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  • Introduction

The emergence of autobiography

Types of autobiography.

Hear about “Autobiography of Mark Twain” and the Mark Twain Papers at the Bancroft Library of the University of California, Berkeley

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Hear about “Autobiography of Mark Twain” and the Mark Twain Papers at the Bancroft Library of the University of California, Berkeley

autobiography , the biography of oneself narrated by oneself. Autobiographical works can take many forms, from the intimate writings made during life that were not necessarily intended for publication (including letters, diaries , journals , memoirs , and reminiscences) to a formal book-length autobiography.

Formal autobiographies offer a special kind of biographical truth: a life, reshaped by recollection, with all of recollection’s conscious and unconscious omissions and distortions. The novelist Graham Greene said that, for this reason, an autobiography is only “a sort of life” and used the phrase as the title for his own autobiography (1971).

Giorgio Vasari

There are but few and scattered examples of autobiographical literature in antiquity and the Middle Ages. In the 2nd century bce the Chinese classical historian Sima Qian included a brief account of himself in the Shiji (“Historical Records”). It may be stretching a point to include, from the 1st century bce , the letters of Cicero (or, in the early Christian era, the letters of Saint Paul ), and Julius Caesar ’s Commentaries tell little about Caesar, though they present a masterly picture of the conquest of Gaul and the operations of the Roman military machine at its most efficient. But Saint Augustine ’s Confessions , written about 400 ce , stands out as unique: though Augustine put Christianity at the centre of his narrative and considered his description of his own life to be merely incidental, he produced a powerful personal account, stretching from youth to adulthood, of his religious conversion.

Confessions has much in common with what came to be known as autobiography in its modern, Western sense, which can be considered to have emerged in Europe during the Renaissance , in the 15th century. One of the first examples was produced in England by Margery Kempe , a religious mystic of Norfolk. In her old age Kempe dictated an account of her bustling, far-faring life, which, however concerned with religious experience, reveals her personality. One of the first full-scale formal autobiographies was written a generation later by a celebrated humanist publicist of the age, Enea Silvio Piccolomini, after he was elevated to the papacy, in 1458, as Pius II . In the first book of his autobiography—misleadingly named Commentarii , in evident imitation of Caesar—Pius II traces his career up to becoming pope; the succeeding 11 books (and a fragment of a 12th, which breaks off a few months before his death in 1464) present a panorama of the age.

The autobiography of the Italian physician and astrologer Gironimo Cardano and the adventures of the goldsmith and sculptor Benvenuto Cellini in Italy of the 16th century; the uninhibited autobiography of the English historian and diplomat Lord Herbert of Cherbury, in the early 17th; and Colley Cibber ’s Apology for the Life of Colley Cibber, Comedian in the early 18th—these are representative examples of biographical literature from the Renaissance to the Age of Enlightenment. The latter period itself produced three works that are especially notable for their very different reflections of the spirit of the times as well as of the personalities of their authors: the urbane autobiography of Edward Gibbon , the great historian; the plainspoken, vigorous success story of an American who possessed all talents, Benjamin Franklin ; and the introspection of a revolutionary Swiss-born political and social theorist, the Confessions of Jean-Jacques Rousseau —the latter leading to two autobiographical explorations in poetry during the Romantic period in England, William Wordsworth ’s Prelude and Lord Byron ’s Childe Harold , cantos III and IV.

An autobiography may be placed into one of four very broad types: thematic, religious, intellectual , and fictionalized. The first grouping includes books with such diverse purposes as The Americanization of Edward Bok (1920) and Adolf Hitler ’s Mein Kampf (1925, 1927). Religious autobiography claims a number of great works, ranging from Augustine and Kempe to the autobiographical chapters of Thomas Carlyle ’s Sartor Resartus and John Henry Cardinal Newman ’s Apologia in the 19th century. That century and the early 20th saw the creation of several intellectual autobiographies, including the severely analytical Autobiography of the philosopher John Stuart Mill and The Education of Henry Adams . Finally, somewhat analogous to the novel as biography is the autobiography thinly disguised as, or transformed into, the novel. This group includes such works as Samuel Butler ’s The Way of All Flesh (1903), James Joyce ’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916), George Santayana ’s The Last Puritan (1935), and the novels of Thomas Wolfe . Yet in all of these works can be detected elements of all four types; the most outstanding autobiographies often ride roughshod over these distinctions.

  • Key Differences

Know the Differences & Comparisons

Difference between Biography and Autobiography

biography vs autobiography

Both of these two presents the view of, what happened in the past where the author lived. These are non-fiction books, written in chronological order, tells a story about the person who made a significant contribution in a specific field. Many think that the two writing forms are one and the same thing, but there are noticeable difference between the two, that are presented in the given article.

Content: Biography Vs Autobiography

Comparison chart.

Basis for ComparisonBiographyAutobiography
MeaningBiography refers to an account that tells someone else's life story.Autobiography means an account that tells your life story.
AuthorizationCan be written, with or without the authorization of the subject.Not required
Written inThird personFirst person
PurposeTo informTo express and inform
OutlookBased on facts collected by the author.Full of emotions and thoughts.

Definition of Biography

A biography also referred as ‘bio’ is a detailed account of a person’s life written or produced by another person. It gives an elaborate information regarding the birthplace, educational background, work, relationships and demise of the person concerned. It presents the subject’s intimate details about life, focusing on the highs and lows and analysing their whole personality.

A biography is usually in the written form but can also be made in other forms of a music composition or literature to film interpretation.

It is the recreation of the life of an individual composed of words by another person. The author collects every single detail about the subject and presents those facts in the biography, which are relevant and interesting, to engross the readers in the story.

Definition of Autobiography

An autobiography is the life sketch of a person written by that person himself or herself. The word auto means ‘self.’ Therefore, autobiography contains all the elements of a biography but composed or narrated by the author himself. He/She may write on their own or may hire ghostwriters to write for them.

An autobiography presents the narrator’s character sketch, the place where he is born and brought up, his education, work, life experiences, challenges, and achievements. This may include events and stories of his childhood, teenage, and adulthood.

Key Differences Between Biography and Autobiography

The difference between biography and autobiography are discussed in detail in the following points:

  • Biography is a detailed account of a person’s life written by someone else, while an autobiography is written by the subject themselves.
  • Biography can be written with (authorised) or without permission (unauthorised) from the person/heir’s concerned. Therefore, there are chances of factual mistakes in the information. On the other hand, autobiographies are self-written and therefore doesn’t require any authorization.
  • Biographies contain information that is collected over a period of time from different sources and thus, it projects a different outlook to the readers. On the other hand, autobiographies are written by the subject themselves, therefore, the writer presents the facts and his thinking in his own way, thus providing an overall narrow and biased perspective to the readers.
  • In an Autobiography, the author uses the first narrative like I, me, we, he, she, etc. This, in turn, makes an intimate connection between the author and the reader since the reader experience various aspects as if he/she is in that time period. As opposed a biography is from a third person’s view and is much less intimate.
  • The purpose of writing a biography is to introduce and inform the readers about the person and his life whereas an autobiography is written in order to express, the life experiences and achievements of the narrator.

Video: Biography Vs Autobiography

There are several autobiographies which are worth mentioning like ‘The Story of My Life’ by Helen Keller, ‘An Autobiography’ by Jawaharlal Nehru, ‘The Diary of a Young Girl’ by Anne Frank, ‘Memoirs of the Second World War’ by Winston Churchill, ‘Wings of Fire’ by A. P. J. Abdul Kalam and much more.

