A biography is a text about the personal life story of a famous individual. Basically, it is common for students in higher learning institutions to get assignments that require them to write academic essays. In this case, one form of these essays is a biographical essay. When writing such an essay, what a student should note is the need to focus on writing on the subject (individual) – life, personality, and life experiences. To remain focused, students must identify significant events in the life of the subject and create a thesis statement around those events. In essence, a biographical essay should capture the childhood of the individual, family history, significant life events, notable accomplishments, and historical significance. Hence, students need to learn how to write a biography of a famous person.
General Features of Writing a Professional Biography Essay
In the pursuit of higher education, students often get essay writing assignments that come in various forms. Basically, one of these forms is biography essays, which are common in liberal arts disciplines, such as history and cultural studies. In this case, the literal meaning of the term “biography” is a life story, meaning that biography essays are about the life of specific individuals. Also, these individuals tend to have a mark in the world, either positively or negatively, being their fame. Therefore, a biography essay aims to make sure that readers gain some knowledge about the specific individual. In turn, writing a biography paper enhances the understanding of what individuals did in their life and why their life experiences were exciting and important enough to be the subject of a biography essay.
Definition of a Biography Essay
Unlike other academic essays that talk about diverse topics, a biography essay focuses on telling about the life of a famous individual. Basically, this means that writers focus on the life and personality of their subject, who is now deceased. In this case, the essay provides students with an opportunity to research the life experiences of subjects and learn exciting facts about them. Generally, subjects of this type of essay happen to be famous individuals, such as politicians, entrepreneurs, historical figures, famous actors, and so on. In essence, they are individuals whom the public would love to know more about – how they lived their life and what made them outstanding in their specific fields.
Writing Elements of a Biography Essay
A biography essay reveals to readers the life of the subject and their contribution to society and the world. Hence, a writer of this type of essay must ensure to capture the following elements in their writing:
- an individual who actually lived;
- a thesis statement that advances a specific idea about the life, personality, and achievements of the individual;
- a fascinating account of one or more significant events in the life of the individual; and
- a description of the critical character traits of the individual.
The Difference With Other Essays
While the standard academic essay may be biographical, especially if it presents factual information about another person’s life, it is fundamentally different from a biography essay. For example, the significant difference between a standard essay and a biography essay is that the latter tends to be much longer than the former. Basically, the basis of this difference is that the content of a biography essay includes all of the essential and fascinating details of a person’s life. Also, these details include life events that impacted not only individuals but also those who interacted with them. Traditionally, biography essays begin with more information about the subject’s childhood and then recount the significant moments that left a mark on life and society in general.
On grading, a standard essay is graded on how well it follows essay writing standards, particularly the introduction-body-conclusion structure. Firstly, the first part should introduce the thesis statement, and the body paragraphs should be thesis-driven. Basically, body sections should open with topic sentences and include evidence to back up claims that writers make concerning the thesis statement. In contrast, a biography essay is graded on how well it tells the life story of the subject. As such, students must make inferences about the individual throughout biographical papers. Although a biographical essay is not subject to the introduction-body-conclusion standard, writers must provide a logical flow of their writing. Moreover, this aspect means that the essay must start by focusing on the early life of the subject to the latter life, indicating how every phase of life was significant.
When writing a standard essay, students must show that they understand their topic by using credible sources to support their claims and arguments. In this sense, they must use in-text and reference citations to demonstrate thorough research of the matter. In a biography essay, writers must show an in-depth understanding of the life, personality, and achievements of their subject. Basically, these details should give readers a preview of the individual’s entire life, from birth to last days, including what led to their demise. To make the essay engaging, students should focus on one or several events that significantly impacted the subject’s life, such as a disease, a divorce, or an achievement.
