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Is an autobiography a primary source?

how to write autobiography using primary sources

An autobiography is a primary source. Authors of autobiographies are direct witnesses of the events and time described in the narration. Even though autobiographies are usually written after these events happened, they are still categorized as primary sources given the first-hand information, like letters or photographs, they provide.

➡️  What is a primary source?

➡️  What is a secondary source?

➡️  Is a letter a primary source?

For example, The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank documents her life in hiding from 1942 to 1944 and is one of the world’s most famous autobiographies. This book, although edited, provides direct evidence of Anne Frank's experiences and is, therefore, considered a primary source.

Book cover of Diary of a young girl by Anne Frank

On the other hand, fictional autobiographies are not primary sources in the same sense as legitimate autobiographies. These would be secondary sources when compared to real autobiographies. However, if your research was about fictional biographies and the focus was on their literary interpretation, then they could be primary sources.

How to cite an autobiography

The citation style used will determine the exact citation format. This is how you would cite a 1993 edition of the Anne Frank autobiography in APA:

Frank, A. (1993). Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl (B. M. Mooyaart, Trans.). Bantam; Reissue edition.

Instead of worrying about the correct format of your citation in any given citation style, you can use a reference manager like Paperpile to automatically and correctly generate your citation for you.

Collect your sources and keep them tidily organized in your Paperpile library. Switch between thousands of citation styles and cite your references directly in Google Docs, Microsoft Word, and LaTeX:

Frequently Asked Questions about autobiographies as primary sources

No, an autobiography is a primary source. Authors of autobiographies are direct witnesses of the events and time described in the narration.

Yes, a Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela is a primary source.

Yes, The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by Benjamin Franklin is a primary source.

Yes, the Story of My Experiments with Truth by Mahatma Gandhi is a primary source.

Yes, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou is a primary source.

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American Library Association Guide for Primary Source Materials

A guide to finding, evaluating, and using primary source materials created by the Reference and User Services Association (RUSA) of the American Library Association (ALA).

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Recommended Primary Source Resources

  • Accessible Archives This link opens in a new window Diverse primary source materials from books, newspapers and periodicals with views of American history and culture during the 19th century. Eyewitness accounts of historical events, descriptions of daily life, editorial observations, commerce as seen through advertisements, and genealogical records are available in a user-friendly online environment.
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  • Library of Congress Early Presidential Collections View the presidential papers of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, James K. Polk, Zachary Taylor, Franklin Pierce, Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson, Ulysses S. Grant, James A. Garfield, Chester A. Arthur, Grover Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Woodrow Wilson, and Calvin Coolidge.
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  • The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project From the University of North Carolina/Greensboro; searchable; includes diaries, letters, oral histories, photographs, posters, publications, and uniforms
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New interface 1/4/24. From Readex. Books, pamphlets, and broadsides published during the early 19th century from the bibliography by Ralph R. Shaw and Richard H. Shoemaker.

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Digital Historic Documents

  • [U.S.] Constitution Annotated: Analysis and Interpretation of the U.S. Constitution From the Library of Congress.
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  • Historic Government Publications from World War II: a Digital Library. Collection of over 200 WWII era pamphlets mostly dealing with the home front, civil defence and war work.

READING EPUB FILES When opening an ePub file, make sure to choose “save file” Remember the file name and where it is saved on your computer. You will need to know this when it is time to read the file in the EPUBReader extension. Add the CHROME EPUBReader browser extension: menu icon (3 dots) > more tools > extensions > get more extensions > search for EPUBReader > add to chrome > close welcome box.  The EPUBReader icon should be automatically added to your toolbar.  Add the Firefox browser extension:  menu icon (3 lines) > add-ons > get add-ons > see more add-ons > search for EPUBReader > add to firefox > close the welcome box The EPUBReader icon should be automatically added to your toolbar. TO READ AN EPUB FILE: Click on the EPUBReader icon in your Chrome or Firefox toolbar to open it > click on the folder icon at the top of the page and select the previously saved ePub file.  NOTE: Your file will not be saved in the Reader; you will have to open the file each time you want to read it.

