine through the pages.

Selecting a Focus: Defining the Narrative Scope Choosing a focal point is essential for a well-structured biography. Decide whether to cover the subject’s entire life or concentrate on specific periods or achievements. This decision shapes the narrative’s trajectory, preventing it from becoming overwhelming or disjointed. A focused approach allows you to delve deeply into pivotal moments, providing a more profound understanding of the subject’s journey. By clarifying the scope, you enable readers to follow a coherent storyline, making it easier for them to engage with the subject’s life in a meaningful way.

Structuring the Biography: Chronology and Themes The organisation of your biography greatly impacts its readability. Structure your work into logical sections or chapters, employing either a chronological or thematic arrangement. Begin with an engaging introduction that captures readers’ attention and provides essential context. A chronological structure follows the subject’s life in sequential order, offering a clear timeline of events. Alternatively, a thematic structure groups events by themes, allowing you to explore different facets of the subject’s life. A well-structured biography guides readers smoothly through the subject’s experiences, fostering a deeper connection and understanding.

Show, Don’t Tell: Evocative Storytelling Vivid descriptions, anecdotes, and quotes breathe life into your biography. Rather than merely listing facts, employ descriptive language to recreate scenes and emotions, allowing readers to immerse themselves in the subject’s world. Use anecdotes to illustrate key moments, capturing the essence of the subject’s character and the impact of events on their journey. Integrating quotes from the subject, contemporaries, or relevant sources adds authenticity and depth. Through this technique, you transport readers into the subject’s experiences, enabling them to witness the moments that shaped their lives.

Balanced Perspective: Portraying Strengths and Flaws A balanced portrayal adds credibility and depth to your biography. While it’s tempting to focus solely on accomplishments, a well-rounded view includes the subject’s strengths and flaws. This authenticity humanises the subject, making it relatable and multidimensional. By acknowledging both successes and challenges, readers gain a more honest understanding of their journey. Balancing positives and negatives helps readers empathise with the subject, connecting them on a deeper level and offering a more genuine insight into their lives.

Engaging Emotions: Creating Emotional Resonance Emotions are a potent tool in biography writing. Delve into the subject’s feelings, struggles, and aspirations to create an emotional connection with readers. By tapping into their emotional experiences, you make the narrative relatable and engaging. Sharing personal challenges and triumphs allows readers to empathise and reflect on their own lives. This emotional resonance elevates the biography from a mere factual account to a compelling and moving story that lingers in readers’ minds, leaving a lasting impact.

Citing Sources: Ensuring Accuracy and Credibility Accurate information is vital in biography writing. Properly cite your sources to maintain credibility and integrity. Clear citations not only lend authority to your work but also provide readers with the opportunity to explore further if they desire. Accurate referencing safeguards against misinformation and ensures that your portrayal is based on reliable evidence. In addition to enhancing your credibility, thorough citations demonstrate your commitment to thorough research and ethical writing practises, contributing to the overall trustworthiness of your biography.

complete guide to write a biography. start writing your biography now

Complete Guide to Write a Biography. Start Writing Your Biography Now

Writing an Autobiography:

Reflecting on Significant Moments and Experiences Initiating an autobiography involves introspection into your life’s pivotal moments. Delve into memories that have influenced your journey, such as turning points, challenges, relationships, and achievements. Reflect on these experiences, dissecting their impact on your personal growth and development. By contemplating these key events, you gain insight into the narrative threads that weave your life story together. This reflective process sets the foundation for an authentic autobiography that resonates with readers on a profound level.

Developing Your Unique Voice and Tone Crafting an autobiography demands a consistent voice and tone that reflect your personality. Write in a way that feels true to you, capturing your unique perspective and emotions. Authenticity is key, as it allows readers to connect with your narrative on a personal level. Whether your tone is introspective, humorous, or contemplative, ensure it aligns with the essence of your experiences. By embracing your genuine voice, you create an autobiography that not only tells your story but also conveys the essence of who you are.

Structured Storytelling for Engagement While autobiographies can be more flexible in structure compared to biographies, organising your narrative into coherent sections or themes enhances its readability. By grouping related experiences together, you provide readers with a clearer understanding of the themes that have shaped your life. This structure helps maintain their engagement by guiding them through your journey in a logical and compelling manner. While allowing for creativity, a structured approach ensures that your autobiography remains focused and accessible.

Embracing honesty and authenticity Honesty is the bedrock of an impactful autobiography. Share not only your triumphs but also your mistakes and failures. Authenticity creates relatability, allowing readers to connect with your humanity and vulnerabilities. Your journey’s challenges and setbacks are just as integral to your story as your successes. By being candid about your experiences, you demonstrate resilience and growth, inspiring readers to reflect on their own paths. This level of authenticity fosters a deeper connection, making your autobiography a source of empathy and encouragement.

Adding Depth Through Reflection Incorporate reflection to imbue your autobiography with depth and meaning. Explore the lessons you’ve learned from your experiences and the transformations they’ve prompted. Delve into how these moments shaped your beliefs, values, and perspective on life. By offering insights gained from introspection, you provide readers with wisdom and a broader understanding of your journey. Reflection transforms your autobiography from a chronicle of events into a thoughtful exploration of personal growth and the profound impact of life’s moments.

Creating vivid details for immersion Immerse readers in your world by employing sensory details and vivid descriptions. Paint a picture with words, allowing readers to visualise the scenes and emotions you’re describing. By incorporating sensory elements like sights, sounds, smells, and feelings, you transport readers into the moments you’re recounting. This immersive experience draws them closer to your story, fostering a stronger connection. Vivid details not only make your autobiography more engaging but also enable readers to forge a deeper connection with your experiences and emotions.

In the realm of literature, biographies and autobiographies stand as powerful testaments to the diversity and richness of human existence. Whether you’re capturing the life of a historical figure or penning your own life story, the art of writing these genres involves meticulous research, introspection, and a keen understanding of human emotions. 

Through carefully chosen words and evocative storytelling, biographers and autobiographers alike can craft narratives that resonate with readers and offer a deeper understanding of the human experience. So, whether you’re writing about the extraordinary or the everyday, embrace the challenge and privilege of narrating lives through the written word.

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How to Write a Biography

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Biographies are big business. Whether in book form or Hollywood biopics, the lives of the famous and sometimes not-so-famous fascinate us.

While it’s true that most biographies are about people who are in the public eye, sometimes the subject is less well-known. Primarily, though, famous or not, the person who is written about has led an incredible life.

In this article, we will explain biography writing in detail for teachers and students so they can create their own.

While your students will most likely have a basic understanding of a biography, it’s worth taking a little time before they put pen to paper to tease out a crystal-clear definition of one.

Visual Writing

What Is a Biography?

how to write a biography | how to start an autobiography | How to Write a Biography |

A biography is an account of someone’s life written by someone else . While there is a genre known as a fictional biography, for the most part, biographies are, by definition, nonfiction.

Generally speaking, biographies provide an account of the subject’s life from the earliest days of childhood to the present day or, if the subject is deceased, their death.

The job of a biography is more than just to outline the bare facts of a person’s life.

Rather than just listing the basic details of their upbringing, hobbies, education, work, relationships, and death, a well-written biography should also paint a picture of the subject’s personality and experience of life.

how to write a biography | Biography Autobiography 2022 | How to Write a Biography |

Full Biographies

Teaching unit.

Teach your students everything they need to know about writing an AUTOBIOGRAPHY and a BIOGRAPHY.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ ( 26 reviews )

Features of a Biography

Before students begin writing a biography, they’ll need to have a firm grasp of the main features of a Biography. An excellent way to determine how well they understand these essential elements is to ask them to compile a checklist like the one-blow

Their checklists should contain the items below at a minimum. Be sure to help them fill in any gaps before moving on to the writing process.

The purpose of a biography is to provide an account of someone’s life.

Biography structure.

ORIENTATION (BEGINNING) Open your biography with a strong hook to grab the reader’s attention

SEQUENCING: In most cases, biographies are written in chronological order unless you are a very competent writer consciously trying to break from this trend.

COVER: childhood, upbringing, education, influences, accomplishments, relationships, etc. – everything that helps the reader to understand the person.

CONCLUSION: Wrap your biography up with some details about what the subject is doing now if they are still alive. If they have passed away, make mention of what impact they have made and what their legacy is or will be.


LANGUAGE Use descriptive and figurative language that will paint images inside your audience’s minds as they read. Use time connectives to link events.

PERSPECTIVE Biographies are written from the third person’s perspective.

DETAILS: Give specific details about people, places, events, times, dates, etc. Reflect on how events shaped the subject. You might want to include some relevant photographs with captions. A timeline may also be of use depending upon your subject and what you are trying to convey to your audience.

TENSE Written in the past tense (though ending may shift to the present/future tense)


Like any form of writing, you will find it simple if you have a plan and follow it through. These steps will ensure you cover the essential bases of writing a biography essay.

Firstly, select a subject that inspires you. Someone whose life story resonates with you and whose contribution to society intrigues you. The next step is to conduct thorough research. Engage in extensive reading, explore various sources, watch documentaries, and glean all available information to provide a comprehensive account of the person’s life.

Creating an outline is essential to organize your thoughts and information. The outline should include the person’s early life, education, career, achievements, and any other significant events or contributions. It serves as a map for the writing process, ensuring that all vital information is included.