Examples of some famous biographies are- Tolstoy: A Russian Life by Rosamund Bartlett, His Excellency: George Washington by Joseph J. Ellis, Einstein: The Life and Times by Ronald William Clark, Biography of Walt Disney: The Inspirational Life Story of Walt Disney – The Man Behind “Disneyland” by Steve Walters, Princess Diana- A Biography Of The Princess Of Wales by Drew L. Crichton.

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autoiography vs memoir

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Great explanation by Surbhi S, it clears confusion between biographies and autobiographies.

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Definition of autobiography

Examples of autobiography in a sentence.

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'autobiography.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

auto- + biography , perhaps after German Autobiographie

1797, in the meaning defined above

Phrases Containing autobiography

  • semi - autobiography

Dictionary Entries Near autobiography


Cite this Entry

“Autobiography.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary , Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/autobiography. Accessed 29 Jun. 2024.

Kids Definition

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Biography vs Autobiography: Similarities and Differences

Biography vs Autobiography: Similarities and Differences

Chris Drew (PhD)

Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]

Learn about our Editorial Process

biography vs autobiography, explained below

A biography is an account of someone’s life story that is written by an author who is not the subject of the nook. An autobiography, on the other hand, involves an individual narrating their own life experiences.

The differences between biographies and autobiographies relate most prominently to the authorhship:

  • Autobiography: When you read an autobiography, you’re getting the author’s own interpretation of their life.
  • Biography: When you read a biography, you experience the subject’s life through someone else’s lens (Schiffrin & Brockmeier, 2012).

Biography vs Autobiography

1. biography.

A biography is a detailed account of a person’s life, scripted by an author who is not the person who is featured in the text itself.

This type of life story focuses both on factual events in the person’s life, such as birth, education, work, and death, but often also delves into personal aspects like experiences, relationships, and significant achievements.

It may also weave-in cultural and contextual factors that help illuminate the person’s motivations and core values .

Origins of Biographies

The concept of biography as a literary genre dates back to antiquity. Such works were primarily used to capture the lives of dignified individuals, mainly rulers and war heroes.

Suetonius’s Lives of the Caesars and Plutarch’s Parallel Lives are landmark examples from this ancient period (Sweet, 2010).

The popularity of biographical works only grew in the ensuing centuries, and they became a prominent part of many cultures’ literary traditions. 

Into the 18th century and during the Enlightenment, biographies began to present a more balanced portrayal of the subject. They would present both their strengths and flaws, providing a holistic perspective on the subject.

Dr. Samuel Johnson’s compilation of English poets biographies, Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets (1779-1781) ushered in a new era of biography writing by focusing on examining human nature (Ditchfield, 2018).

In the modern era, the genre has evolved and broadened, encompassing a diverse range of figures from all walks of life – there’s a biography in every niche imaginable, with each offering readers an in-depth exploration of their lives, their struggles, and their triumphs.

This demonstrates the enduring appeal of biographies and their value in providing snapshots of history through individual lenses.

Key Characteristics of Biographies

The author of the biography is not the person who the story is about. The writer is an observer who collects, verifies, and narrates the life story of the person in focus (Smith et al., 2012).
A biography doesn’t have the of an autobiography. So, a biography is often more trustworthy, but we still need to examine the incentives of the actual author (Jones, 2015).
A biography covers all the significant aspects of the person’s life. From birth to death, or their most noteworthy accomplishments, it encompasses a wide array of life events (Johnson & Johnson, 2017).
A biography prioritizes facts and major milestones in an individual’s life, such as , careers, relationships, and more. It does not delve into trivial details unless they are relevant to the person’s life story (Williams, 2019).

Examples of Biographies

Title: The Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets Author: Dr. Samuel Johnson   Description: Dr. Johnson’s work profiles the lives of 52 poets from the 17th and 18th centuries, including John Milton and Alexander Pope. He critiques not just the works, but also explores their personal lives and the sociopolitical contexts of their times (Johnson, 1781). Johnson’s study is invaluable for its integrated historic and biographic approach.

Title: The Life of Samuel Johnson Author: James Boswell   Description: This work by Boswell explores, in great depth, the life of his friend and mentor, Dr. Samuel Johnson. The biography offers a compelling portrayal of Dr. Johnson’s life, character, eccentricities, and intellectual prowess (Boswell, 1791). Boswell’s vivid account creates a near-physical presence of Johnson to the readers, making it one of the greatest biographies in English literature.

Title: The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt Author: Edmund Morris   Description: In this Pulitzer Prize-winning biography, Morris chronicles the early life of Theodore Roosevelt until his ascension to the U.S presidency. The work brilliantly captures Roosevelt’s extraordinary career and his transformation from a frail asthmatic boy into a robust and vigorous leader (Morris, 1979). Morris accurately represents Roosevelt’s indomitable spirit, making it an engaging and educational read.

Title: Steve Jobs Author: Walter Isaacson Description: This comprehensive biography provides a deep-dive into the life and career of Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple. Isaacson had unparalleled access to Jobs and those closest to him, thus presenting an intimate and detailed account. He explores Jobs’ professional endeavors as well as his personal life, revealing his ambition, intensity, and visionary mind that revolutionized several high-tech industries (Isaacson, 2011).

Title: Alexander Hamilton Author: Ron Chernow Description: Ron Chernow provides a sweeping narrative of one of America’s most compelling founding fathers, Alexander Hamilton. Chernow combines extensive research with a flair for storytelling, charting Hamilton’s evolution from an orphan into a political genius. The book sheds light on Hamilton’s crucial role in the formation of the United States’ financial system and his political ideologies (Chernow, 2004).

2. Autobiography

An autobiography is a self-written record of someone’s own life. It is a personal narrative in which the author writes about their life from their own perspective.

Autobiographies are usually centered around the author’s personal experiences, including key milestones, challenges, and achievements (Eakin, 2015).

They’re also often a defense of the person’s perspective (especially in political autobiographies) or insight into their thought processes, which can make them very intimate.

Origins of Autobiographies

The term ‘autobiography’ was first used deprecatingly by William Taylor in 1797 in the English periodical The Monthly Review, when he suggested the word as a hybrid but condemned it as ‘pedantic’.

Pioneering examples of the genre form include Thomas De Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium-Eater (1821) and the memoirs by veterans of the Napoleonic Wars (Lejeune, 2016).

However, apart from these early instances, autobiographies have been composed by a wide array of individuals from history. 

In the early 20th century, the genre witnessed major transformations, and autobiographies started to cover a broader spectrum of experiences, including trauma, struggles, and successes.

‘Black Boy’ by Richard Wright, for instance, shares the author’s experiences with racism and his journey towards developing a literary career (Wright, 1945).

This was followed by a host of autobiographies by public figures sharing their diverse stories, such as Ernest Hemingway’s ‘A Moveable Feast’, depicting his days as a struggling young writer in Paris (Hemingway, 1964). 

Autobiography as a genre has continued to evolve over the years, and a variety of forms have emerged to communicate individual experiences globally.

As history has progressed, we see more and more people with diverse perspectives sharing their stories, broadening our understanding of the human experience (Smith & Watson, 2010).