Step-by-Step Guide on How to Write a Good Biography Essay
Although a biography essay does not follow the introduction-body-conclusion structure like a standard essay, writers must ensure a logical flow of information. In essence, the essay should read like a narrative, with the thesis statement serving as the guiding idea. When writing this type of essay, students should focus on historical facts concerning defined subjects, using objective tone and language to describe individuals and their experiences. In this case, the most important thing for writers to note is that the story must be accurate and not fiction, and they must use reliable sources to validate their claims. Upon reading the essay, an individual should feel confident in writing a persuasive biography essay or finding the right guidance when writing such a piece.
The first step in writing a biography essay is planning or preparation. In academic writing, one of the demands is that students should write articles that are educative, meaning that they should advance ideas that readers find enriching in terms of knowledge acquisition. Therefore, finding relevant topics is critical. When writing a biography essay, a student should ensure that a subject is a person of great fame, and there is an audience that is likely to show interest in this person. Basically, these two items provide direction on how a writer should write a professional biography essay.
Choose the subject. Here, writers should choose their subject – the individual whose life, personality, and life experiences that they will address in their writing. In this case, the standard requirement is that the individual must be a famous person who once lived. For research purposes, students need to select a subject for whom scholars have written articles and books. Also, another part of the preparation is to identify a significant event or events that shaped the subject’s life.
Choose the audience. Another issue that a writer should address during preparation is the target audience – the population most likely to show interest in understanding the life, personality, and life experiences of the subject. As already indicated, biographical essays are common in literal arts disciplines, like history and cultural studies. As such, a writer should target scholars in these disciplines and those in the general public who are interested in understanding history. Ideally, the subject provides writers with an idea of the audience’s target needs in terms of knowledge acquisition.
Prepare ideas. Lastly, students should be prepared by generating ideas about their essays, such as what to cover and what to ignore. For example, writing about a famous individual’s life is demanding and requires a writer to determine what stories are relevant and which ones are not. In this case, while it is essential to talk about childhood, dwelling on it at the expense of adult life is counterproductive. Therefore, deciding what details to capture, such as significant life events, helps writers to generate ideas about the biography essay.
2️⃣ Set-Up Stage
After preparation, the next phase in writing a biography essay is setting up the stage. Here, writers should focus on academic sources that they will use to back up their claims about the subject and the essay outline that the essay should adopt. Basically, creating an outline helps students to make notes on different topics that they intend to address in the essay, such as the subject’s childhood, education, and work experience. In turn, writers should also make an annotated bibliography to get an idea of what to capture in the essay.
Researching. The process of finding sources for use in a biographical essay denotes research – the identification of documented information (articles, books, and newspaper articles) about the subject. By reading these sources, writers gain a clearer picture of famous individuals, what inspired them, and how their experiences shaped their personalities. Ultimately, these sources help students argue about contributions that the subject made, whether positive or negative. Moreover, using different sources helps writers to note different opinions that scholars have about the subject, which is vital to make the writing objective rather than subjective.
Note-making. When researching a topic, students make notes of what they learn. Basically, this aspect supports or strengthens their opinion about the issue. Moreover, when writing a biography essay, writers should make notes as they read different sources that they intend to use to support their thesis statement. In this case, students must identify themes related to the thesis statement and use them to guide the note-making process. To avoid subjectivity, writers must note facts only and not their opinions when narrating specific events in the subject’s life. Besides, mentioning significant events, interests, and persons in the subject’s life helps students to make a biography essay both educative and engaging to read.
Creation of an outline. Before embarking on writing a biography essay, a writer must create an outline to guide their story. Although biographical essays do not necessarily follow the standard structure of traditional essays (introduction, body, and conclusion), they follow a structure that provides a logical flow of information. In this case, the information, based on research, should provide insight into the life of the subject from childhood to adulthood or their demise. As such, ideas in each body paragraph must give a progressive narrative about the individual’s life and times. In this sense, writers need to create an outline that adopts the introduction-body-conclusion structure.