Your biography should have an engaging introduction that captivates the reader’s attention and provides background information on the person you’re writing about. It should include a thesis statement summarising the biography’s main points.

Writing a biography in chronological order is crucial . You should begin with the person’s early life and move through their career and achievements. This approach clarifies how the person’s life unfolded and how they accomplished their goals.

A biography should be written in a narrative style , capturing the essence of the person’s life through vivid descriptions, anecdotes, and quotes. Avoid dry, factual writing and focus on creating a compelling narrative that engages the reader.

Adding personal insights and opinions can enhance the biography’s overall impact, providing a unique perspective on the person’s achievements, legacy, and impact on society.

Editing and proofreading are vital elements of the writing process. Thoroughly reviewing your biography ensures that the writing is clear, concise, and error-free. You can even request feedback from someone else to ensure that it is engaging and well-written.

Finally, including a bibliography at the end of your biography is essential. It gives credit to the sources that were used during research, such as books, articles, interviews, and websites.

Tips for Writing a Brilliant Biography

Biography writing tip #1: choose your subject wisely.

There are several points for students to reflect on when deciding on a subject for their biography. Let’s take a look at the most essential points to consider when deciding on the subject for a biography:

Interest: To produce a biography will require sustained writing from the student. That’s why students must choose their subject well. After all, a biography is an account of someone’s entire life to date. Students must ensure they choose a subject that will sustain their interest throughout the research, writing, and editing processes.

Merit: Closely related to the previous point, students must consider whether the subject merits the reader’s interest. Aside from pure labors of love, writing should be undertaken with the reader in mind. While producing a biography demands sustained writing from the author, it also demands sustained reading from the reader.

Therefore, students should ask themselves if their chosen subject has had a life worthy of the reader’s interest and the time they’d need to invest in reading their biography.

Information: Is there enough information available on the subject to fuel the writing of an entire biography? While it might be a tempting idea to write about a great-great-grandfather’s experience in the war. There would be enough interest there to sustain the author’s and the reader’s interest, but do you have enough access to information about their early childhood to do the subject justice in the form of a biography?

Biography Writing Tip #2: R esearch ! Research! Research!

While the chances are good that the student already knows quite a bit about the subject they’ve chosen. Chances are 100% that they’ll still need to undertake considerable research to write their biography.

As with many types of writing , research is an essential part of the planning process that shouldn’t be overlooked. If students wish to give as complete an account of their subject’s life as possible, they’ll need to put in the time at the research stage.

An effective way to approach the research process is to:

1. Compile a chronological timeline of the central facts, dates, and events of the subject’s life

2. Compile detailed descriptions of the following personal traits:

  •      Physical looks
  •      Character traits
  •      Values and beliefs

3. Compile some research questions based on different topics to provide a focus for the research:

  • Childhood : Where and when were they born? Who were their parents? Who were the other family members? What education did they receive?
  • Obstacles: What challenges did they have to overcome? How did these challenges shape them as individuals?
  • Legacy: What impact did this person have on the world and/or the people around them?
  • Dialogue & Quotes: Dialogue and quotations by and about the subject are a great way to bring color and life to a biography. Students should keep an eagle eye out for the gems that hide amid their sources.

As the student gets deeper into their research, new questions will arise that can further fuel the research process and help to shape the direction the biography will ultimately go in.

Likewise, during the research, themes will often begin to suggest themselves. Exploring these themes is essential to bring depth to biography, but we’ll discuss this later in this article.

Research Skills:

Researching for biography writing is an excellent way for students to hone their research skills in general. Developing good research skills is essential for future academic success. Students will have opportunities to learn how to:

  • Gather relevant information
  • Evaluate different information sources
  • Select suitable information
  • Organize information into a text.

Students will have access to print and online information sources, and, in some cases, they may also have access to people who knew or know the subject (e.g. biography of a family member).

These days, much of the research will likely take place online. It’s crucial, therefore, to provide your students with guidance on how to use the internet safely and evaluate online sources for reliability. This is the era of ‘ fake news ’ and misinformation after all!


how to write a biography | research skills 1 | How to Write a Biography |


⭐How to correctly ask questions to search engines on all devices.

⭐ How to filter and refine your results to find exactly what you want every time.

⭐ Essential Research and critical thinking skills for students.

⭐ Plagiarism, Citing and acknowledging other people’s work.

⭐ How to query, synthesize and record your findings logically.

BIOGRAPHY WRITING Tip #3: Find Your Themes In Biography Writing

Though predominantly a nonfiction genre, the story still plays a significant role in good biography writing. The skills of characterization and plot structuring are transferable here. And, just like in fiction, exploring themes in a biographical work helps connect the personal to the universal. Of course, these shouldn’t be forced; this will make the work seem contrived, and the reader may lose faith in the truthfulness of the account. A biographer needs to gain and maintain the trust of the reader.

Fortunately, themes shouldn’t need to be forced. A life well-lived is full of meaning, and the themes the student writer is looking for will emerge effortlessly from the actions and events of the subject’s life. It’s just a case of learning how to spot them.

One way to identify the themes in a life is to look for recurring events or situations in a person’s life. These should be apparent from the research completed previously. The students should seek to identify these patterns that emerge in the subject’s life. For example, perhaps they’ve had to overcome various obstacles throughout different periods of their life. In that case, the theme of overcoming adversity is present and has been identified.

Usually, a biography has several themes running throughout, so be sure your students work to identify more than one theme in their subject’s life.

BIOGRAPHY WRITING Tip: #4 Put Something of Yourself into the Writing

While the defining feature of a biography is that it gives an account of a person’s life, students must understand that this is not all a biography does. Relating the facts and details of a subject’s life is not enough. The student biographer should not be afraid to share their thoughts and feelings with the reader throughout their account of their subject’s life.

The student can weave some of their personality into the fabric of the text by providing commentary and opinion as they relate the events of the person’s life and the wider social context at the time. Unlike the detached and objective approach we’d expect to find in a history textbook, in a biography, student-writers should communicate their enthusiasm for their subject in their writing.

This makes for a more intimate experience for the reader, as they get a sense of getting to know the author and the subject they are writing about.

Biography Examples For Students

  • Year 5 Example
  • Year 7 Example
  • Year 9 Example

“The Rock ‘n’ Roll King: Elvis Presley”

Elvis Aaron Presley, born on January 8, 1935, was an amazing singer and actor known as the “King of Rock ‘n’ Roll.” Even though he’s been dead for nearly 50 years, I can’t help but be fascinated by his incredible life!

Elvis grew up in Tupelo, Mississippi, in a tiny house with his parents and twin brother. His family didn’t have much money, but they shared a love for music. Little did they know Elvis would become a music legend!

When he was only 11 years old, Elvis got his first guitar. He taught himself to play and loved singing gospel songs. As he got older, he started combining different music styles like country, blues, and gospel to create a whole new sound – that’s Rock ‘n’ Roll!

In 1954, at the age of 19, Elvis recorded his first song, “That’s All Right.” People couldn’t believe how unique and exciting his music was. His famous hip-swinging dance moves also made him a sensation!

Elvis didn’t just rock the music scene; he also starred in movies like “Love Me Tender” and “Jailhouse Rock.” But fame came with challenges. Despite facing ups and downs, Elvis kept spreading happiness through his music.

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Tragically, Elvis passed away in 1977, but his music and charisma live on. Even today, people worldwide still enjoy his songs like “Hound Dog” and “Can’t Help Falling in Love.” Elvis Presley’s legacy as the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll will live forever.

Long Live the King: I wish I’d seen him.

Elvis Presley, the Rock ‘n’ Roll legend born on January 8, 1935, is a captivating figure that even a modern-day teen like me can’t help but admire. As I delve into his life, I wish I could have experienced the magic of his live performances.

Growing up in Tupelo, Mississippi, Elvis faced challenges but found solace in music. At 11, he got his first guitar, a symbol of his journey into the world of sound. His fusion of gospel, country, and blues into Rock ‘n’ Roll became a cultural phenomenon.

The thought of being in the audience during his early performances, especially when he recorded “That’s All Right” at 19, sends shivers down my spine. Imagining the crowd’s uproar and feeling the revolutionary energy of that moment is a dream I wish I could have lived.

Elvis wasn’t just a musical prodigy; he was a dynamic performer. His dance moves, the embodiment of rebellion, and his roles in films like “Love Me Tender” and “Jailhouse Rock” made him a true icon.

After watching him on YouTube, I can’t help but feel a little sad that I’ll never witness the King’s live performances. The idea of swaying to “Hound Dog” or being enchanted by “Can’t Help Falling in Love” in person is a missed opportunity. Elvis may have left us in 1977, but he was the king of rock n’ roll. Long live the King!

Elvis Presley: A Teen’s Take on the Rock ‘n’ Roll Icon”

Elvis Presley, born January 8, 1935, was a revolutionary force in the music world, earning his title as the “King of Rock ‘n’ Roll.” Exploring his life, even as a 16-year-old today, I’m captivated by the impact he made.

Hailing from Tupelo, Mississippi, Elvis grew up in humble beginnings, surrounded by the love of his parents and twin brother. It’s inspiring to think that, despite financial challenges, this young man would redefine the music scene.

At 11, Elvis got his first guitar, sparking a self-taught journey into music. His early gospel influences evolved into a unique fusion of country, blues, and gospel, creating the electrifying genre of Rock ‘n’ Roll. In 1954, at only 19, he recorded “That’s All Right,” marking the birth of a musical legend.