Key Characteristics of Autobiographies 

The author of the autobiography is the person the story is about. They are the principal actor and the of the information (Miller, 2014). As a result, we can get a deeper ‘insider’ insight into their mentality and expereinces.
An autobiography emphasizes the personal viewpoint adopted by the author. The story is told from their own emotions, biases, and interpretations, providing a very personal perspective. However, we also need to be aware that it’s going to only present one self-serving perspective on the matter.
Autobiographies go beyond factual accounts and include the author’s internal thoughts, emotions, and introspections about their experiences (Baker et al., 2013).
Unlike a biography, an autobiography may not cover the entirety of the author’s life. Instead, they’re more likely to concentrate on specific themes (like resilience) or significant periods (like childhood or a specific career phase) (Brown & Brown, 2018).

Examples of Autobiographies

Title: Long Walk to Freedom Author: Nelson Mandela   Description: “Long Walk to Freedom” provides an in-depth exploration of ex-President Nelson Mandela, his political journey, and his stand against apartheid in South Africa. The biography offers a unique perspective into Mandela’s noble character, his indomitable spirit, and his commitment to justice when faced with grave adversities (Mandela, 1995). Mandela serves as one of our times’ great moral and political leaders through this biography.

Title: The Diary of a Young Girl Author: Anne Frank  Description: This biography provides a startling firsthand account of a young Jewish girl named Anne Frank, who with her family, hid from the Nazis in Amsterdam during World War II. Her diary entries offer profound insights into the fear, hope, and resilience she demonstrated during her two years in hiding (Frank, 1947). Frank’s posthumous biographical record serves as a reminder of the injustices of the past and as a symbol of endurance in the face of oppression.

Title: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Author: Maya Angelou  Description: This moving autobiography charts Maya Angelou’s early life, from experiencing racial discrimination in the South to becoming the first black streetcar conductor in San Francisco. Angelou portrays her journey of self-discovery and overcoming traumatic experiences, including racial prejudice and personal trauma, with remarkable strength and grace. Her story is one of resilience, and it speaks powerfully about finding one’s voice (Angelou, 1969). 

Title: Night Author: Elie Wiesel  Description: “Night” is Wiesel’s personal account of his experiences in Nazi concentration camps during World War II with his father. This heartbreaking narrative describes not only physical hardship and cruel atrocities but also examines the loss of innocence and the struggle to maintain faith in humanity. It stands as a testament to human resilience in the face of unimaginable horror (Wiesel, 1960).

Title: Dreams from My Father Author: Barack Obama Description: In this engaging memoir, the 44th President of the United States narrates the story of his diverse background and early life. The narrative extends from his birth in Hawaii to his first visit to Kenya, from dealing with racial identity to self-discovery. “Dreams from My Father” not only provides personal insights about Obama’s life and values but also discusses issues of race, identity, and purpose (Obama, 1995).

Similarities and Differences Between Biographies and Autobiographies

1. AuthorshipWritten by a third party. The author and subject are different individuals (Smith et al., 2012).Written by the subject themselves. The author is the person the story is about (Miller, 2014).
2. PerspectivePresents an objective perspective, offering a balanced view of the subject’s life (Jones, 2015).Emphasizes a subjective perspective, providing a very personal view of the author’s life.
3. ContentFocuses on facts and major life events, offering a comprehensive account of an individual’s life (Johnson & Johnson, 2017).Often includes personal reflections and feelings, may focus on specific themes or periods in the author’s life (Baker et al., 2013; Brown & Brown, 2018).
4. Personal ReflectionsContains limited personal reflections or emotions of the subject.Contains an abundance of personal reflections and emotions from the author (Baker et al., 2013).
5. Subjectivity / ObjectivityMore objective due to the distance between the author and the subject (Jones, 2015).More subjective due to the close relationship between the author and the subject – they’re the same person.
6. StrengthsProvides an impartial and factual account of a person’s life, which can be helpful for historical or academic study (Williams, 2019).Gives a deeper insight into a person’s thoughts and emotions, providing a unique perspective on their life experiences (Baker et al., 2013).
7. WeaknessesMay lack personal insight or emotional depth due to its objective approach (Williams, 2019).May be biased or overly emotional due to its subjective approach, and may not cover the entirety of the author’s life (Brown & Brown, 2018).

While both biographies and autobiographies are excellent sources of information and entertainment about significant figures in history (or the present!), they serve different purposes. By knowing the different purposes of each, we can develop stronger media literacy , understanding what the intention of the author is, and how we should approach the text.

Angelou, M. (1969). I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings . Random House.

Baker, J., Davis, E., & Thompson, K. (2013). Reflection and Emotions in Autobiography . Chicago University Press.

Boswell, J. (1791). The Life of Samuel Johnson . J.R. Taylor.

Brown, J., & Brown, S. (2018). Thematic Focus in Autobiography Writing . Princeton University Press.

Chernow, R. (2004). Alexander Hamilton . Penguin Books.

Ditchfield, S. (2018). Extracting the Domestic from the Didactic: Transmission and Translation of the Sacred in The Lives of the Ancient Fathers (1672–1675). Church History and Religious Culture, 98 (1), 28-50.

Eakin, P. J. (2015). How Our Lives Become Stories: Making Selves . Cornell University Press.

Frank, A. (1947). The Diary of a Young Girl . Contact Publishing.

Hemingway, E. (1964). A Moveable Feast . Charles Scribner’s Sons.

Isaacson, W. (2011). Steve Jobs . Simon & Schuster.

Johnson, M., & Johnson, S. (2017). A Comprehensive Guide to Biography Writing . New York: Penguin.

Johnson, S. (1781). The Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets . Printed by C. Bathurst, J. Buckland [and 28 others in London].

Jones, B. (2015). The Art of Writing Biographies: An Objective Approach . Oxford University Press.

Lejeune, P. (2016). On Autobiography . University of Minnesota Press.

Mandela, N. (1995). Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela . Macdonald Purnell.

Miller, R. (2014). The Self as the Subject: Autobiography Writing . Stanford University Press.

Morris, E. (1979). The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt . Coward, McCann & Geoghegan.

Obama, B. (1995). Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance . Crown Publishing Group.

Schiffrin D., & Brockmeier J. (2012). Narrative Identity and Autobiographical Recall. Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplements, 70 , 113-144.

Smith, J., Davis, M., & Thompson, S. (2012). Third Party Narratives: An Exploration of Biography Writing . Cambridge University Press.

Smith, S., & Watson, J. (2010). Reading Autobiography: A Guide for Interpreting Life Narratives . University of Minnesota Press.

Sweet, R. (2010). Biographical Dictionaries and Historiography. Bibliothèque d’Humanisme et Renaissance, 72 (2), 355–368.

Wiesel, E. (1960). Night . Hill & Wang.

Williams, T. (2019). The Importance of Facts in Biographies . HarperCollins.

Wright, R. (1945). Black Boy: A Record of Childhood and Youth . Harper & Brothers.


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What Is The Difference Between An Autobiography And A Biography?

What are the differences between autobiographies and biographies? 

The two words are not interchangeable .

And neither is a subset of the other.

Once you get a handle on what sets them apart, you’ll never get them confused again. 

You’ll be able to explain the difference between autobiography and biography as proficiently as any publisher or semantics expert .

And you’ll know just how to market your book to get your ideal reader’s attention . 

Let’s get started. 

1. Autobiographies are written by (or with) the subject. 

2. autobiographies are in the first person; biographies are (typically) in the third person. , 3. biographies don’t require the permission of the subject. , 4. autobiographies can include the subject’s thoughts and feelings. , 5. autobiographies are more subjective; biographies are meant to be more objective. , 6. autobiographies generally cover the entire life from childhood to the present. , 7. autobiographies inform the reader about the subject’s motives. , the difference between autobiography and biography: 7 distinctions you should know .