Creation of an annotated bibliography. To ensure sources that writers select are relevant to the biography essay, they must create an annotated bibliography. Basically, this feature means that each source should have a brief descriptive paragraph that informs readers of the relevance and accuracy of picked sources. In this case, students must demonstrate a variety of intellectual skills in writing the annotated bibliography, including concise exposition, succinct analysis, and informed and in-depth research. In short, the process involves identifying sources (books, articles, and other documents) that contain useful information and ideas about the subject and a brief examination and review of sources.
3️⃣ Writing Activity
After preparing and setting up the stage, authors of a biography essay should start writing the paper. Here, students should use the outline that they have created to guide their writing with notes taken during the reading of sources. Basically, it plays a pivotal role in shaping the narrative. Like the traditional essay, a biography essay should use the thesis statement as the central opinion that writers rely on to construct arguments throughout the paper.
Preparation of the draft. To ensure a quality product, it is essential for the writer of a biography essay to start with a draft essay. Ideally, this essay acts as a reflection of the finished product, meaning that it helps students to note mistakes and correct them before presenting the final product. Moreover, the opening chapter of the draft, like an introduction, should engage readers and make them excited about reading the essay. In this case, the thesis statement should ‘hook’ readers and make them interested in the writing. In turn, the more substantial part of the paper, which is the body, should dwell on interesting facts about discussed subjects – their childhood, significant life events, achievements, and contributions to the world. Also, the closing chapter should remind readers about the writer’s original intention and provide details about how the essay has accomplished it.
The thesis statement. Like a traditional essay, a biography essay should have a thesis statement to provide writers with their direction. Basically, this direction involves how writers choose to present their ideas about the subject, such as whether to focus on their mistakes, life achievements, life challenges, or missed opportunities. In essence, the thesis statement gives readers an idea of what authors of a biographical essay focus on when telling the story of the subject’s life and times. Hence, all aspects that writers talk about in the essay should revolve around the thesis statement.
4️⃣ Wrapping It Up
After completing the biography draft, writers should read it through to identify mistakes and correct them. Basically, the writing activity is mentally involving, which means that writers are prone to make several mistakes, such as inconsistencies in arguments, grammatical errors, and irrelevant content. Hence, this is why students need to read through their writing at least twice to make sure that such mistakes are corrected. Moreover, the processes of correction involve conducting revisions and editions. As such, subjecting the essay to vigorous assessment is necessary to ensure every mistake is identified and corrected.
Revisions. To avoid overlooking mistakes, it is essential for writers of a biography essay to give their works to other persons, such as peers, friends, teachers, and mentors, to read it through. Basically, doing so provides them with an opportunity of getting honest feedback about their writing. Moreover, such feedback involves whether the paper is easy to read, makes logical sense, or is interesting to read. Then, some of the input will pinpoint mistakes and errors, making it easy for students to revise the draft appropriately. In turn, authors should understand that a biography essay should make sense to the target audience, meaning that they must remain objective and not subjective when making revisions.
Editions. In academic writing, students learn the importance of proofreading their work. For instance, it helps make them professional. When writing a biography essay, proofreading the draft helps writers identify grammatical errors, including spellings and punctuations, and correct them. Also, an essay with these kinds of errors is likely to turn off readers’ interest, which would mean that the writing would not command respect among scholars. Hence, such an outcome would mean a biography essay is a wasted scholarly work.
Topic sentences. The standard structure of a paragraph in a traditional essay is to have a topic sentence that makes a claim that is relevant to the thesis statement. Then, the rest of the paragraph involves information that backs up this claim, which is mostly researched from external sources. Basically, a good biography essay follows the same structure, where paragraphs open with topic sentences. Moreover, these sentences make a claim about the subject, which writers go ahead to prove through evidence from selected sources. Ideally, topic sentences serve to provide readers with the issue that writers focus on in that particular paragraph.