Elvis wasn’t just a musical innovator; he was a cultural phenomenon. His rebellious dance moves and magnetic stage presence challenged the norms. He transitioned seamlessly into acting, starring in iconic films like “Love Me Tender” and “Jailhouse Rock.”

how to write a biography | Elvis Presley promoting Jailhouse Rock | How to Write a Biography |

However, fame came at a cost, and Elvis faced personal struggles. Despite the challenges, his music continued to resonate. Even now, classics like “Hound Dog” and “Can’t Help Falling in Love” transcend generations.

Elvis Presley’s impact on music and culture is undeniable. He was known for his unique voice, charismatic persona, and electrifying performances. He sold over one billion records worldwide, making him one of the best-selling solo artists in history. He received numerous awards throughout his career, including three Grammy Awards and the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

Elvis’s influence can still be seen in today’s music. Many contemporary artists, such as Bruno Mars, Lady Gaga, and Justin Timberlake, have cited Elvis as an inspiration. His music continues to be featured in movies, TV shows, and commercials.

Elvis left us in 1977, but his legacy lives on. I appreciate his breaking barriers and fearlessly embracing his artistic vision. Elvis Presley’s impact on music and culture is timeless, a testament to the enduring power of his artistry. His music has inspired generations and will continue to do so for many years to come.

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Teaching Resources

Use our resources and tools to improve your student’s writing skills through proven teaching strategies.


We have compiled a sequence of biography-related lessons or teaching ideas that you can follow as you please. They are straightforward enough for most students to follow without further instruction.


This session aims to give students a broader understanding of what makes a good biography.

Once your students have compiled a comprehensive checklist of the main features of a biography, allow them to use it to assess some biographies from your school library or on the internet using the feature checklist.

When students have assessed a selection of biographies, take some time as a class to discuss them. You can base the discussion around the following prompts:

  • Which biographies covered all the criteria from their checklist?
  • Which biographies didn’t?
  • Which biography was the most readable in terms of structure?
  • Which biography do you think was the least well-structured? How would you improve this?

Looking at how other writers have interpreted the form will help students internalize the necessary criteria before attempting to produce a biography. Once students have a clear understanding of the main features of the biography, they’re ready to begin work on writing a biography.

When the time does come to put pen to paper, be sure they’re armed with the following top tips to help ensure they’re as well prepared as possible.


This session aims to guide students through the process of selecting the perfect biography subject.

Instruct students to draw up a shortlist of three potential subjects for the biography they’ll write.

Using the three criteria mentioned in the writing guide (Interest, Merit, and Information), students award each potential subject a mark out of 5 for each of the criteria. In this manner, students can select the most suitable subject for their biography.


This session aims to get students into the researching phase, then prioritise and organise events chronologically.

Students begin by making a timeline of their subject’s life, starting with their birth and ending with their death or the present day. If the student has yet to make a final decision on the subject of their biography, a family member will often serve well for this exercise as a practice exercise.

Students should research and gather the key events of the person’s life, covering each period of their life from when they were a baby, through childhood and adolescence, right up to adulthood and old age. They should then organize these onto a timeline. Students can include photographs with captions if they have them.

They can present these to the class when they have finished their timelines.


Instruct students to look over their timeline, notes, and other research. Challenge them to identify three patterns that repeat throughout the subject’s life and sort all the related events and incidents into specific categories.

Students should then label each category with a single word. This is the thematic concept or the broad general underlying idea. After that, students should write a sentence or two expressing what the subject’s life ‘says’ about that concept.

This is known as the thematic statement . With the thematic concepts and thematic statements identified, the student now has some substantial ideas to explore that will help bring more profound meaning and wider resonance to their biography.


Instruct students to write a short objective account of an event in their own life. They can write about anyone from their past. It needn’t be more than a couple of paragraphs, but the writing should be strictly factual, focusing only on the objective details of what happened.

Once they have completed this, it’s time to rewrite the paragraph, but they should include some opinion and personal commentary this time.

The student here aims to inject some color and personality into their writing, to transform a detached, factual account into a warm, engaging story.


how to write a biography | biography and autobiography writing unit 1 | How to Write a Biography |


  • Understand the purpose of both forms of biography.
  • Explore the language and perspective of both.
  • Prompts and Challenges to engage students in writing a biography.
  • Dedicated lessons for both forms of biography.
  • Biographical Projects can expand students’ understanding of reading and writing a biography.

Biography Graphic Organizer

FREE Biography Writing Graphic Organizer

Use this valuable tool in the research and writing phases to keep your students on track and engaged.


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To Conclude

By this stage, your students should have an excellent technical overview of a biography’s essential elements.

They should be able to choose their subject in light of how interesting and worthy they are, as well as give consideration to the availability of information out there. They should be able to research effectively and identify emerging themes in their research notes. And finally, they should be able to bring some of their personality and uniqueness into their retelling of the life of another.

Remember that writing a biography is not only a great way to develop a student’s writing skills; it can be used in almost all curriculum areas. For example, to find out more about a historical figure in History, to investigate scientific contributions to Science, or to celebrate a hero from everyday life.

Biography is an excellent genre for students to develop their writing skills and to find inspiration in the lives of others in the world around them.


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how to write a biography | how to start an autobiography 2 1 | How to write an Autobiography |

How to write an Autobiography

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How to Write a Historical Recount Text

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15 Awesome Recount & Personal Narrative Topics

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Personal Narrative Writing Guide

Cascadia Author Services

How to Write a Biography in 8 Easy Steps

by Bennett R. Coles

How to Write a Biography

This article will provide you with the basic building blocks required to write a biography starting from a blank page. Before we get into the nuts and bolts, let’s define what a biography is:

A biography is the full account of another person’s life (unlike an autobiography, which is the account of the author’s own life). For a biography to work, it must tell the story of an extraordinary or otherwise captivating life.

For this reason, most popular biographies center around famous people, be they politicians, artists, entrepreneurs, entertainers, or other well-known individuals. But this isn’t a must. Many biographies are also written about ordinary people who lived extraordinary lives outside the public spotlight.

Now, there are two main categories of biographies: authorized and unauthorized.

Authorized biographies are written with the explicit permission of the subject of the biography. The main advantage of authorized biographies is that they provide easy access to family members, friends and acquaintances — and even the subject themselves — during the very important research phase.

Unauthorized biographies, on the other hand, are written without the permission of the subject and therefore the authors usually have no access to their inner circle. As a result, authors must draw all of their information from sources that are at arms-length of the subject and therefore may be less reliable or truthful.

Let’s now begin to outline the process for creating a biography from the ground up.

Step 1: Choose the Biography’s Subject

The first thing you need to do is to choose the subject of your biography. In most cases this will be an obvious choice – that is, you’ll select someone you’ve been following and have admired for a long time.

You’ll already know their life story and will therefore know the aspects of their life that will be inspiring and compelling to your readers. In essence, you’ll be writing your biography for an audience of like-minded people who admire your subject as much as you do and who already have a deep thirst for any information about them.

Your subject might be a public figure, a politician, a business person, a scientist, an academic, or as stated in the introduction, an ordinary person who’s lived an extraordinary life. In every case, I advise that you seek their permission to write and publish the biography.

If granted, you’ll be able to gain immediate access to the subject and also family members and friends, who in many cases will provide you with exclusive details not published anywhere else.

Now, if you do get your subject’s permission, it’ll likely come accompanied with a first right of refusal for any information that they deem is not accurate as written and you’ll have to allow for the possibility of people changing their minds about certain aspects of your work as you go on.

You’ll just have to be flexible and accommodating, and sometimes this will be frustrating. But in the grand scheme of things, it’s a small price to pay for almost unlimited access to credible and in many cases unpublished information.

If you’re unsuccessful in obtaining your subject’s permission, you can still write an unauthorized biography, but there are some caveats you should be aware of:

  • Stay away from writing unauthorized biographies about private persons (no matter how extraordinary their lives may be) because you’ll risk breaching privacy laws with serious legal consequences — in other words, those people may wish to remain private and will certainly not appreciate someone writing an unauthorized biography of their private lives.
  • If you write about public figures, make sure you stick to publicly available information and that you don’t publish any private, sensitive or otherwise embarrassing information that is not in the public domain or that was illicitly obtained (e.g. through hacked or stolen information)
  • If you choose to write a biography about some well-known figure in the public domain who you despise and you want to expose their “bad” side to the world, I advise that you consult with an attorney before you proceed, since you’ll be embarking on a journey potentially fraught with expensive litigation

Step 2: Study Popular Biographies

Before you proceed to the writing stage, you’ll be well-served to learn valuable lessons from those who’ve walked this path this before you, especially those who’ve found success in the marketplace.

Find 2-3 biographies about similar subjects to yours that have made it to the bestseller lists. For example, if you’ll be writing about a tech CEO, then find bestselling biographies of two or three other tech CEOs. Also, ensure that those biographies are of the same type as yours (i.e. authorized or unauthorized).

If cost is an object, get those books from the library but, if you can, purchase them instead so that you can make notations and underline text right on the page.

Next, read them twice cover-to-cover — first as a reader and then as a writer.

In your first reading pass, put on your audience hat and enjoy the read. Don’t pause to make notes yet so as not to disrupt the experience. In your second pass, however, make frequent stops to take notes about how the author uses literary devices, such as storytelling, hooks, descriptive techniques, and so on to drive their narrative.