You’re here for one reason: to finally settle the autobiography vs. biography question. Maybe someone asked you, and you weren’t sure of your answer. Or perhaps you’ve confused autobiography and biography one too many times. 

You’re not alone. And you’re about to learn the critical differences and what these two have in common. 

If you’re writing a book about your own life, you’re writing either an autobiography or a memoir . 

Even if you’re paying a ghostwriter to write most or all of it for you, based on conversations with them, you’re still considered the author, and it’s still an autobiography (or memoir ). 

Every autobiography results from the subject’s own writing or a collaboration between the subject and their ghostwriter. 

With an autobiography, you address the reader using the first-person point of view . You’re telling them a story about your life. 

Since someone other than the subject (or their ghostwriter) writes the biography, it’s written about the subject — not from their point of view. The author of a biography typically refers to the subject using the third person. 

Using the third person creates distance between the narrator and the subject. 

Before writing the book, the author of a biography may or may not reach out to the (living) subject. They may want the subject’s permission and input. 

On the other hand, they may choose to write an “unauthorized biography” with shock value, in which case permission from the subject is more an obstacle than an advantage.

the difference between autobiography and biography

Much depends on whether the biographer has any real interest in understanding the subject and their motives. 

Unlike biographies, where the author typically doesn’t have access to the subject’s thoughts and feelings, the author of an autobiography does. 

Because the author is the subject, they know and can share their deepest motives behind the actions they’ve taken. They remember thoughts that came right before they did something they regret (or not). 

They remember how they felt during the most significant moments of their lives. 

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Biographies are supposed to be objective retellings of the subject’s life or the most noteworthy parts of it. 

Autobiographies, by contrast, are more subjective since the one writing them is the subject . 

When you write your autobiography, you give the world your unique take on your life, what happened to you, and what you did with it.

Your autobiography is not meant to be objective; it’s meant to be personal. 

Autobiographies generally cover the entirety of the subject’s (i.e., author’s) life up to that point. Memoirs typically focus on a particular part of the subject’s life. 

Biographies, too, focus on certain parts or aspects of the subject’s life, whether it’s a scandal, a collection of little-known fact-based anecdotes, or the secret to the subject’s success (or downfall). 

the difference between autobiography and biography

The point of a biography is to satisfy the ideal reader’s curiosity about the subject. 

Autobiographies focus less on facts than on the motives behind them — specifically the subject’s motives since those are the only ones the author knows. 

The author-subject writing their autobiography is in a unique position to understand the true motives of their book’s main character. 

And readers who genuinely care about that are more likely to take the subject-author’s word than that of an unauthorized biographer speculating as to the subject’s motives.. 

Now that you know the facts behind the biography vs. autobiography question, we hope you find it easier to explain the differences to anyone who asks. 

Whatever type of life story you’re writing, may you have all the information, insight, and resources you need to make it unputdownable — and a credit to your name. 

Happy writing! 

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[ aw-t uh -bahy- og -r uh -fee , -bee- , aw-toh- ]

  • a history of a person's life written or told by that person.

/ ˌɔːtəʊbaɪˈɒɡrəfɪ; ˌɔːtəbaɪ- /

  • an account of a person's life written or otherwise recorded by that person
  • A literary work about the writer's own life. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin and Isak Dinesen's Out of Africa are autobiographical.

Discover More

Derived forms.

  • ˌautobiˈographer , noun

Other Words From

  • auto·bi·ogra·pher noun

Word History and Origins

Origin of autobiography 1

Example Sentences

In so doing, she gave us an autobiography that has held up for more than a century.

His handwritten autobiography reawakens in Lee a longing to know her motherland.

His elocution, perfected on stage and evident in television and film, make X’s autobiography an easy yet informative listen.

The book is not so much an autobiography of Hastings — or even Netflix’s origin story.

By contrast, Shing-Tung Yau says in his autobiography that the Calabi-Yau manifold was given its name by other people eight years after he proved its existence, which Eugenio Calabi had conjectured some 20 years before that.

Glow: The Autobiography of Rick JamesRick James David Ritz (Atria Books) Where to begin?

Hulanicki was the subject of a 2009 documentary, Beyond Biba, based on her 2007 autobiography From A to Biba.

And it was also during the phase of the higher autobiography.

“Nighttime was the worst,” Bennett wrote in his autobiography.

Then I picked up a book that shredded my facile preconceptions—Hard Stuff: The Autobiography of Mayor Coleman Young.

No; her parents had but small place in that dramatic autobiography that Daphne was now constructing for herself.

His collected works, with autobiography, were published in 1865 under the editorship of Charles Hawkins.

But there is one point about the book that deserves some considering, its credibility as autobiography.

I thought you were anxious for leisure to complete your autobiography.

The smallest fragment of a genuine autobiography seems to me valuable for the student of past epochs.

Related Words

  • Literary Terms
  • Autobiography
  • Definition & Examples
  • When & How to Write Autobiography

I. What is Autobiography?

An autobiography is a self-written life story.


It is different from a  biography , which is the life story of a person written by someone else. Some people may have their life story written by another person because they don’t believe they can write well, but they are still considered an author because they are providing the information. Reading autobiographies may be more interesting than biographies because you are reading the thoughts of the person instead of someone else’s interpretation.

II. Examples of Autobiography

One of the United States’ forefathers wrote prolifically (that means a lot!) about news, life, and common sense. His readings, quotes, and advice are still used today, and his face is on the $100 bill. Benjamin Franklin’s good advice is still used through his sayings, such as “We are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid.” He’s also the one who penned the saying that’s seen all over many schools: “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” His autobiography is full of his adventures , philosophy about life, and his wisdom. His autobiography shows us how much he valued education through his anecdotes (stories) of his constant attempts to learn and improve himself. He also covers his many ideas on his inventions and his thoughts as he worked with others in helping the United States become free from England.

III. Types of Autobiography

There are many types of autobiographies. Authors must decide what purpose they have for writing about their lives, and then they can choose the format that would best tell their story. Most of these types all share common goals: helping themselves face an issue by writing it down, helping others overcome similar events, or simply telling their story.

a. Full autobiography (traditional):

This would be the complete life story, starting from birth through childhood, young adulthood, and up to the present time at which the book is being written. Authors might choose this if their whole lives were very different from others and could be considered interesting.

There are many types of memoirs – place, time, philosophic (their theory on life), occupational, etc. A memoir is a snapshot of a person’s life. It focuses on one specific part that stands out as a learning experience or worth sharing.

c. Psychological illness

People who have suffered mental illness of any kind find it therapeutic to write down their thoughts. Therapists are specialists who listen to people’s problems and help them feel better, but many people find writing down their story is also helpful.

d. Confession

Just as people share a psychological illness, people who have done something very wrong may find it helps to write down and share their story. Sharing the story may make one feel he or she is making amends (making things right), or perhaps hopes that others will learn and avoid the same mistake.

e. Spiritual

Spiritual and religious experiences are very personal . However, many people feel that it’s their duty and honor to share these stories. They may hope to pull others into their beliefs or simply improve others’ lives.

f. Overcoming adversity

Unfortunately, many people do not have happy, shining lives. Terrible events such as robberies, assaults, kidnappings, murders, horrific accidents, and life-threatening illnesses are common in some lives. Sharing the story can inspire others while also helping the person express deep emotions to heal.