Concluding sentences. In every essay, a writer must provide a conclusion, which can be in the form of a paragraph or sentence. For example, a concluding sentence is what an author writes when bringing a paragraph to a closure. In this case, standards of academic writing dictate that the concluding sentence must refer back to the topic sentence and show its relevance to the thesis statement. Then, the concluding sentence captures the thoughts of writers about the issue raised in the topic sentence and is backed up by evidence from different sources. Also, the concluding sentence does not only refer back to topic sentences but also transitions to the next paragraph.
Transitions. When writing an essay, it is very critical for students to ensure that information flows logically throughout the biography paper. For instance, transitions mean the words and phrases that help readers to sense this logical flow of ideas. Therefore, one can argue that writers of all forms of essays use transitions to arrange their writing expertly. In this case, readers sense this effectiveness when they notice words that connect the main idea with supporting ideas, or when they notice the use of a compare and contrast method. In other words, transitions are words that writers use within and between paragraphs to create a logical flow of information and ideas. Besides providing students with a clearer picture of what they want to write about, an outline also helps them to get ideas about the kind of transitions that they can use.
Formatting. It is the standard protocol that writers of essays should follow a particular format – APA, MLA, Harvard, or Chicago/Turabian. As such, authors of a biography essay must always confirm that they have used the right format, while every detail follows that format. Basically, these details include the outline, the use of headings and subheadings, and citations of sources. When citing sources, writers should take note of their kind – books, journal articles, e-books, newspaper articles, periodicals, and so on.
Peer review. Peer-reviewed articles denote scholarly works that writers have been subjected to scrutiny by peers in specific disciplines. In this case, peer review is the process of assessing the validity, quality, and originality of articles for publication. In turn, concerning biography essays, peer review would indicate subjecting the essay to scrutiny by peers and even instructors to ensure that it meets the highest standards of academic writing. Moreover, the advantage of subjecting a biography essay to a peer review is that writers need to know if what they have written is true or false. Therefore, it is common for famous individuals to have several writers interested in telling their stories, meaning that it is easier to note inconsistencies in these stories.
5️⃣ Final Draft
After writers of a biography essay have subjected the first draft to vigorous scrutiny through revisions, editions, and peer review, they should embark on writing the final draft. Basically, this draft denotes a polished essay, free of punctuation, grammatical, and spelling mistakes. Also, it lacks inconsistencies in arguments, irrelevant sentences, and poor transitions. Then, final drafts should show an improved paper from first drafts because writers have incorporated feedback from peers, friends, and teachers. Moreover, writers need to read through the final draft, at least once, to ensure that the paper is perfect before submission or publication. In turn, any indication of several mistakes should mean another revision. Hence, authors should focus on the content, organization of ideas, style of writing, and format.
Techniques for Writing a Good Biography Essay
When writing any type of essay, writers should use some techniques that are likely to make their writing top-notch. When writing a biography essay, a writer should use a technique that prioritizes the following details:
- the childhood of the subject;
- family history;
- significant life events;
- significant personal and professional accomplishments;
- and historical significance- significant contributions to society and the world at large.
How to “Show, Not Tell”
Unlike traditional essays, authors of biographical essays should focus on writing vivid details about the life, personality, and life experiences of the subject. Basically, this aspect means that they should not focus not only on telling readers about the subject but also on “showing” them the life of the subject through sensory details. In other words, a biography essay should not be an exposition but a real-life story with dramatic events. Ultimately, the writer’s mission is to make readers immersed in the text. In turn, after reading it, they can narrate the story to another person without referring to the writing.
Major Mistakes When Writing a Biography Essay
When writing a biography essay, students tend to make several specific mistakes. Firstly, they tend to cover too much about the subject’s life, which makes their writing lose focus. In this case, the solution to this mistake is to identify what is exciting and eventful about the subject’s life and create a thesis statement around it. Secondly, writers tend to miss the big story by getting caught up in details. In most cases, the life of a famous individual is characterized by dramatic events, and it is easy to get caught up in some at the expense of others. Hence, the solution to this mistake is to recognize what other authors have written about the subject, as it indicates what history remembers.