If you read a story or passage that you deeply connect with, analyze it and try to figure out what it is about it that makes it work so effectively. Make note of the author’s literary choices, their use of language, the flow of the story, etc.

When you’re done with this initial genre research, you’ll be ready to start working on your biography!

Step 3: Choose Your Central Theme

Biographies are not unlike any other nonfiction book: you need to know who the target audience is before you write them (in this case it’ll be you and people like you). But just as importantly, you need to have a central theme that permeates the book.

In most cases, the central theme of your biography will be the aspect that has personally attracted you to your subject, such as:

  • Their sense of urgency in enacting change in their personal lives and around them, which your readers will find inspiring
  • Their wisdom and brilliance in their specific approach to life, business, etc., which will inform your readers about proven strategies that they’ll be able to use themselves
  • Their prophetic power about certain world events, which could help readers make better choices about their investments, their choice of careers, etc.
  • Or just their raw courage in the face of extreme adversity, a quality many people strive to achieve in their own lives

You always need to have a clear central theme your biography, an essence that goes beyond a strictly chronological account of someone life (which doesn’t make for a particularly engaging read).

Step 4: Research Your Subject

Now it’s time to begin your research about your subject and their lives.

There are two types of sources of information that you’ll need to rely on for your biography:

1) Primary sources, which originate from your subject and their close circle, and 2) Secondary sources, which originate from people at arm’s length to your subject. Here are some examples:

Primary sources:

  • Anything publicly written or recorded by the subject
  • Anything privately written or recorded by the subject (you’ll need their written consent to publish this information)
  • Anything publicly written or recorded by direct witnesses to events that involved the subject
  • Anything privately written or recorded by direct witnesses to events that involved the subject (again, you’ll need their permission to publish this information)

A Note on Privacy:

Whenever you publish information about a subject that’s not already in the public domain, particularly if the subject is not a public figure, you must ensure that you have their written permission to do so.

If you don’t and choose to publish anyway, you’re opening yourself to expensive litigation. People are entitled to their privacy and if you reveal unauthorized information that they deem to be embarrassing or injurious to their reputation in any way, expect them to seek financial damages through libel litigation and other legal remedies.

Secondary sources:

Writings or recordings by people who don’t know the subject personally and who haven’t directly witnessed events involving the subject. Examples are:

  • Documentaries
  • Magazine articles
  • Online articles or recordings

A Note on Secondary Sources:

Before you use these sources, you’ll need to establish their credibility and the veracity of their accounts. Whenever you do refer to secondary sources in your biography, make sure to include the proper citations so that your readers can access the original information if they desire.

Also, make sure that you don’t infringe the copyright of your secondary sources by reproducing entire passages from their works, unless you obtain their written permission first (which usually carries a financial cost).

Step 5: Organize the Information

Once you’ve collected all the relevant information for your project, it’s time to put it into perspective by first creating a timeline for your subject’s life. You want to be able to see where it all fits chronologically so that you can begin to draw a through-line in relation to your biography’s central theme.

Your timeline will allow you to see the sequence of events that formed the character, ability or special circumstances that led your subject to live an extraordinary life. Also, this through-line will allow you to draw inspiration to choose specific time periods and past events should you wish to use flashbacks as a device in your narrative.

Once you’ve defined the proper chronology of events in your subject’s life, you can begin to draft a general outline for your biography, driven by your central theme. Begin by choosing the main milestones on your subject’s journey. These are the building blocks of your central theme. Then, break them down further into as many layers as necessary.

Finally, label your outline entries and, looking at your timeline, allocate your research materials throughout the outline by assigning them to the relevant label.

Step 6: Write Your Manuscript

You now have a fleshed-out timeline, an outline that aligns with your central theme, and lots of well-researched notes. In other words, you’re ready to begin the writing process ! But first, you’ll need to develop a clear writing routine.

When it comes to book writing , there’s no substitute for rubber to the road and this means that you’ll need to get into the habit of writing for a set amount of time every day. Like professional authors do, you’ll need to budget this time religiously and have clear boundaries.

Consistency is key, especially if you’ve never done a project like this before. What you don’t want to do is to write for 4-5 hours straight one day and then take a break for the next day or two.

How long should you write each day? I recommend between 2 and 3 hours but no longer than that — you don’t want to end up creatively spent by the end of a writing session.

Now, it’s critically important during this time that you have no disruptions such as phone calls, notifications from electronic devices, people walking in and asking you for help, etc.

So, enlist the help of those around you to keep you undisturbed, turn your smartphone and tablet to airplane mode, and mute the sound of your laptop.

Step 7: Hire a Professional Editor

When you complete the first draft of your manuscript, take a break to re-calibrate before you begin the re-writing process. Then revisit your manuscript from top to bottom as many times as necessary. This should take you a few weeks.

Keep in mind that the revision process is as creative as your original writing process but in a different way. While your initial writing is more like a stream of consciousness, the revision process is much more clinical and measured. What you’re looking for here is attention to detail, not the broad strokes.

But at some point, you’ll begin to experience diminishing returns for your efforts and here’s when you’ll need to hire the services of a professional editor. In fact, professional editors are paramount to the success of all authors, not just first-time authors but also those with long and illustrious careers.

No author worth their salt would dare publish an unedited book and neither should you. Your biography will be your calling card as an author and you never want to present a less than professional image. So, make sure you budget for a professional editor to take your diamond in the rough and make it shine!

Step 8: Hire a Professional Book and Cover Designer

Now that you have a fully edited manuscript, it’s time to focus on book design. Biographies need to not only be well-edited, but also to be well-produced. That means, they need to have a professional cover design that reflects your central theme, and a book interior as well-designed as your traditionally published competitors.

Don’t fall for the temptation to use free layout templates and book cover maker apps. As sharp as they may look on the surface, they’ll appear amateurish in comparison to what a professional can do and you don’t want to be judged by decision makers and gatekeepers on your path in a less-than-ideal light.

For example, some colors and visual patterns on your book cover may look great to you but won’t work in the market . The same goes for font styles, font sizes and font treatments. Leave this important work to the pros and you’ll never regret your decision.

Best of luck on the journey to your first biography!

If you enjoyed this article and are in the process of writing a nonfiction book, be sure to check out my free  nonfiction success guide , drawn from years of experience editing books for bestselling authors (including a New York Times bestseller) and ghostwriting for CEOs and politicians.  Simply click here to get instant access .

Leave me a comment below if you have any questions or a specific need that I can help you address – I operate an  author services firm  that specializes in helping entrepreneurs, professionals and business owners who want to publish books as a calling card for prospects, to establish their status as an expert or to just to generate additional leads for their businesses.

Here are some related posts I highly recommend:

How to write a compelling book in 12 steps: a must-read guide for nonfiction authors, what to look for in a top book self-publishing company, the 7 most effective book promotion ideas for nonfiction authors.

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Design a free creative biography template. engage your students to discover the power of synthesis and learn about the lives of famous authors..

Customize  Biography templates online . Use to customize your biographies for schools, bookstores, and libraries. Create biographies about characters from a novel quickly and in a structured way.

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At, we have created a collection of editable biography templates that can be used by students, writers, journalists, and anyone who needs to create a biography of famous people, whether they are scientists, athletes, politicians, or singers. They contain predefined sections and fields that you can fill in as easily as in a Word document, including:

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  • Place of residence
  • Friends and acquaintances
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Get spectacular designs for your biography! Use it in a school, magazine, or website . You can also use it in your bookstore, library, or cultural center .

Using our template library will save you time since you won't have to start from scratch as you will have a predefined structure. Create didactic activities in your classroom and organize biographical information in a clearer and more coherent way. Just select one of the templates we offer in this article or the final cascade, customize it with your educational proposals, and print it in high resolution.

Our biographies can be adapted to your needs . You can also use them as a page for a memory book or a resume .

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Why is it a good idea to make a Biography as a school activity?

There are many reasons, but here are the 4 main ones:

  • Researching someone's life and gathering information about their accomplishments, personal and professional challenges, as well as their contributions, will help students develop research skills and curiosity .
  • Working on a biography improves writing skills, organization of ideas, and structuring information in a clear and coherent manner.
  • Promotes critical thinking : students will learn to analyze different aspects of a public figure's life and develop their objective thinking about that person, history, and society in general. It also promotes empathy.
  • Learn about the lives of influential people in different fields , such as science, politics, or art, and understand how their contributions have affected the world at large.

In short, doing a biography as a school activity is a great idea! It encourages research and understanding towards different life experiences and perspectives.

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  • Anniversary Banquet Tickets
  • Art Expo Event Tickets
  • Baby Shower Raffle Tickets
  • Barbeque Raffle Tickets
  • Beer Event Drink Tickets
  • Beer Festival Tickets
  • Boxing Tickets
  • Cartoon Movie Tickets
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  • Christmas Tickets
  • Circus Birthday Tickets
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  • Diaper Raffle Tickets
  • Education Raffle Tickets
  • Food Festival Tickets
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  • Gospel Fest Concert Ticket
  • Graduation Raffle Tickets
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  • Halloween Tickets
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38+ Biography Templates with Images – Download in Word & PDF

a biography layout

Experts in various fields are often more than capable of excelling in the arts and sciences, business and sports. However, for some individuals, no matter how affluent they are in their area of expertise, they have a tough time talking about themselves. This makes writing an author’s biography strangely difficult for some people. In today’s world, a biography may be written by another person, or by the individual themselves, such as when an individual need to self-promote themselves on a Kickstarter, website, or self-promote their book. Whatever the reason, biography templates are used for that purpose. These templates can be used for personal or professional endeavors, from authors, business people, athletes and those in the arts and sciences.