IV. The Importance of Autobiography

Autobiographies are an important part of history. Being able to read the person’s own ideas and life stories is getting the first-person story versus the third-person (he-said/she-said) version. In journalism, reporters go to the source to get an accurate account of an event. The same is true when it comes to life stories. Reading the story from a second or third source will not be as reliable. The writer may be incorrectly explaining and describing the person’s life events.

Autobiographies are also important because they allow other people in similar circumstances realize that they are not alone. They can be inspiring for those who are facing problems in their lives. For the author, writing the autobiography allows them to heal as they express their feelings and opinions. Autobiographies are also an important part of history.

V. Examples of Autobiography in Literature

A popular autobiography that has lasted almost 100 years is that of Helen Keller. Her life story has been made into numerous movies and plays. Her teacher, Anne Sullivan, has also had her life story written and televised multiple times. Students today still read and learn about this young girl who went blind and deaf at 19 months of age, causing her to also lose her ability to learn to speak. Sullivan’s entrance into Helen’s life when the girl was seven was the turning point. She learned braille and soon became an activist for helping blind and deaf people across the nation. She died in 1968, but her autobiography is still helping others.

Even in the days before my teacher came, I used to feel along the square stiff boxwood hedges, and, guided by the sense of smell, would find the first violets and lilies. There, too, after a fit of temper, I went to find comfort and to hide my hot face in the cool leaves and grass. What joy it was to lose myself in that garden of flowers, to wander happily from spot to spot, until, coming suddenly upon a beautiful vine, I recognized it by its leaves and blossoms, and knew it was the vine which covered the tumble-down summer-house at the farther end of the garden! (Keller).

An autobiography that many middle and high school students read every year is “Night” by Elie Wiesel. His story is also a memoir, covering his teen years as he and his family went from the comfort of their own home to being forced into a Jewish ghetto with other families, before ending up in a Nazi prison camp. His book is not that long, but the details and description he uses brings to life the horrors of Hitler’s reign of terror in Germany during World War II. Students also read “The Diary of Anne Frank,” another type of autobiography that shows a young Jewish girl’s daily life while hiding from the Nazis to her eventual capture and death in a German camp. Both books are meant to remind us to not be indifferent to the world’s suffering and to not allow hate to take over.

“The people were saying, “The Red Army is advancing with giant strides…Hitler will not be able to harm us, even if he wants to…” Yes, we even doubted his resolve to exterminate us. Annihilate an entire people? Wipe out a population dispersed throughout so many nations? So many millions of people! By what means? In the middle of the twentieth century! And thus my elders concerned themselves with all manner of things—strategy, diplomacy, politics, and Zionism—but not with their own fate. Even Moishe the Beadle had fallen silent. He was weary of talking. He would drift through synagogue or through the streets, hunched over, eyes cast down, avoiding people’s gaze. In those days it was still possible to buy emigration certificates to Palestine. I had asked my father to sell everything, to liquidate everything, and to leave” (Wiesel 8).  

VI. Examples of Autobiography in Pop Culture

One example of an autobiography that was a hit in the movie theaters is “American Sniper,” the story of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle. According to an article in the Dallas, Texas, magazine D, Kyle donated all the proceeds from the film to veterans and their families. He had a story to tell, and he used it to help others. His story is a memoir, focusing on a specific time period of his life when he was overseas in the military.

An autobiography by a young Olympian is “Grace, Gold and Glory: My Leap of Faith” by Gabrielle (Gabby) Douglas. She had a writer, Michelle Burford, help her in writing her autobiography. This is common for those who have a story to tell but may not have the words to express it well. Gabby was the darling of the 2012 Olympics, winning gold medals for the U.S. in gymnastics along with being the All-Around Gold Medal winner, the first African-American to do so. Many young athletes see her as an inspiration. Her story also became a television movie, “The Gabby Douglas Story.”

VII. Related Terms

The life story of one person written by another. The purpose may to be highlight an event or person in a way to help the public learn a lesson, feel inspired, or to realize that they are not alone in their circumstance. Biographies are also a way to share history. Historic and famous people may have their biographies written by many authors who research their lives years after they have died.

VIII. Conclusion

Autobiographies are a way for people to share stories that may educate, inform, persuade, or inspire others. Many people find writing their stories to be therapeutic, healing them beyond what any counseling might do or as a part of the counseling. Autobiographies are also a way to keep history alive by allowing people in the present learn about those who lived in the past. In the future, people can learn a lot about our present culture by reading autobiographies by people of today.

List of Terms

  • Alliteration
  • Amplification
  • Anachronism
  • Anthropomorphism
  • Antonomasia
  • APA Citation
  • Aposiopesis
  • Bildungsroman
  • Characterization
  • Circumlocution
  • Cliffhanger
  • Comic Relief
  • Connotation
  • Deus ex machina
  • Deuteragonist
  • Doppelganger
  • Double Entendre
  • Dramatic irony
  • Equivocation
  • Extended Metaphor
  • Figures of Speech
  • Flash-forward
  • Foreshadowing
  • Intertextuality
  • Juxtaposition
  • Literary Device
  • Malapropism
  • Onomatopoeia
  • Parallelism
  • Pathetic Fallacy
  • Personification
  • Point of View
  • Polysyndeton
  • Protagonist
  • Red Herring
  • Rhetorical Device
  • Rhetorical Question
  • Science Fiction
  • Self-Fulfilling Prophecy
  • Synesthesia
  • Turning Point
  • Understatement
  • Urban Legend
  • Verisimilitude
  • Essay Guide
  • Cite This Website

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Home » Writing » Autobiography vs. Biography vs. Memoir

what is meant by biography autobiography

What is a Biography?

A biography, also called a bio, is a non-fiction piece of work giving an objective account of a person’s life. The main difference between a biography vs. an autobiography is that the author of a biography is not the subject. A biography could be someone still living today, or it could be the subject of a person who lived years ago.

Biographies include details of key events that shaped the subject’s life, and information about their birthplace, education, work, and relationships. Biographers use a number of research sources, including interviews, letters, diaries, photographs, essays, reference books, and newspapers. While a biography is usually in the written form, it can be produced in other formats such as music composition or film.

If the target person of the biography is not alive, then the storytelling requires an immense amount of research. Interviews might be required to collect information from historical experts, people who knew the person (e.g., friends and family), or reading other older accounts from other people who wrote about the person in previous years. In biographies where the person is still alive, the writer can conduct several interviews with the target person to gain insight on their life.

The goal of a biography is to take the reader through the life story of the person, including their childhood into adolescence and teenage years, and then their early adult life into the rest of their years. The biography tells a story of how the person learned life’s lessons and the ways the person navigated the world. It should give the reader a clear picture of the person’s personality, traits, and their interaction in the world.

Biographies can also be focused on groups of people and not just one person. For example, a biography can be a historical account of a group of people from hundreds of years ago. This group could have the main person who was a part of the group, and the author writes about the group to tell a story of how they shaped the world.

Fictional biographies mix some true historical accounts with events to help improve the story. Think of fictional biographies as movies that display a warning that the story is made of real characters, but some events are fictional to add to the storyline and entertainment value. A lot of research still goes into a fictional biography, but the author has more room to create a storyline instead of sticking to factual events.

Examples of famous biographies include:

  • His Excellency: George Washington  by Joseph J. Ellis
  • Einstein: The Life and Times  by Ronald William Clark
  • Princess Diana – A Biography of The Princess of Wales  by Drew L. Crichton

Include photos in your autobiography

What is an Autobiography?