  • Salem Witch Trials Documentary Archive and Transcription Project. Collection of primary sources relating to the 1692 trials and a new transcription of the court records. Digital Humanities at the University of Virginia (DH@UVA).
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  • History Vault: NAACP Papers, The NAACP's Major Campaigns-Legal Department Files This link opens in a new window Working case files of the NAACP's Legal Department from 1956 to 1972. The cases pertain to school desegregation, abuses of police procedure, employment discrimination, freedom of speech, privacy, freedom of association, and housing discrimination.
  • History Vault: NAACP Papers, Special Subjects This link opens in a new window Records covering subjects that are crucial to the NAACP's history, such as civil rights complaints and legislation, the Klan, Birth of a Nation, the Walter White-W. E. B. Du Bois controversy of 1933-1934, the "red scare," relations with African colonial liberation movements, fundraising and membership recruitment, urban riots, the War on Poverty, and the emergence of the Black Power Movement.
  • History Vault: Vietnam War and American Foreign Policy, 1960-1975 This link opens in a new window Primary source materials highlighting U.S. international relations from the early days of the Kennedy administration, through the escalation of the war during the Johnson administration, to the final resolution of the war at the Paris Peace Talks.
  • Papers of Dwight David Eisenhower This link opens in a new window Full text of 21 volumes of Eisenhower's most significant writings.

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Home » Blog » How to Write an Autobiography in 31 Steps

How to Write an Autobiography in 31 Steps

how to write autobiography using primary sources

TABLE OF CONTENTS

If you’re thinking about writing an autobiography, then you’ve come to the right place. In this article, we will be telling you all about how to write an autobiography – breaking it down and helping you along with the process.

1. What is an Autobiography?

So you want to know how to write an autobiography? First off, let’s start with what an autobiography is. Put simply, a biography is a book written about someone’s life. It includes all elements of their life, particularly featuring any significant events that took place.

The word ‘autobiography’ is made up of the two Greek words ‘autos’ and ‘bios’, meaning self and life. Put them together and you get a book that is a mix of who you are, and the life you have lived.

2. Memoir vs. Autobiography

Before you start any kind of writing process, it is important to know what kind of a book it is you are wanting to write. There is no way to know how to write an autobiography if you can’t distinguish the two. Memoir and autobiography are often plumped into the same genre, because they are both about someone’s life.

But they are two genres of their own. So here’s the difference:

It’s pretty simple – if the book is about the person’s entire life – it’s an autobiography; if it’s about one or two events, themes or memories within their life, it’s a memoir .

Knowing the difference will save you time and energy. It will also help you to shape and plan your book (if that’s your style).

You can always change your mind and switch genres, but at least you will know what you are doing and how both of them work. Whichever you choose will change a lot about your book – particularly the content you choose to include and the structure of the entire piece.

Memoir is the perfect platform to share your personal life experience, and you don’t have to share every other significant moment of your life. (A wise decision if only one really interesting thing has happened to you during your lifetime.)

Writing an autobiography is much different. While they are both to do with the author’s life, biography is more to do with what happened throughout your life.

That means all significant events from birth ’till now.

If you set out to write a biography and it turns into a memoir, this is not a problem. The problem is when you don’t know what you’re doing at all. This leads to confusion in the writing process. And a lack of professionalism outside of it.

A great way to learn how to write an autobiography is to read. A lot. Reading other autobiographies will give you an idea of which direction to go in and how this genre is structured. It can also help you to develop your style and tone of voice, and to pinpoint which writing techniques you find most effective. All good tools to have in your writing toolbox.

Here are a few examples of autobiographies you might want to read:

  • My Autobiography, Charlie Chaplin (1964)
  • The autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, Benjamin Franklin
  • Long walk to freedom, Nelson Mandela
  • The story of my experiments with truth, Mahatma Gandhi
  • The story of my life, Helen Keller
  • The autobiography of Malcolm X, Alex Haley, Malcolm X
  • An Autobiography, Agatha Christie (1965))
  • The confessions of St. Augustine, Augustine of Hippo
  • Scar tissue, Anthony Kiedis, Larry Sloman
  • Open: An Autobiography, Andre Agassi
  • Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi
  • Autobiography of a yogi, Paramahansa Yogananda

4. When to Write an Autobiography

how to write autobiography using primary sources

Cellini (1500-1571) wrote one of the finest autobiographies of the renaissance. He stated:

“No matter what sort he is, everyone who has to his credit what are or really seem great achievements, if he cares for truth and goodness, ought to write the story of his own life in his own hand; but no one should venture on such a splendid undertaking before he is over forty.” Cellini

Knowing how to write an autobiography can have a lot to do with your life experiences. This fact brings into question the age of the reader.