Example Template on How to Write a Short Biography Essay
As one of America’s Founding Fathers, George Washington stands out as a leader who never shied from giving his best in every endeavor. Growing up as a boy, he made up sayings that shaped his attitude about life. One of these sayings reads: “Lean not on anyone” (Lengel, 2007). As he grew older, he developed a great sense of self-reliance and responsibility, which made him committed to family, military service, and country. In turn, these character traits were fundamental in shaping his achievements and contributions to America.
Although he grew up on his family’s Virginia plantation, Washington made up his mind as a young boy to become a land surveyor. At the age of 16, he had his first surveying expedition, where he slept outdoors and hunted for food (Lengel, 2007). Basically, these experiences made him a more mature teenager, and this aspect was evident in his sense of responsibility. Then, one can argue that these early experiences positioned Washington for military service. For example, the year 1775 was eventful in Washington’s life as it marked his entry into military leadership (Lengel, 2007). After the Second Continental Congress named him commander in chief of the army, he made significant contributions before retiring from the position in 1783. Although he helped his soldiers to overcome significant obstacles, many deserted after supplies ran out. Also, Washington served two terms as the first President of the US from 1789 to 1797.
❖ National Hero
However, his service during the American Revolution affords Washington the tag of an American hero. For example, historians suggest that he was a good general than a military strategist, as his strength lay in his ability to keep the struggling army together despite battlefield hardships (Lengel, 2007). Although he commanded a troop made up of poorly trained soldiers, serving with diminishing food, ammunition, and other essential supplies, Washington was effective in providing direction and motivation. Then, records showed that he was inspiring to his troops during the winter of 1777-1778 at Valley Forge, where the above hardships, combined with severe weather, made the troops weak and vulnerable (Lengel, 2007). Throughout the grueling eight-year war, Washington helped to lead the colonial forces in conquering the British. In October 1781, the Continental forces, with the French’s help, captured British troops in the Battle of Yorktown. Hence, this action brought to an end the Revolutionary War, with Washington being declared a national hero.
❖ Historical Significance
Washington’s rise to the presidency began in 1783 after the US and Great Britain signed the Treaty of Paris. Believing he had served his country well, Washington left the army so that he could return to Mount Vernon to become a farmer and family man. However, in 1787, he received an invitation to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia (Franklin, 1998). During the event, he was requested to head the committee to draft the new constitution. On account of his outstanding leadership, the delegates became convinced that he was, by far, the most qualified to become the first president of the fledgling nation.
Despite the challenges that came his way during military service and politics, Washington remained an American patriot to the end. After his death, countless people of great repute paid tribute to this great American. In turn, his fellow Founding Father Thomas Jefferson eulogized him as a person of pure integrity and inflexible justice. Hence, history will always remember Washington as among the individuals that laid the foundation for America to become the greatest nation on Earth.
Franklin, J. H. (1998). George Washington Williams: A biography. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Lengel, E. G. (2007). General George Washington: A military life. New York, NY: Random House.
Summing Up on How to Write a Good Biography Essay
A biography essay differs from a traditional essay in that it focuses on the life, personality, and life experiences of a specific famous individual. Although the essay does not necessarily follow the introduction-body-conclusion structure of a standard essay, it follows a structure that introduces a logical flow of details. In most cases, writers of these essays adopt the structure of the standard essay. Also, a typical biographical essay is longer than a standard essay. Hence, when writing a biography essay, writers should master the following tips:
- Narrow the focus by concentrating on significant events in the subject’s life.
- Use facts but write the essay like fiction for purposes of arousing the readers’ interest.
- Make the essay an emotional journey by capturing details about the subject that are surprising, exciting, revealing, and even unbelievable.
- Ensure the subject is a famous individual that once lived.
- Talk about the subject’s childhood briefly.
- Include family history.
- Mention one or several significant life events.
- Cover significant personal and professional accomplishments.
- Address the subject’s historical significance – the significant contributions that a famous person made to society and the world at large.