An autobiography is the story of a person’s life written by that person. Because the author is also the main character of the story, autobiographies are written in the first person. Usually, an autobiography is written by the person who is the subject of the book, but sometimes the autobiography is written by another person. Because an autobiography is usually a life story for the author, the theme can be anything from religious to a personal account to pass on to children.

The purpose of an autobiography is to portray the life experiences and achievements of the author. Therefore, most autobiographies are typically written later in the subject’s life. It’s written from the point of view of the author, so it typically uses first person accounts to describe the story.

An autobiography often begins during early childhood and chronologically details key events throughout the author’s life. Autobiographies usually include information about where a person was born and brought up, their education, career, life experiences, the challenges they faced, and their key achievements.

On rare occasions, an autobiography is created from a person’s diary or memoirs. When diaries are used, the author must organize them to create a chronological and cohesive story. The story might have flashbacks or flashforwards to describe a specific event, but the main storyline should follow chronological order from the author’s early life to their current events.

One of the main differences between an autobiography vs. a biography is that autobiographies tend to be more subjective. That’s because they are written by the subject, and present the facts based on their own memories of a specific situation, which can be biased. The story covers the author’s opinions on specific subjects and provides an account of their feelings as they navigate certain situations. These stories are also very personal because it’s a personal account of the author’s life rather than a biography where a third party writes about a specific person.

Examples of famous autobiographies include:

  • The Story of My Life  by Helen Keller
  • The Diary of a Young Girl  by Anne Frank
  • Losing My Virginity  by Richard Branson

A collection of letters and postcards

What is a Memoir?

Memoir comes from the French word  mémoire , meaning memory or reminiscence. Similar to an autobiography, a memoir is the story of a person’s life written by that person. These life stories are often from diary entries either from a first-person account or from a close family member or friend with access to personal diaries.

The difference between a memoir vs. an autobiography is that a memoir focuses on reflection and establishing an emotional connection, rather than simply presenting the facts about their life. The author uses their personal knowledge to tell an intimate and emotional story about the private or public happenings in their life. The author could be the person in the story, or it can be written by a close family member or friend who knew the subject person intimately. The topic is intentionally focused and does not include biographical or chronological aspects of the author’s life unless they are meaningful and relevant to the story.

Memoirs come in several types, all of which are written as an emotional account of the target person. They usually tell a story of a person who went through great struggles or faced challenges in a unique way. They can also cover confessionals where the memoir tells the story of the author’s account that contradicts another’s account.

This genre of writing is often stories covering famous people’s lives, such as celebrities. In many memoir projects, the celebrity or person of interest needs help with organization, writing the story, and fleshing out ideas from the person’s diaries. It might take several interviews before the story can be fully outlined and written, so it’s not uncommon for a memoir project to last several months.

Memoirs do not usually require as much research as biographies and autobiographies, because you have the personal accounts in diary entries and documents with the person’s thoughts. It might require several interviews, however, before the diary entries can be organized to give an accurate account on the person’s thoughts and emotions. The story does not necessarily need to be in chronological order compared to an autobiography, but it might be to tell a better story.

Examples of famous memoirs include:

  • Angela’s Ashes  by Frank McCourt
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings  by Maya Angelou
  • Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S.  Grant by Ulysses S. Grant

Autobiography vs. Biography vs. Memoir Comparison Chart

An account of a person’s lifeAn account of one’s own lifeA personal account of a specific time or experience
Written in the third personWritten in the first personWritten in the first person
Presents information collected from the subject, their acquaintances, or from other sourcesPresents facts as they were experienced by the personPresents facts as they were experienced by the person
Written to inform and establish a contextWritten to inform and explain the motivation and thoughts behind actions and decisionsWritten to reflect on and explore the emotion of an experience
Has restricted access to the subject’s thoughts and feelingsOffers access to personal thoughts and feelingsOffers access to personal thoughts, feelings, reactions, and reflections
Can be written anytimeUsually written later in lifeCan be written anytime

Check out some of our blogs to learn more about memoirs:

  • What is a memoir?
  • 5 tips for writing a memoir
  • Your memoir is your legacy

Ready to get started on your own memoir, autobiography, or biography? Download our free desktop book-making software, BookWright .

Autobiographies , Biographies , memoirs

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What is an Autobiography? Definition, Elements, and Writing Tips

what is meant by biography autobiography

What is an autobiography, and how do you define autobiography, exactly? If you’re hoping to write an autobiography, it’s an important thing to know. After all, you wouldn’t want to mislabel your book.

What sets an autobiography apart from a memoir or a biography? And what type of writing is most similar to an autobiography? Should you even write one? How? Today we will be discussing all things autobiographical, so you can learn what an autobiography is, what sets it apart, and how to write one of your own – should you so choose. 

But before we get into writing tips, we must first define autobiography. So what is an autobiography, precisely? 

Need A Nonfiction Book Outline?

This Guide to Autobiographies Contains Information On:

What is an autobiography: autobiography meaning defined.

What is an autobiography? It’s a firsthand recounting of an author’s own life. So, if you were to write an autobiography, you would be writing a true retelling of your own life events. 

Autobiography cannot be bound to only one type of work. What an autobiography is has more to do with the contents than the format. For example, autobiographical works can include letters, diaries, journals, or books – and may not have even been meant for publication. 

An autobiography is what many celebrities, government officials, and important social figures sit down to write at the end of their lives or distinguished careers. 

Of course, the work doesn’t have to cover your whole life. You can absolutely write an autobiography in your 20s or 30s if you’ve lived through events worth sharing!

If an autobiography doesn’t cover the entire lifespan of the author, it can start to get confused with another genre of writing. So what’s an autobiography most similar to? And how can you tell it apart from other genres of writing? Let’s dive into the details. 

What type of writing is most similar to an autobiography?

A memoir is undoubtedly what type of writing is most similar to an autobiography. So what is the difference between an autobiography vs memoir ?

Simply put, a memoir is a book that an author writes about their own life with the intention of communicating a lesson or message to the reader. It doesn’t need to be written in chronological order, and only contains pieces of the author’s life story. 

An autobiography, on the other hand, is the author’s life story from birth to present, and it’s much less concerned with theme than it is with communicating a “highlight reel” of the author’s biggest life events. 

In addition to memoirs, there is also some confusion between autobiography vs biography . A biography is a true story about someone’s life, but it is not about the author’s life. 

Is an autobiography always nonfiction?

When many people define autobiography, they say it is a true or “nonfiction” telling of an author’s life – but that’s not always the case.

There is actually such a thing as autobiographical fiction .

Autobiographical fiction refers to a story that is based on fact and inspired by the author’s actual experiences…but has made-up characters or events. Any element in the story can be embellished upon or fabricated. 

Even the information in a standard “nonfiction” autobiography should be taken with a grain of salt. After all, anything written from the author’s perspective may contain certain biases, distortions, or unconscious omissions within the text. 

So if being nonfiction isn’t a defining characteristic of an autobiography, what is an autobiography defined by? 

The key elements of an autobiography

What’s an autobiography like from cover to cover? It should contain these key elements:

  • A personal narrative : It is a firsthand account of the author's life experiences.
  • A chronological structure : An autobiography typically follows a chronological order, tracing the author's life from birth to present.
  • Reflection and insight : The book should contain the author's reflections, insights, and emotions about key life events.
  • Key life events : The book should highlight significant events, milestones, and challenges in the author's life.
  • Setting and context : There should be descriptions of the time period, cultural background, and environment to help the reader understand the author’s life.
  • Authenticity : The author should be honest and sincere in presenting their life story.
  • A personal perspective : An autobiography is written from the author's unique point of view.
  • A strong conclusion : The ending of the book should reflect on the author's current state or outlook.