Biography templates are an absolute must for any author. Writers need to connect to their fan base, they need to intrigue people, they must present an interesting image of themselves in the world to assist people in becoming familiar with their works. These templates will usually include, but not be limited to: Author’s name, interests, any awards, released and/or upcoming books, collaborations, publishers, where they live and work, along with a website url. Biography templates guide you in knowing what to leave in and what to leave out of the biography.

We are providing up to 15 different biography templates available for immediate use. All of these biography templates are beautifully done and professionally designed in order to create a perfectly written biography. These templates come with gorgeous page designs and border designs. Using our templates, you’ll have no problem filling in the information you need, as all of our templates have fields for you to insert your information, including the imagery of your choice. Our templates are easy to use, just customize, and either save to file or print. Using our beautifully designed templates will assure that your biographies will appear professional and receive the acknowledgement they deserve.

Biography Templates for Microsoft Word

How to write a biography

Personal Biography Template 

Faculty biography template.

Faculty Biography Template

Biography Examples

Biography Examples

We hope these templates and samples will help you writing your own bio with style and professionalism. Thank you for coming on our site. We hope to see you again.

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All About the Structure and Sample of A Biography And How To Write It

a biography layout

A biography is a non-fiction work about a specific person’s life. Usually written in the third person point of view, all examples of biography you will find are meant to give you an objective understanding and an authentic characterization. It is written following a person’s narration of it, their friends or family members’ accounts, or researching materials like recordings, journals, diaries, old interviews, experts, and the likes. It is not uncommon to find a sample of a biography of a deceased person. All kinds of biography samples can be found online or in your local library about both the heroes of old and modern heroes of today.

Most biography samples that you would find are about famous people. It’s not surprising that people would write and read about politicians, historical figures, artists, authors, inventors, all kinds of leaders, and even notorious people and criminal masterminds. It’s always interesting how an author of a biography example plots their narrative. Look for different examples of biography. You can note how the writers of it help you imagine what it was like to be there, at the exact moment that someone famous or good is doing something that is only known to us through history books. However, as you write your own, remember that, unlike fiction writing or other kinds, it is very rare to find a sample of a biography that would tell you how the subject is or was feeling. All biography samples that you would read would tell you the subject’s each step on their whole life journey but not how they were feeling during those times or not necessarily or accurately.

There are many biography samples that you can find and read about. But in recent years, some biographies have been turned into another form of art, like a movie or a play. Some examples of biography that has been turned into a movie that you might recognize include:

  • The Theory of Everything (Stephen Hawking)
  • Wolf of Wall Street (Jordan Belfort)
  • Ford vs Ferrari (Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles)
  • Schindler’s List (Oskar Schindler)
  • Bohemian Rhapsody (Rock band Queen)
  • Molly’s Game (Molly Bloom)
  • Godfellas (Henry Hill)
  • Braveheart (William Wallace)
  • Bonnie and Clyde (Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow)
  • On the Basis of Sex (Ruth Bader Ginsberg)

Interesting enough, some biographies are even used as the basis for some musical plays. For example, the 2004 biography written by Ron Chernow, Alexander Hamilton, is a good sample of an amazingly transformed biography into a musical play (and even a movie) by Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Tips And Tricks on How To Write A Biography

1. a biography is not a resume.

Going into the task of writing a biography is serious business. This is why before even starting to write a biography, you should already have it stuck in your head that you are not writing a resume . This is a tendency for most writers because examples of biography typically include the same information as your resume. Only a sample of a biography would have to be more detailed. Nevertheless, do not make the mistake of writing a biography as if you were writing a detailed resume because it’s not. The whole idea of a biography is to narrate the life story of a person. This goes even further than their accomplishments and their educational background.

2. You Are Writing About a Real Person

Another thing to keep in mind is that a biography is about a real person. This narrative is not something that is made up or imagined. Any sample of a biography that you would find tells the story of a person that lived on the same earth you are now. Be careful not to alienate the person you are writing about. That is, do not be afraid to portray their human side and have them be relatable. As far as examples of biography go, the more readers find themselves relating to the person in the narrative, the better their chances of reading. You have to remember that your goal as a biography writer is to present the truth and authenticity of your subject. In all its bits and pieces, do not be afraid to put in the details about the birth, the childhood, the teenage years, all the way to adulthood, and maybe, even the death of your subject.

3. Find Your Era or Not

Examples of Biography that you would find typically start at the subject’s birth and end either at their death or the peak of their careers. And this is something that you can do. You can start on the day they were born and narrate how they spent their time when they were children, their experiences and experiments as teenagers and young adults, and their careers as adults. This is a sample of a biography that can go long enough to be a novel or a series of books. However, there is no harm in entertaining the idea of focusing and writing about only a specific period of a person’s life. You can find examples of biography that skip the childhood and teenage part of the person’s life and goes straight to their career as an adult. Some do the opposite and focus on the person’s early years to establish what honed their subject to the person they are known to be. Other examples of biography just focus on the few recent years of a person’s life and career , while certain writers tend to focus on the peak of the life and career of their subject. Regardless of what you decide to do, just be mindful not to lose sight of the reason and purpose of why you’re writing.

4. Research, Interview, Research

It might be a tad easier to write a biography about yourself or someone you know. This would save you a lot of time and trouble finding out details to include in your biography. However, most examples of biography are those of famous personalities’ lives and careers. So unless you are close friends with the celebrity or prominent figure you want to write about, you have to go through a lot of research. More or less, any sample of a biography that you would find and read contains the tiniest and most specific details about their subject. This was produced from the sweat and tears of hours, and even days, worth going through books, journals, newspapers, and any other records that the writer can find. Don’t be afraid to go above and beyond what you can find online or in your local libraries. Think creatively, try to find sources that are hidden in the cracks of the field of knowledge. Formulate a questionnaire and try to interview your subject, if possible, or find people connected to them that you can interview. Try to dive into public records, old school records, and any other reference material you can find. We’re telling you now that writing a biography can prove to be extremely tiresome and time-consuming. But we can also assure you that it is incredibly satisfying once you finish it.

5. Write, Edit, Write

You might be one of those writers who prefer to write as they gather information or maybe the ones that collect all the information they can find first and write after. Regardless of your methods, one thing is constant - your writing journey will not be a short one, especially if you are writing a whole life story. It is important to remember that you have to be accurate in your accounts and that authenticity plays a vital role in writing a biography. Your narrative has to be as detailed as you get it to be. It is also helpful to know early on that there is a point in the writing process of any sample of a biography you have read that you have to edit your writing. You have to rephrase, rewrite or completely revise the pieces that you have already written. It can be a good idea to outline how you want your narrative to go but don’t be afraid to explore the idea of reshaping or maybe even overhauling the biography you are writing about if you suddenly think of a better idea in the middle of your writing journey.

Share Your Written Biography Online

It might not be a bad idea to write a biography about a specific person in today’s modern world and post it online. You can help put out valuable and relevant information to your readers and maybe even make a name for yourself as a writer. Strikingly is a website builder that can help you create a home for your sample of a biography. You have two options:

• Showcase Your Biography Using A Simple Blog

You can use the Simple Blog feature of Strikingly to post chapters or parts of the biography you are writing. Posting chapters or parts of the biography adds uniqueness to entice your readers as not many people post examples of biography through blogspot websites . Here’s how you can use Simple Blog for your sample of a biography:

  • Sign up or Log in with Strikingly.

a biography layout

Image taken from Strikingly Product

  • Open your site editor and click “Add New Section”.
  • Select the layout you want your Simple Blog to be.

a biography layout

  • Click “Manage Blog Posts”.

a biography layout

  • Click “Write a New Post” or “Edit”.

a biography layout

  • Write your blog post.

a biography layout

• Let Your Biography be the Main Content of Your Website

If you are not very keen on the idea of posting your biography as blog posts, you can also just display your writing as plain text for your website. Here’s how Strikingly can help you write and present your sample of a biography on your website:

  • Open your site editor and click “ Add New Section ”.

a biography layout

  • Select “Plain Text”.

a biography layout

  • Add a Title and write your own sample of a biography.

a biography layout

Writing your own sample of a biography is no easy task, but accomplishing it is a big feat you can be proud of. With Strikingly, you not only have an avenue to place yourself and your writing, but you also get to share the prowess of storytelling you have created with your own time, your efforts, and your magnificent mind. Sign up with Strikingly now and get started on adding to the collection of biography examples that the next generations would be reading about!

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a biography layout

What's new at tredition

  • Writing Workshop

Writing a biography - 5 tips for a life story

  • At 11 May 2021

What is important in a biography?

The cover is a central element of your book and tells the reader a lot about the content. Therefore, it is also a design feature for a biography, with which you can attract readers to your story. When researching your biography, you should also be very thorough and look for sources that could be exciting for your story.

Beyond design and content, you should definitely consider some legal aspects, which we have compiled here. In the foreground is the protection of the personal rights of third parties. You will also learn whether you can publish a biography in a Publishing house or self-publishing should publish. Let me say right up front: There is no one "right" way. Your choice depends on your needs and goals.

