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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 (eg. in a conference program, a government submission, or a business report),
  • Resumes,
  • Obituaries,
  • Newspaper articles, Magazines, Web Sites, Social Media listing, or anywhere else

Lesson Structure

There are 8 lessons in this course:

  1. Scope and Nature of Biographical Writing
  2. Researching a Biography
  3. Developing Context
  4. Short Biographies
  5. Comprehensive Biographies
  6. Planning a Biography
  7. Editing and Marketing a Biography
  8. Project – Writing a Biographical Story

Each lesson culminates in an assignment which is submitted to the school, marked by the school's tutors and returned to you with any relevant suggestions, comments, and if necessary, extra reading.


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 we talked about earlier.
  • 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 They may be considered historical documents. 

Memoirs are written by the subject and are not considered historical documents.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 followups, 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.