Famous Autobiography Examples

Now that you know what an autobiography is, let’s look at some famous autobiography examples .

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank (1947)

The Diary Of Anne Frank, A Top Example For The Question: What Is An Autobiography?

Perhaps no autobiography is more famous than The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank. Her diary chronicles her profound thoughts, dreams, and fears as she hides with her family in the walls during the Holocaust. 

Anne's words resonate with the enduring spirit of hope amid unimaginable darkness.

The Autobiography of Ben Franklin by Benjamin Franklin (1909)

One Of The Top Autobiographies, The Autobiography Of Ben Franklin.

Benjamin Franklin's autobiography follows Franklin’s life from humble origins to one of America's greatest forefathers. While originally intended as a collection of anecdotes for his son, this autobiography has become one of the most famous works of American literature. 

Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela (1994)

One Of The Best Examples Of What An Autobiography Is, Long Walk To Freedom By Nelson Mandela

Long Walk to Freedom narrates Nelson Mandela's epic odyssey from South African prisoner to revered statesman. This masterpiece of an autobiography is a portrait of resilience against the backdrop of apartheid – and his words are a bastion for courage and human rights. 

Now you know what an autobiography is, and some examples of successful autobiographies, so it’s time to discuss what goes into actually writing one. 

Who Should Write an Autobiography?

Celebrity autobiographies are popular for a reason – the people who wrote them were already popular. 

The main purpose of an autobiography is to portray the life experiences and achievements of the author. If you haven’t made any massive achievements that people are already aware of, an autobiography might not be for you. Instead, you should learn how to write a memoir . 

After all, what’s an autobiography worth if no one reads it?

If you have made an important contribution to society, or have amassed a massive following of fans, then writing an autobiography could be a fabulous idea.

An autobiography is what allows you to claim your rightful place in history. It provides a legacy for your life, helps you to better understand your life’s journey, and can even be deeply therapeutic to write. 

But then comes the next problem: how to write an autobiography.

Tips on Writing Your Own Autobiography 

While memoirs are the books that teach life lessons, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give your autobiography meaning. The best autobiographies paint a vivid tapestry of personal growth and introspection. 

You don’t just want to tell the reader about your life – you want them to feel like they are living it with you.

And it’s not just about painting a picture with your prose. A lot of thought should go into everything from autobiography titles to page count. To get started, here are five tips for writing an autobiography:

  • Know your audience : Understand who will read your autobiography and speak to them while writing.
  • Be candid and authentic : A life seen through rose-colored glasses isn’t relatable. You should include your failures as well as your triumphs, and humanize yourself so your story resonates with your reader.
  • Do your research : Of course you know what happened in your life, but how many details do you actually remember? You may need to sift through photos, archives, and diaries – and interview people close to you. Consider adding the photos to your book. 
  • Identify key themes : Identify key events and life lessons that have shaped you. Reflect on how these themes have evolved over time.
  • Edit and edit again : Write freely first, then edit rigorously. Seek feedback from trusted individuals and consider professional editing to ensure clarity and coherence in your narrative. NO ONE writes perfectly the first time. 

So there you have it, you are well on your way to understanding (and writing) an autobiography. 

If you'd still like more guidance for writing your autobiography, you can check out our free autobiography template . We can’t wait for you to share your life story with the world. 

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What Is an Autobiography?

What to Consider Before You Start to Write

  • Writing Research Papers
  • Writing Essays
  • English Grammar
  • M.Ed., Education Administration, University of Georgia
  • B.A., History, Armstrong State University

Your life story, or autobiography , should contain the basic framework that any essay should have, with four basic elements. Begin with an introduction that includes a thesis statement , followed by a body containing at least several paragraphs , if not several chapters. To complete the autobiography, you'll need a strong conclusion , all the while crafting an interesting narrative with a theme.

Did You Know?

The word autobiography  literally means SELF (auto), LIFE (bio), WRITING (graph). Or, in other words, an autobiography is the story of someone's life written or otherwise told by that person.

When writing your autobiography, find out what makes your family or your experience unique and build a narrative around that. Doing some research and taking detailed notes can help you discover the essence of what your narrative should be and craft a story that others will want to read.

Research Your Background

Just like the biography of a famous person, your autobiography should include things like the time and place of your birth, an overview of your personality, your likes and dislikes, and the special events that shaped your life. Your first step is to gather background detail. Some things to consider:

  • What is interesting about the region where you were born?
  • How does your family history relate to the history of that region?
  • Did your family come to that region for a reason?

It might be tempting to start your story with "I was born in Dayton, Ohio...," but that is not really where your story begins. It's better to start with an experience. You may wish to start with something like why you were born where you were and how your family's experience led to your birth. If your narrative centers more around a pivotal moment in your life, give the reader a glimpse into that moment. Think about how your favorite movie or novel begins, and look for inspiration from other stories when thinking about how to start your own.

Think About Your Childhood

You may not have had the most interesting childhood in the world, but everyone has had a few memorable experiences. Highlight the best parts when you can. If you live in a big city, for instance, you should realize that many people who grew up in the country have never ridden a subway, walked to school, ridden in a taxi, or walked to a store a few blocks away.

On the other hand, if you grew up in the country you should consider that many people who grew up in the suburbs or inner city have never eaten food straight from a garden, camped in their backyards, fed chickens on a working farm, watched their parents canning food, or been to a county fair or a small-town festival.

Something about your childhood will always seem unique to others. You just have to step outside your life for a moment and address the readers as if they knew nothing about your region and culture. Pick moments that will best illustrate the goal of your narrative, and symbolism within your life.

Consider Your Culture

Your culture is your overall way of life , including the customs that come from your family's values and beliefs. Culture includes the holidays you observe, the customs you practice, the foods you eat, the clothes you wear, the games you play, the special phrases you use, the language you speak, and the rituals you practice.

As you write your autobiography, think about the ways that your family celebrated or observed certain days, events, and months, and tell your audience about special moments. Consider these questions:

  • What was the most special gift you ever received? What was the event or occasion surrounding that gift?
  • Is there a certain food that you identify with a certain day of the year?
  • Is there an outfit that you wear only during a special event?

Think honestly about your experiences, too. Don't just focus on the best parts of your memories; think about the details within those times. While Christmas morning may be a magical memory, you might also consider the scene around you. Include details like your mother making breakfast, your father spilling his coffee, someone upset over relatives coming into town, and other small details like that. Understanding the full experience of positives and negatives helps you paint a better picture for the reader and lead to a stronger and more interesting narrative. Learn to tie together all the interesting elements of your life story and craft them into an engaging essay.

Establish the Theme

Once you have taken a look at your own life from an outsider’s point of view, you will be able to select the most interesting elements from your notes to establish a theme. What was the most interesting thing you came up with in your research? Was it the history of your family and your region? Here is an example of how you can turn that into a theme:

"Today, the plains and low hills of southeastern Ohio make the perfect setting for large cracker box-shaped farmhouses surrounded by miles of corn rows. Many of the farming families in this region descended from the Irish settlers who came rolling in on covered wagons in the 1830s to find work building canals and railways. My ancestors were among those settlers."

A little bit of research can make your own personal story come to life as a part of history, and historical details can help a reader better understand your unique situation. In the body of your narrative, you can explain how your family’s favorite meals, holiday celebrations, and work habits relate to Ohio history.

