How to Write an Autobiography
The Ultimate Guide with Pro Tips
What Is an Autobiography
Before we can move on to our writing tips, it is important to define what an autobiography is and specify its different types. In a nutshell, an autobiography is a self-written piece that reflects the timeline of an author’s life. Such pieces are written in the narrative form, and can serve several purposes — depending on the specific type of writing.
Generally, there are four kinds of autobiographical writing:
- Autobiography – This is a long and full story about the author’s life. This type of writing covers everything from birth to the present. Often, the purpose of writing an autobiography is: to share a person’s life path with a wide audience, to leave your mark, to reconcile the past, or to make your memories last.
- Autobiographical essay for college – This type of autobiographical writing is normally submitted along with the rest of your admission package. The goal of this paper is to introduce yourself to admission officers and convince them that you are the right fit for their educational facility.
- Memoir – Memoirs are similar to autobiographies with a single difference – they don’t have to cover a person’s entire life. Instead, in a memoir, you can narrow your focus down to the most interesting and important events.
- Personal essay – This is the last and the shortest type of autobiographical writing. Simply put, it is just an essay about yourself. Unlike other essay types, this one is more intimate and emotional; it requires you to share personal experiences. As a rule, such a paper focuses on one specific event, a period of time, a person, etc. This is a common type of academic assignment in schools and colleges.
These are the basic types of autobiographical writing. Each of them has individual traits and thus, may require a different approach. In this article, we are going to focus specifically on writing a good personal or autobiographical essay.
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Autobiographical Essay Structure
Although the exact structure of your text will depend on the chosen type of autobiographical writing, there are some basic principles to bear in mind. Similar to any other type of essay, an autobiographical one should consist of three main blocks:
The introduction of any text has three main objectives: to introduce the reader to the topic of your text, to present your core idea, and to drive the reader’s attention (i.e., make them want to read further). This part of your text should be concise and straight to the point. As a rule, intros should be between one to three sentences long.
A good way to use an intro in your autobiography is to outline your general portrait and to make an intriguing statement that will encourage the reader to continue reading.
The body of your text is its main and biggest part, which basically tells your story. Unlike the intro or conclusion, the body doesn’t have any specific requirements in terms of length. You can make it as long as you need to uncover the main events of your life. The only rules applicable to this section of your text are that it should be:
- Well-structured – each paragraph should focus on a specific event or period of time;
- Clear – make sure your text is easy to read and understand;
- Logical – since you are writing an autobiography, it is vital to present facts in a logical sequence, and with smooth transitions between every paragraph.
An introduction is what makes people interested in your story and engages them to read the whole thing, but the conclusion is what leaves a lasting impression — therefore you want to make it powerful. The conclusion of your autobiography is a great place to assess your life, assess the lessons you’ve learned, and state how they took you to where you are now. Like your intro, your conclusion shouldn’t be too long. Keep it clear and concise.
An essential part of writing a great paper is creating a proper title page. Just like selecting a font and font size, title page requirements could vary based on the standards of the institution you are writing for. However, there are some commonly established rules when it comes to making a title page. The following information usually goes on the title page:
- Your phone number
- Date of creation
- Class you are writing this for (optional)
The title and the author section must always be separate from the contact information and the rest. It’s usually located in the middle of the paper while the rest of the info goes in the bottom right corner.
This is an approximate autobiography template. In the following parts of our guide, we are going to have a larger focus on the details and tips for writing a flawless autobiographical essay.
How to Start an Autobiography: 8 Steps to Success
Writing a story of your own life can be quite frustrating. Many people find it hard to look at themselves from a different angle. However, if you are up for the challenge, these tips will guide you through the process:
Step 1: Find an Example
The first thing you should do before you rush to start writing, is to study one, or a few, examples of autobiographies written by famous people. This step has several purposes: to get a clear example of how an autobiography should look like; to grasp the general tone, structure, and format—applicable to this form of writing; and to get inspired.
Just in case you have no ideas of whose autobiography to start with, here are a few inspiring examples:
- The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, Benjamin Franklin
- Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela
- The Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank
- A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway
- Dreams from my Father, Barack Obama
Step 2: Write Down Your Most Important Memories
Your next step is to remember everything that matters to you. Think of special people, unique experiences, key events, and other things that have influenced your life the most. Recall all the worthwhile details and make a list of them.
Step 3: Pick One Point You Want to Focus On
Normally in an autobiography, you would have to write about your whole life. However, since we are focusing on how to write a personal essay, you have to pick a focus point.
In an autobiographical essay, you will be required to focus on a single event, person, memory, place, etc. Therefore, you should pick one point from your list. It can be hard to decide what to write about, so take your time and think of what will be the most engaging for your readers.
Step 4: Ask the Right Questions
Writing about your own life can be confusing. You may find it hard to brainstorm ideas and maintain inspiration. In order to make sure that you won’t get stuck wondering what ideas to include in your essay, here is a list of questions that should set you on the right track:
- How would you describe yourself with three adjectives?
- What famous quotes describe you and your life best?
- What is the ethnic and social background of your family?
- Who and what made you who you are today?
- What are your biggest achievements so far?
- What are your main goals?
- What are your main strengths and weaknesses?
- What are your key values?
- What are your worst and best memories of your childhood?
- What has been the most memorable day for you?
- What are your relations with your family members?
- What is the most vital life lesson you’ve learned so far?
- What fault could you never forgive yourself, or others, for?
Answering these questions should help to find inspiration and generate brilliant ideas for your autobiographical essay.
Step 5: Create a Detailed Outline
Although many people skip this step, writing a good outline can really make the writing process more simple and productive. There are plenty of reasons that indicate the importance of planning. Most importantly, writing an outline helps you follow the right structure and sequence, and helps ensure that you won’t miss out on important details.
Here is a sample outline template that can come in handy:
- Basic background information that engages readers
- Thesis statement – main idea and key points
- Thesis statement
- Supporting ideas (details, facts, reasons, and a smooth transition between every idea)
- Summary – use this outline for every paragraph in the main body. Include at least 3 paragraphs.
- Restate your thesis statement
- Summary of all key ideas
- Conclusion (lessons you’ve learned, personal thoughts, etc.)
Step 6: Write Your First Draft
Once you have a specific plan in mind, you can create your first draft. Follow your outline to ensure that you don’t miss anything important, and don’t rush.
Step 7: Proofread!
Although many people neglect its importance, proofreading is the key to success. It doesn’t matter how engaging your story is if the text is full of mistakes. Therefore, be sure to allocate enough time for proofreading, and carefully check your essay for spelling, punctuation, grammar, style, and other mistakes.
Step 8: Ask for a Feedback
No matter how carefully you proofread your text, there is always a chance that you’ve missed out on something important. That’s why it is always a good idea to ask someone else to read your essay and share their thoughts on it. You can request help from friends or family members. They should be able to look at your autobiography from a different perspective, and notice things that you haven’t.