What is a biography?

In general language use, biography and autobiography are often used synonymously. But in fact they are similar but not identical genres. In a biography the author writes about the life of another person. This person can be (world) famous or come from the private environment of the author.

The protagonist of an autobiography, on the other hand, is the author himself, because he writes about his own life. Many (more or less) well-known personalities have already written an autobiography. A current example is the biography of Michelle Obama. Some of these personalities have an (exciting) story to tell, but they lack the talent to write. Here help Ghostwriter or co-authors.

There is a growing number of less or not at all prominent people who write their life stories. The intention here is less the attention of a broad mass. Some autobiographers want to process events from the past by writing their book. Others try to encourage a certain target group to set an example or simply write down their personal life story for future generations.

Besides the basic distinction between biography and autobiography, the genre can be divided into four categories:

  • (Auto)biography: The chronological account of events in the life of a person. The time span reaches from birth to the time of the book. In a biography, the person concerned is often no longer alive. The focus of the work is on personal development.
  • (Auto)biographical novel: It contains the same elements as (auto)biography, but mixes real events with fictional ones. This serves to develop a tension that makes the life story particularly worth reading. Within the book the reader can hardly distinguish fiction and reality. However, it is important to point out in the preface that not all elements of the story are real.
  • Life memories: These can also be written about the author himself or another person. However, not the whole life is dealt with, but only important stages of life.
  • Memoirs: In this form of (auto)biography, the person is put back somewhat and placed in a social, political or historical context. In the memoirs of a politician, for example, personal life tends to take a back seat. The focus is on the political career.

How do I write a biography?

These four steps are important for a biography:

  • Think about who should read your biography
  • Work out a good structure for these readers
  • Define the appropriate writing style: factual or narrative
  • Identify the extraordinary moments of the biographed person

Whether you're writing about your own life or someone else's, the first thing you should do is create a structure and think about what is most important for the book. Particularly for an autobiography, this consideration includes who the target audience of the work should be. Do you want to record your life or certain events from it for friends, family and future generations? In this case, your focus of interest is probably not on the sales success of the autobiography. 

Nevertheless, a certain Arc of suspense When you publish a book, you are automatically competing with many other book titles. Always make sure that there is a common thread running through the story. Because no matter whether your private environment reads your book or a reader unknown to you: The claim should be that your book presents the respective topic and the portrayed person in an interesting and vivid way.

If your goal is to become a successful author, your book should cover the interest of a wide audience. So ask yourself what from your life is interesting and extraordinary for your readers. Maybe a special love story? A rare career path? A stroke of fate? An illness overcome? Remember to highlight the thematic aspects that make your life story stand out wherever the reader is drawn to your book: In the Subtitle of the book, in the short description, in the Blurb etc.

How is a biography structured?

First you need a rough structure for your narrative. A very simple timeline on which you record important life events can help here. You can also print this later in the book for better orientation for the reader. You can also use the timeline to plan time jumps and flashbacks without the book losing its logical context. This overview also helps you to filter out key stages of your life. Because you should not include too many events, both you as author and the reader will lose the overview. For this reason, you should also determine from the beginning how much and, in relation to individual topic blocks, how detailed you write.

What makes an exciting biography?

Every author knows Writer's Block . In the case of a narrative about one's own life, there is the additional complication that one often wonders whether certain events are actually interesting for a (broad) audience. In the introduction we have already put forward the thesis that there are extraordinary aspects in every life, you just have to find them and process them in an interesting way.

In order to help you find your way through this process, we have put together some questions that will help you keep the thread running and filter out exciting events. What belongs in a biography? With the answers to these questions, you will work out what makes a biography exciting:

  • What makes the person?
  • Who or what shapes her life and work?
  • Which events from childhood are important for later development?
  • Who are/were the most important companions? (relationships, friendships, colleagues, family, role models)?
  • What crises and successes has the person experienced?
  • What were the turning points in life?
  • What influence do political or social events have (religion or culture can also play a role here)?

Thorough research is important

In order to answer these questions, you will have to do extensive research, although this is limited in the case of an autobiography. However, if you want to link your own history with that of your family, then it is worth going to the registry office or city archives. In addition, every life is connected to historical events, so check these again carefully in any case.

Otherwise, research for an autobiography is limited to your home or that of your family. Look through photo albums, old letters, diaries or other records. This helps to refresh memories and gives you clues for the narrative. In addition, photos or other illustrations will liven up your finished book and give the characters a face for readers.

arouse emotions

The research for a biography is much more complex. Be sure to contact the person you are biographing. In the best case, you should have one or more personal conversations. Prepare yourself well for these and draw up a list of questions. During the interview, take notes or, if the person allows it, record the interview. Be an active listener and also let emotions such as enthusiasm, sadness or passion flow into the book. If a biography results from a direct conversation, the book will always have a very personal and lively touch and will make the person tangible.

However, if your main person is no longer alive or a conversation is not possible for other reasons, then contact descendants, friends or companions. Additionally, use all sources you can find. These include personal records, photo albums, diaries, videos, films, books, newspaper articles or documents from archives. Also view existing biographies. There is nothing wrong with getting inspiration. However, if you have a famous person about whom a lot has been written, you should look for a niche. In other words, an aspect of life about which not much is known yet.

If the person has a certain level of familiarity, the Internet also offers various databases. For example the Estate and Autograph Collection of the Hamburg State Library .

Set great store by accuracy and thoroughness in the research. However, you should not get too lost in details. The more information you find, the more difficult it can be to filter out exciting aspects for your book.

Use an appealing writing style

In a mystery novel, it's much easier to build up an arc of suspense. But (fortunately) murder and manslaughter do not occur in every life. Nevertheless, a biography must not be boring. It must have the suspense of a novel and the informational value of a Nonfiction show. To achieve this goal, you should develop a unique writing style. This can be humorous and cheerful or factual and informative. While you should stay true to your style, you should adapt it to the person and the events at hand. A consistent approach to perspective and tense is also recommended. In most cases, you will probably choose a first-person narrator and past tense for an autobiography.

entrée medias res

Furthermore, although you can orientate yourself on the chronological sequence of events, you do not have to start with the earliest time. Start your biography with an unusual and concise detail or period of your life. In this way, you will captivate your readers and build up a tension. Also, you should not string year after year and label the chapters with numbers only. This looks very dry and probably reminds your readers more of history lessons. Other elements to bring the person to life are photos, a timeline, important documents, a chronology of events, a family tree or a glossary. A preface and dedication will give your book a personal touch.

What legal aspects must be taken into account in a biography?

Detailed information on this can be found in the Federal Agency for Civic Education . By the way, the personal rights in Switzerland and Austria differ slightly from the German ones. For this reason, we recommend obtaining a declaration of consent from all persons present. This should not only be done for named persons. Especially with very famous people, it is often easy to guess the name from a description, which is equivalent to being mentioned by name. The same applies, by the way, to the publication of photos, pictures or other documents. Accuracy is the top priority here, because in the past there have been numerous disputes in this context, which often ended up in court. It is therefore essential to contact relatives if a person is no longer alive, because in this case the personal rights are transferred to third parties.

An autobiography is not the right medium to use for a personal act of revenge or as a reckoning with a particular person. This is not only extremely questionable from a human and legal point of view, but also contradicts the work of a professional author.

The requirements of a biography for layout and book cover

When you're writing a book, it's not just the actual content that matters. Every genre has different requirements for Layout and book covers. And these, in turn, have a very significant effect on the sales of your book. Why is that?

In terms of content, your book focuses on the biographed person, whereby different aspects can be highlighted. These can be, for example, personal development or the importance of the person in a historical context. The reader should recognize this directly on the cover of the book. This way, he or she already has a rough idea of what to expect when first looking at the book. His interest is aroused and he risks a second look at the book.

On the biographical novel "Henry VIII" by author Margaret George, for example, the monarch is depicted in the royal robe that was customary at the time. Otherwise, the cover is kept dark. So the reader expects a historical story from the Middle Ages and this is what he gets.

The following applies to the blurb: Do not string events together in excerpts, but summarize what the person is about. You can also briefly outline why you decided to write this (auto)biography. Please do not get lost in details, but write short and precise sentences.

Publish a biography in self-publishing or publishing house?

You've already received an answer to the question, "How do I write a biography?" Now the question remains: Where and how can you publish your biography. You can't think about that too early. Self-publishing or classic publishing house? Both options have their advantages and disadvantages. The advantage of a Publisher lies in the fact that the design and marketing of your book is done there. However, experience shows that only the works of well-known authors are promoted to any significant degree, so you have to do it yourself. Also, at major publishing houses, only a fraction of the submitted Manuscripts read at all. And even if you are accepted into a publisher's program, it can take up to a year or more for your book to be published.

If a renowned publishing brand is important to you, you should definitely make sure that the publishing house of your choice also fits the topic and profile of your (autobiography). You can read in detail at tredition what you need to bear in mind when submitting a manuscript.

A real alternative is therefore the Self-Publishing dar. Here you don't have to apply, but can publish your book immediately. Of course, depending on the service provider, you will receive less support in terms of layout, typesetting, illustration and marketing than in a traditional publishing house.