One Day as a Theme

You also can take an ordinary day in your life and turn it into a theme. Think about the routines you followed as a child and as an adult. Even a mundane activity like household chores can be a source of inspiration.

For example, if you grew up on a farm, you know the difference between the smell of hay and wheat, and certainly that of pig manure and cow manure—because you had to shovel one or all of these at some point. City people probably don’t even know there is a difference. Describing the subtle differences of each and comparing the scents to other scents can help the reader imagine the situation more clearly.

If you grew up in the city, you how the personality of the city changes from day to night because you probably had to walk to most places. You know the electricity-charged atmosphere of the daylight hours when the streets bustle with people and the mystery of the night when the shops are closed and the streets are quiet.

Think about the smells and sounds you experienced as you went through an ordinary day and explain how that day relates to your life experience in your county or your city:

"Most people don’t think of spiders when they bite into a tomato, but I do. Growing up in southern Ohio, I spent many summer afternoons picking baskets of tomatoes that would be canned or frozen and preserved for cold winter’s dinners. I loved the results of my labors, but I’ll never forget the sight of the enormous, black and white, scary-looking spiders that lived in the plants and created zigzag designs on their webs. In fact, those spiders, with their artistic web creations, inspired my interest in bugs and shaped my career in science."

One Event as a Theme

Perhaps one event or one day of your life made such a big impact that it could be used as a theme. The end or beginning of the life of another can affect our thoughts and actions for a long time:

"I was 12 years old when my mother passed away. By the time I was 15, I had become an expert in dodging bill collectors, recycling hand-me-down jeans, and stretching a single meal’s worth of ground beef into two family dinners. Although I was a child when I lost my mother, I was never able to mourn or to let myself become too absorbed in thoughts of personal loss. The fortitude I developed at a young age was the driving force that would see me through many other challenges."

Writing the Essay

Whether you determine that your life story is best summed up by a single event, a single characteristic, or a single day, you can use that one element as a theme . You will define this theme in your  introductory paragraph .

Create an outline with several events or activities that relate back to your central theme and turn those into subtopics (body paragraphs) of your story. Finally, tie up all your experiences in a summary that restates and explains the overriding theme of your life. 

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Definition of Biography

Common examples of biographical subjects.

As a literary device, biography is important because it allows readers to learn about someone’s story and history. This can be enlightening, inspiring, and meaningful in creating connections. Here are some common examples of biographical subjects:

Famous Examples of Biographical Works

Difference between biography, autobiography, and memoir, examples of biography in literature, example 1:  savage beauty: the life of edna st. vincent millay  (nancy milford).

One of the first things Vincent explained to Norma was that there was a certain freedom of language in the Village that mustn’t shock her. It wasn’t vulgar. ‘So we sat darning socks on Waverly Place and practiced the use of profanity as we stitched. Needle in, . Needle out, piss. Needle in, . Needle out, c. Until we were easy with the words.’

This passage reflects the way in which Milford is able to characterize St. Vincent Millay as a person interacting with her sister. Even avid readers of a writer’s work are often unaware of the artist’s private and personal natures, separate from their literature and art. Milford reflects the balance required on the part of a literary biographer of telling the writer’s life story without undermining or interfering with the meaning and understanding of the literature produced by the writer. Though biographical information can provide some influence and context for a writer’s literary subjects, style, and choices , there is a distinction between the fictional world created by a writer and the writer’s “real” world. However, a literary biographer can illuminate the writer’s story so that the reader of both the biography and the biographical subject’s literature finds greater meaning and significance.

Example 2:  The Invisible Woman: The Story of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens  (Claire Tomalin)

The season of domestic goodwill and festivity must have posed a problem to all good Victorian family men with more than one family to take care of, particularly when there were two lots of children to receive the demonstrations of paternal love.

Example 3:  Virginia Woolf  (Hermione Lee)

‘A self that goes on changing is a self that goes on living’: so too with the biography of that self. And just as lives don’t stay still, so life-writing can’t be fixed and finalised. Our ideas are shifting about what can be said, our knowledge of human character is changing. The biographer has to pioneer, going ‘ahead of the rest of us, like the miner’s canary, testing the atmosphere , detecting falsity, unreality, and the presence of obsolete conventions’. So, ‘There are some stories which have to be retold by each generation’. She is talking about the story of Shelley, but she could be talking about her own life-story.

In this passage, Lee is able to demonstrate what her biographical subject, Virginia Woolf, felt about biography and a person telling their own or another person’s story. Literary biographies of well-known writers can be especially difficult to navigate in that both the author and biographical subject are writers, but completely separate and different people. As referenced in this passage by Lee, Woolf was aware of the subtleties and fluidity present in a person’s life which can be difficult to judiciously and effectively relay to a reader on the part of a biographer. In addition, Woolf offers insight into the fact that biographers must make choices in terms of what information is presented to the reader and the context in which it is offered, making them a “miner’s canary” as to how history will view and remember the biographical subject.

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Definition of autobiography noun from the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary


  • In his autobiography, he recalls the poverty he grew up in.
  • in an/​the autobiography

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Meaning of autobiography in English

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  • multi-volume
  • young adult

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Autobiography | intermediate english, examples of autobiography, translations of autobiography.

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7 revelations from the explosive House of Beckham biography: allegations range from David’s affairs and the couple’s media war, to Meghan Markle’s ‘posh’ envy and boob job advice from Anna Wintour

what is meant by biography autobiography

1. How many affairs did David Beckham have?

what is meant by biography autobiography

Bower alleges that David “always looked like he was evaluating each woman” he encountered at his agent’s London office, adding that the impression formed by some was that “he was rather creepy”.

2. Did Victoria Beckham really punch David Beckham in the face?

what is meant by biography autobiography

Bower also writes about the time following Loos going public about her alleged affair with David. The author claims that while David and Victoria put on a “bravura performance” in public, behind the scenes, Posh was “slapping Beckham hard on his face”, as a journalist allegedly saw through a chalet window.

3. Did the couple feed negative press about each other?

what is meant by biography autobiography

4. Meghan Markle thought she was “posher” than Posh Spice

what is meant by biography autobiography

5. Anna Wintour allegedly advised Victoria Beckham to remove her breast implants

what is meant by biography autobiography

The American Vogue editor-in-chief reportedly told the Wannabe crooner to have her breast implants removed – which she confirmed in 2014 she had done – in order to “rebrand her image”, claims Bower. A Vogue spokesperson strongly denied the claim.

6. David Beckham and the alleged Nazi T-shirt

what is meant by biography autobiography

Bower alleges that David once wore a T-shirt with Nazi Adolf Eichmann’s face on it – though, as a photo on X (Twitter) shows, it was actually a hoodie. The footballer’s excuse? “Got shirt in post from American fan.”

7. The Beckhams: stingy multimillionaires

what is meant by biography autobiography

The book also details other allegations, such as Victoria expensing crisps at a photo shoot, the couple getting annoyed at a staffer claiming US$10 for a taxi, David wanting to serve a US$3.8 bottle of wine at a Unicef fundraiser, as well as his concerted efforts to minimise his tax bill.

  • Tom Bower’s new book alleges that David Beckham had 5 extramarital affairs, and a journalist reportedly saw Victoria hitting him in the face while the couple put on a ‘bravura performance’ in public
  • Other claims include Meghan Markle wanting to be posher than Posh Spice, Anna Wintour advising Victoria Beckham to have her breast implants removed … and then there was David’s Nazi ‘T-shirt’


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