Writing a Biography

Course CodeBWR205
Fee CodeS2
Duration (approx)100 hours
QualificationStatement of Attainment

Learn to Write Biographies

This course is relevant to biographical writing for:

  • Books and Screenplays
  • Profiles (e.g. in a conference program, a government submission, or a business report),
  • Resumes,
  • Obituaries,
  • Newspaper articles, Magazines, Web Sites, Social Media listing, or anywhere else

Biographies are hugely popular, whether you are a film star, have been resident in the White House, or are a war veteran, biographies provide a rich source of reading for many. They can provide information about eras, experiences, and about the world.

  • Do you have an interest in people and in their experiences?

  • Would you like to write about events and experiences that are an inspiration to others?

  • Study Biographical Writing with ACS and learn about the processes of writing - from determining the initial concepts, through planning, and obtaining evidence, through to editing, publishing, and marketing a work.

Lesson Structure

There are 8 lessons in this course:

  1. Scope and Nature of Biographical Writing
    • The difference between a biography and autobiography
    • Unauthorised biographies
    • Using ghost writers in biographies
    • Choosing your subject
    • What do biographies cover?
    • Timelines
    • Fiction versus Non fiction
    • Uses for biographies
    • Biography vs. Memoir
    • Sequels
  2. Researching a Biography
    • Types of Evidence - primary, secondary
    • Using Evidence
    • Fair Use
    • Where to find evidence - newspapers, diaries, research, interviews
    • Conducting an Interview
    • Secondary sources - reference books, biographies, online sources, libraries, archives
    • How to deal with conflicting sources and information
    • Citations and Referencing
    • Ways to reference
    • The law - slander and libel
    • Information in the public domain
  3. Developing Context
    • Using themes
    • Determining Your Theme
    • Mapping links
    • Defining purpose
    • Developing the theme
    • Themes and Structure
    • Using Context
    • General planning
    • Unauthorised versus authorised biographies
    • Considering rights
    • Protecting copyright
  4. Short Biographies
    • Principles of the Short Biography
    • How to start
    • Distilling Information
    • Obituaries
    • Social media bios
    • Blog bio
    • Author bio
    • Magazine profiles
    • Professional bio
    • Preparing to write from life experience
    • Approach
  5. Comprehensive Biographies
    • What makes a comprehensive biography comprehensive?
    • Writing about living versus deceased
    • Writing a Great Biography
    • Voice in Writing
    • Some essential writing skills
  6. Planning a Biography
    • The Short Outline
    • The Detail-Heavy Outline
    • Outlining the biography
    • Defining a theme, writing to a central theme
    • Word Budget
    • Organising Chapter Content
  7. Editing and Marketing a Biography
    • Editing
    • Writing a Sales Package
    • The Publishing Process
    • Publishing Processes for Ebooks
    • Self-Publishing Your Work
    • Distributing and Selling your Work
    • Grants for Writing
  8. Project – Writing a Biographical Story
    • In this final lesson, you will bring together everything that you have been learning to undertake research and construct a first draft of a biographical piece of between 2,000 and 4,000 words.


Biographies are used in many different areas of writing.

Books may seem the most obvious area where a biography is written. There are a lot of authorised and unauthorised biographies available as books.  But not everyone wants to write a whole book about a particular person. There are other areas, such as – 

  • Screenplays – biographies can be used to developed screenplays for films, such as the Frost/Nixon biography
  • Business reports
  • Obituaries
  • Newspaper articles
  • Magazine articles
  • Website articles
  • Social media listings
  • Blogs
  • Conference programmes
  • Professional profiles
  • Government submissions
  • Resumes/CVs
  • Biographies can be short stories, or a full-length book.  

Biography or Memoir?

While these terms are often used interchangeably, there is a distinct difference between biographies and memoirs. Biographies are dependent on research and can be written by the subject (autobiography) or about an other subject (biography). They may be considered historical documents. 

Memoirs are written by the subject and are not considered historical documents. There is usually little research involved, unless it is required for deepening an aspect of the telling or providing some context. This is because memoirs are about an individual perspective, as opposed to documenting or chronicling a life history. 

Although memoirs require less research, it is often a good idea to read around the general area you intend to write about and gather other perspectives. It can also help you situate your personal story, or think about in a new way, which may prove helpful to you.
Memoirs do not have to be comprehensive or linear. They can be written about a single period, life event, interest, or aspect.


Comprehensive biographies rarely have sequels unless new information comes to light. This is especially true when the subject is deceased. If the subject is living, a sequel may be released after enough time has passed. This is commonly seen in celebrity biographies.

Shorter biographies may have follow-ups, which cover later life or earlier life. 

Memoirs may have sequels, because they cover a smaller portion of the subject's life. The writer and neurologist Oliver Sacks published many books, each dealing with a different section of his work or life. 


There are lots of reasons why you should sign up to do this course with us, including:

  • The course is detailed to ensure that you have the level of knowledge required to apply the practices in your own work, whether that's as a business employee or as a self employed writer
  • Within each lesson you have the opportunity to apply your learning to activities which enables you to practice different concepts and expand your own research in areas of interest
  • Knowledge of these key areas will enable you to stand out from other applicants when it comes to applying for jobs, it will also give you greater confidence
  • Having the knowledge of different writing techniques will enable you to work in many different sectors and business types, giving you flexibility now and in the future
  • Our subject specialist tutors will be there to support you throughout your course, they are only too happy to share their industry knowledge and experience with you
  • When studying with us you set your own deadlines, meaning you study at your own pace enabling it to fit around other commitments


You can enrol on the course now, but if you have any questions about the content of the course or studying with ACS, then please get in touch with us today - use our FREE COURSE COUNSELLING SERVICE to get in touch with our expert tutors. They will be pleased to help you!


Meet some Of our academics

John Mason

John Mason is one of Australia's most prolific writers. He saw his first work published when at secondary school, where he worked on the school magazine. In 1973 he was writing a weekly column for his local newspaper and by 1975 he was a regular contributor to Australia's national magazine "Your Garden". John was engaged by Victoria's Dept of Youth, Sport and Recreation to write a book on Fun and Fitness Trails in 1978. In 1981 he saw two more books published (one in America, another in Australia), and commenced writing regularly for the Self Sufficiency Magazine, Grass Roots. John is a long term member of the Australian Society of Authors, the Garden Media Guild (UK) and the Horticultural Media Association (Australia). He has written or contributed to over 100 books, many published by international publishers and published more than 2,000 articles across a range of genres (Gardening, Education, Business, Farming, Fitness). In addition, John has contributed to and overseen the development of more than 600 distance education courses which encompass around 20 million words. He has been an avid photographer for 40 years, building a collection of over 100,000 images, which are used to illustrate his work. His marine animal photos are even used by Legoland in England, on their Atlantis ride! Writer, Manager, Teacher and Businessman with over 40 years interenational experience covering Education, Publishing, Leisure Management, Education, and Horticulture. He has extensive experience both as a public servant, and as a small business owner. John is a well respected member of many professional associations, and author of over seventy books and of over two thousand magazine articles.

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