However, some service providers offer services to help you with this and not leave you on your own. We have written a detailed overview about this: "The best self-publishing platform: what to look for when comparing self-publishing providers" . If you want to self-publish, you can also take a look at tredition's tools. For example, our Cover Designer for the layout and the typesetting you create quickly and easily with the automatic book setting .

A biography is a special discipline within book writing. The art is to present the life of a person in an experienceable, exciting and authentic way. Nevertheless, you have to do justice to the person with your book. In order to master this challenge, you should put special emphasis on research and give the biography a suitable structure. In this way you write a book worth reading about an extraordinary person. But please never forget to pay attention to the personal rights of the people in the book.

If you've got the taste and would like to start writing and publishing your biography right away, get started with tredition: it's 100% free of charge!

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An Artist Is Finding Out Who She Is Through Her Art

Robin F. Williams, whose first solo museum show opened this month in her hometown in Ohio, is evolving through her works, which are often injected with humor.

A woman, Robin F. Williams, sits between paintings of women. One is done in browns, tans and golds, the other in blues and purples.

By Ted Loos

This article is part of our Museums special section about how institutions are striving to offer their visitors more to see, do and feel.

The painter Robin F. Williams once thought that she would be a children’s book illustrator.

Her career and her personal evolution took her in a very different direction, but she kept some of the stylistic aspects of her first artistic aspiration.

“I think I learned a lot about my identity through making art,” said Williams, 40, who lives in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Greenpoint. She identifies as queer, bisexual, pansexual and nonbinary, and uses both “she” and “they” pronouns.

Williams has impressed other artists with her slyly funny, graphically sophisticated scenes that often depict female subjects with an eye to upending the traditional “male gaze” power dynamic.

Working in both oil and acrylic, she has experimented with different ways of applying and adjusting paint, sometimes using a silicone dish sponge, other times creatively wielding an airbrush.

“Robin is a savant with materials,” said Jenna Gribbon, her friend and fellow painter. “I don’t often stand in front of a painting and have no idea how the artist constructed the image.”

The artist Brian Donnelly, better known under his nom d’art, KAWS, said, “The humor in her work really gets me, and her execution is flawless.”

Donnelly has lent three works in his personal collection to Williams’s first solo museum show, which opened this month in her hometown, Columbus, Ohio, at the Columbus Museum of Art. “Robin F. Williams: We’ve Been Expecting You” runs through Aug. 18.

One of the pictures in the show, “Siri Defends Her Honor” (2019), imagines a life for Apple’s digital assistant. “She’s a woman without a body, trapped in our phone and destined to do our bidding,” Williams said.

Williams talked about her approach to art in her Brooklyn studio. The conversation has been edited and condensed.

How old were you when art came into your life?

My grandmother got me involved in art lessons when I was about 5. They were in the basement of a gift shop, on Wednesday nights.

Now you have a show at your hometown museum.

I lived in Columbus for 18 years, and I’ve lived in New York for 18 years. So it feels like a nice homecoming in a way.

Did you go there as a kid?

My dad did take me to the Columbus Museum a handful of times, but I didn’t have much context for painting at that time. But when I was 8, he bought me a little book of postcards out of the gift shop, of American paintings. I remember loving that. As a kid, I needed art at book scale. I carried that around with me.

Any memorable images?

There was a George Tooker painting, “The Subway” (1950). He was a very early influence of mine. He was very good at creating queer subtext in painting.

Your paintings have a lot of humor. Was that there in your work from the beginning?

There’s a core memory from art school at RISD [Rhode Island School of Design]. I was presenting a painting I’d worked really hard on, and it was a woman. She was sort of a Victoria’s Secret model. But she was positioned like a tiger protecting a birthday cake. It was an absurd painting. I’m embarrassed to admit that, at the time, I did not think it was funny. I thought it was cutting social commentary.

As a Midwesterner at a prestigious East Coast art school, I was very concerned with being taken seriously. And someone gave me a compliment: “This is really funny, in a good way.” So I pretended like I meant it to be that way.

Did that hurt your feelings?

Actually, it gave me so much permission. I was like, “Oh, well I am funny.” But it took me a while to circle back to humor in my work.

Your subjects are mostly female now. How did that evolve?

I painted children and then I started painting men. Around the time that I gave myself permission to paint women, I also gave myself permission to let the humor into the work and I think it just got a lot stronger.

They are women but they’re also somewhat cartoonish, on purpose, right?

I paint figures who are clockable as women. But I also enjoy the conversation around gender being a construct. These are paintings: Do paintings have a gender? They are a collection of signs and signals that we have collectively decided add up to a woman. But I like to leave some ambiguity there. For nonbinary folks, there’s never going to be a perfectly designed way of presenting their internal experience.

How does that relate to your own history?

My identities don’t fall into a clean category. So I’m thinking about the pressure to be legible. Whether that’s as a woman, or as a nonbinary person, or a queer person — to be legible, to be understood, is such a real desire. I definitely want to speak to other queer people, but I really want to speak to anybody that’s ever felt the oppressiveness of playing a role or needing to monitor how you are perceived. I think that’s a sensation that most of us have experienced at one time or another.

There’s something self-possessed about these figures, too.

I think it all stems from a broader idea of the figures’ having a very rich inner life — it’s an implication of their own consciousness. It’s like these are paintings that know they’re paintings.

But they also have a life when they are not being seen , which is frustrating for a person who was socialized as a woman. You’re regarded all the time, as if you’re something that gets kept on a shelf, and animates to life when you’re being perceived.

What other artists have influenced you besides Tooker?

Manet. He’s my guy. I always feel so bashful because he’s an obvious choice. I like his way of flattening things, and the way that he positions the viewer implicates the viewer — the way that it’s flattened, it almost implies that the light source is the viewer.

Is there a specific Manet that moves you?

“Olympia” forever! I’ve only seen that painting in person twice. [ Manet’s famous 1863 scene depicts a nude prostitute, attended by a Black maid .] And I wept both times. Manet had a commitment to dismantle open secrets and hierarchies, to lay them bare and say, “Let’s just look at this for what it is.” Oh, my God, if I could do that for the rest of my life.

It feels like it relates to your idea of these figures having a consciousness.

She’s a sex worker who never gets a day off. She travels across the world, she visits different museums [if the painting is lent]. That made me want to be an artist. A painter, specifically. I owe her a lot. And it feels like I owe her a lot. I don’t want to throw Manet under the bus, but Manet is not alive. My relationship is to her now.

Any other artists?

George de La Tour [1593-1692] is a huge influence on me. The drama! His sculpting with light interests me. For the last couple of years, I’ve been looking a lot at horror movies. And that genre is just bursting with chiaroscuro, figures emerging from the dark. A de La Tour painting and the slasher film are getting at a similar thing: We’re watching women emote in a very powerful way, about something unspeakable.

That connects directly with a work in the show, “Final Girl Exodus”(2021), referring to the last woman standing in slasher movies.

I wanted to imagine a future for them, where they got out of the loop of the sequel. They’re going into paradise with each other.

One of them is looking over her shoulder, acknowledging the viewer saying: “We know we’re being viewed. But this is a new option, this is a way to view us, too.”

How Bio-Based Building Materials Are Transforming Architecture

Samples of different materials made of organic waste and fibers are arrayed on a black cloth on a table. Two hands appear in the image touching different materials.

Bio-based material samples on display at “Material Time,” Harvard GSD, April 12, 2024. All photos: Maggie Janik.

A colorful grid of bio-based tiles rests atop a black surface. Created as sustainable alternatives to products ranging from acoustic cladding to frosted glass, the tiles derive from eggshells, expired lentils, and other green waste. These palm-sized squares, despite their origins in food scraps, invite tactile investigation. The same lure emanates from a neighboring rug swatch woven from Abaca fiber; a masonry-like block composed of sugarcane; and textile strips made from apple pomace. This enticing display accompanied “ Material Time ,” a day-long symposium at the Harvard Graduate School of Design held in mid-April that explored our emerging relationship with bio-based materials.

Amelia Gan MDes ’23 organized “Material Time” in her capacity as the GSD’s 2023–24 Irving Innovation Fellow. She collaborated with Ann Whiteside , Assistant Dean for Information Studies at the GSD, and Margot Nishimura, Dean of Libraries at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), who had previously cofounded Material Order , a knowledge-sharing resource for design materials collections in academic libraries. Conceptualizing the symposium, the three organizers identified practitioners, researchers, and educators at various stages in their careers whose work touches on design scales from microbes to building systems to outer space. The resulting discussion foregrounded the urgent need for transformations in how we think about and interact with the materials that comprise our built environment.

Three copies of a printed black-and-white pamphlet with the title "Material Time". The cover image features black dots arranged with greater density at the bottom and gradually decreasing density toward the top of the page.

Concrete, aluminum, and steel rank among the most prevalent materials in contemporary construction. They are also quite costly in terms of their environmental toll. Developed from dwindling non-renewable resources, such conventional engineered building products inflict widespread ecological harm, from their extractive, carbon-intensive manufacturing processes to their final disposal in landfills where they languish, leaching pollutants into the earth. Bio-based counterparts offer a potential alternative to these destructive materials.

In her introductory remarks to the symposium, Gan announced that the time has come for design professionals to “critically rethink our material choices.” Indeed, “the prevailing ethos, which celebrates idealized, unchanging form, finds itself at a crossroads challenged by materials sensitive to environmental changes,” Gan continued. “How do we reconsider the way we represent and construct our environment?” Fortunately, bio-based materials offer a compelling lens through which to reexamine construction techniques as well as expectations about how materials look and what they can do.

A woman in a red shirt with long dark hair speaks at a podium at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. On the screen behind her and to her right is a larger projected image of bricks in many different colors and patterns.

Consider bacterial biocement, as fabricated by Laura Maria Gonzalez, founder of Microbi Design and former researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab. Utilizing computational design and 3D printing, Gonzalez creates sculptural molds infused with sand and bacteria. As the microbes are fed, the mixture hardens into solid forms that, with continued nourishment, become stronger over time. If fractures occur, these living bricks heal themselves through microbial growth. They may even be programmed to signal, through a change in color, the presence of environmental toxins such as lead or arsenic. For Gonzalez, bacterial biocement promises more than a sustainable replacement for more carbon-intensive materials; it presents an opportunity to think about “how we integrate these organisms as living systems to engage more deeply with our environment.”

Paul Lewis, principal of LTL Architects and Professor at Princeton University School of Architecture, emphasized a different behavior we could seek from bio-based materials—that of performing multiple functions. As opposed to aggregated thin, lightweight, single-use products that comprise the typical modernist building section—structure, insulation, waterproofing, and so on—Lewis has experimented with using straw in bale-like configurations that act simultaneously as insulation and load-bearing structure, from which space can be carved. Lewis advocated embracing ideas that are “fundamentally at odds” with the “given values we’ve inherited from modernism,” aligning his explorations with the growing recognition that buildings as constructed throughout the past century have played a significant role in our current ecological predicament. John May , cofounder of MILLIØNS and Associate Professor of Architecture at the GSD, echoed this sentiment as he characterized the term, and the very concept of, “waste” as a vestige of a past industrial capitalist era. Rather, that which has been previously seen as waste should now be embraced as raw materials for other processes.

A man in black clothing and glasses with black frames speaks at a podium at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Behind him and to his right is a large projected digital image of an interior space with large steps toward one side on which people sit and read.

Underscoring the significance of terminology, Lola Ben-Alon, Assistant Professor and Director of the Natural Materials Lab at Columbia Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation (GSAPP), cautioned that “bio-based” materials are not necessarily less extractive or energy intensive than conventional materials. To ascertain environmental impact, she advocated examining a product’s entire life cycle, with a focus on a system’s inputs and outputs. “How are these bio-based materials produced?” Ben-Alon asked. “And where? What are the processes involved in the extraction of these materials? Where are they extracted? And can we pose other means or methods of locally creating these materials?” Such systems thinking—understood as a holistic approach that views component parts in relation to the broader dynamic systems to which they belong—emerged throughout the symposium.

Four people sit on chairs in the theater of the Harvard Graduate School of Design. One man on the right of the image holds a microphone.

For example, systems thinking came to the fore with Lina Ghotmeh ’s presentation, which focused on her design firm’s use of bio-sourced materials. Ghotmeh—currently Kenzo Tange Design Critic in Architecture at the GSD—featured the recently completed Hermès Maroquinerie de Louviers, a leather workshop constructed with locally manufactured low-carbon bricks that showcase the skill of Normandy’s brickmakers. This project is the first industrial building to earn the French E4C2 label, denoting the country’s highest recognized levels of energy efficiency (it is a positive energy building) and operational efficiency (in terms of carbon footprint reduction).

Drawing on concepts resonant with systems thinking, Martin Bechtold , Kumagai Professor of Architectural Technology and Co-director of the Doctor in Design Studies Program, discussed the iterative processes of science and design, highlighting their similarities and differences, particularly that designers tend to work at a larger scale. And later, Pablo Pérez-Ramos , Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture at the GSD, expanded the conversation beyond our planet with a consideration of thermodynamics and ways in which these universal laws may help us grapple with conditions of extreme heat in certain landscapes.

Four people sit on chairs in the auditorium of the Harvard Graduate School of Design. A woman in dark clothes on the right of the image holds a microphone and appears to be speaking.

Yet another instance of system thinking emerged in the position of Jennifer Bissonnette, Interim Director of RISD’s Nature Lab, who called for “artists and designers to have a certain level of eco literacy.” Design programs, Bissonnette argued, have a responsibility to “turn out people who have a sense of how ecosystems function,” the “cycles, flows, nested systems, development, dynamic balance” that serve as “organizing principles of the natural world.” Likewise, she advocated that scientists be schooled in studio methodology and design thinking to broaden their investigative repertoires. Such pedagogical shifts would go a long way in facilitating the multidisciplinary cooperation—from conceptualization and experimentation through scaling up to real-world manufacturing and application—that bio-based materials necessitate.

Samples of different materials including abaca fibers and squares of made of processed food waste are arrayed on a black cloth surface.

Reflecting on “Material Time” a few weeks later, Gan reiterated the need to overcome disciplinary silos. “These conversations shouldn’t happen in a vacuum, yet that often tends to occur,” especially when operating in the complex realm of bio-based materials, which encompasses design, biology, engineering, politics, ecology, sociology, and more. “The challenge is,” Gan continued, “how do you move from a high-level conversation to productive action?” Formulated to further interdisciplinary and intergenerational discussions within the GSD and beyond, “Material Time” offered an exemplary step in the right direction.

  • University of Wisconsin-Madison

Megan McClean and Zack Harmer

Machine learning illuminates experimental design for synthetic biology

Departments:, focus areas:.

When Zack Harmer’s advisor and lab leader, Biomedical Engineering Associate Professor Megan McClean , suggested he explore a potential collaboration with Chemical Engineering Professor Victor Zavala ’s computational group, the University of Wisconsin-Madison PhD student didn’t need to look far.

David Cole, Harmer’s roommate for three years, was a PhD student in Zavala’s lab, which has a litany of experience applying computational techniques to engineering challenges.

The initial conversations between the students eventually led to a project that brought together the McClean lab’s platform for high-throughput testing of optogenetic systems with the Zavala group’s machine learning toolkit. Together, the team created a framework for designing advanced synthetic biology systems that could be useful for generating biotherapeutics or other bioproducts.

The UW-Madison researchers detail their approach in a paper in the journal ACS Synthetic Biology .

In optogenetic systems, scientists manipulate biological processes through light-responsive proteins. Many of those proteins respond to blue light, which presents a challenge when trying to design more complex systems that allow for independent control over multiple processes. One potential solution is to take advantage of different dynamics of blue light; for example, pulsed light might activate one such function, while sustained light turns on another.

“How can we just use one wavelength of light to independently control multiple different biological outcomes?” says Harmer (PhDCMB ’23), who’s now a synthetic biology scientist at a California-based biotechnology company.

“Finding those sweet spots is hard,” adds McClean.

Harmer and McClean had previously developed a system named Lustro for high-throughput testing to accelerate the design and optimization of optogenetic systems, technology for which they’re pursuing a patent through the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation. By teaming with Zavala, they harvested the trove of data generated by Lustro.

Victor Zavala

“All of a sudden you have access to all of this data, to test all of these different conditions, and we were able to apply more sophisticated techniques than what I originally envisioned,” says Zavala, whose research group develops computational techniques for optimization and control. “We were able to use machine learning approaches to construct this model directly from data, trying to find optimal conditions and trying to recommend experiments in a closed-loop manner. That was transformational.”

Zavala’s group developed neural networks that, given a range of experimental conditions (proteins involved, light inputs), could predict outcomes while also quantifying the level of uncertainty in those predictions. Jaron Thompson, a PhD student co-advised by Zavala and Ophelia Venturelli, associate professor in the Department of Biochemistry (and an affiliate faculty member in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering), primarily developed the machine learning tools.

“Experiments are not free, in either reagent cost or time,” says McClean. “I think what’s particularly nice about the model is, in addition to making predictions about specific behaviors of the system, it can tell you where to do experiments and where it’s most informative to do experiments. That’s really powerful.”

McClean and Zavala are already exploring additional opportunities to apply similar approaches to more complex biological systems, as well as developing and leveraging more sophisticated modeling techniques.

“Wisconsin has a pretty unique environment for fostering these types of collaborations,” says Zavala. “I think the College of Engineering is very cohesive. It’s easy to start these types of collaborations, and people are very friendly. It’s just really a pleasure to collaborate with people around here across different departments.”

Victor Zavala is the Baldovin-DaPra Professor in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering. The research was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health (grants R35GM128873, R01EB030340 and R35GM124774), the Army Research Office (grant W911NF1910269) the National Science Foundation (grants CBET 2315963 and MCB 2045493).

Top photo caption: PhD student Zack Harmer, right, and Associate Professor Megan McClean have developed a technique for greatly accelerating the design and optimization of optogenetic systems. Photo by: Tom Ziemer.


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    This enticing display accompanied "Material Time," a day-long symposium at the Harvard Graduate School of Design held in mid-April that explored our emerging relationship with bio-based materials. Amelia GanMDes '23 organized "Material Time" in her capacity as the GSD's 2023-24 Irving Innovation Fellow. She collaborated with Ann ...

  26. Machine learning illuminates experimental design for synthetic biology

    Harmer and McClean had previously developed a system named Lustro for high-throughput testing to accelerate the design and optimization of optogenetic systems, technology for which they're pursuing a patent through the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation. By teaming with Zavala, they harvested the trove of data generated by Lustro.

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