Many biographies are written later on in life, when experience has been gathered and there are many exciting moments to draw from. But this isn’t always the case.

If you are a younger writer and feel that your life has been sufficiently fantastic, or you feel a growing desire to get down all of the details of your childhood days, there is no rule that says you can’t. So don’t let others’ perceptions stop you.

Twenty-one-year-old Edouard Louis, for example, published a hugely successful fictional autobiography (aka an autofiction), The end of Eddy about his childhood and adolescence. So it is possible. Sorry Cellini.

That said, an older, more experienced writer may have an easier time writing an autobiography, simply because they have more material to draw from.

Like memoir, autobiographies tend to center around a theme, even though you are including many life events. That is because people tend to also be themed, in a way. Want to know how to start an autobiography? Thinking about theme can be a useful way in.

If you are a professional dancer, and that is the passion of your life, it makes sense that your book would also center around the theme of dancing and how you reached that success.

If you are ghostwriting for a celebrity, naturally they will be famous for something in particular.

The main theme, of course, is the person’s life. But that is not enough to sustain interest across time. So bear in mind a secondary theme that ties it all together.

If your theme or themes are relatable, then that will stand you in good stead. If you are not writing a glitzy celeb autobiography, then having a very relatable and original theme is more likely to find a readership than any other. Be careful not to choose and manufacture your theme, however. If you are meant to write an autobiography, you will likely already feel compelled to write about your life. So try not to put too much thought into it. Just keep it in mind, as it will keep you on track.

6. How to Pick a Theme

How to start an autobiography? One way is to pick a theme. And stick to it.

One way of picking a theme is to choose an aspect of your personality that you feel is awesome and make that your sole focus. Maybe you’re great at maths, for example. Perhaps you made it to the world championships on mathematics or something. That would be a story worth telling.

Another is to look at your philosophy in life and make that the focal point of your book. Showing your values throughout the book can inspire and uplift the reader as it can show a good example of a life well-lived. It also reveals quite clearly who you are as a person, without you having to explicitly spell it out.

A third would be to consider the things that are most important to you in your life and to make a reference to these as you work your way through each significant event mentioned in your book. (This works especially well if you are writing an autobiography for those who know you.)

7. Exceptions

You might also be wanting to know how to write an autobiography, because you want to share your story with your family. This is an admirable reason to write a story. It means that your family will always have a special connection to you through story, no matter what. It also means that generations to come will have that link to their own past and history.

From that sense, everybody should write one!

This kind of story can even be compiled as an oral history of your families’ history and lives, which makes for an extremely personal keepsake.

Autobiographies are sometimes written in short form, as essays for college assignments. This is a similar exercise to writing a full book , but in a condensed format.

Another form of autobiography is as an autofiction. This book is based mostly upon autobiographical content, but is also a work of fiction. This is an easy way of avoiding any concerns you might have about privacy. If you are wanting to distance yourself a little and take more control over the content, then this may be the way to go.

You can also consider other formats, such as writing an autobiographical graphic novel, which has the essence of cool written all over it. If you are an artist or have a passion for strong visuals, this is something to consider.

8. How to Plan

“Look for the times when your life changed the most, and when you changed the most, those are the times of peak drama in your life.” Janice Erlbaum, The Autobiographer’s Handbook

An excellent practice when learning how to start an autobiography, is to begin by writing out all of the significant events in your life. These could be anything; from graduating college, to losing your virginity, to being born. Whatever you think is most important and noteworthy, write it down.

You can later play with the order of events if you like, to shake things up a little bit,  but for now, just get anything and everything you can think of written down.

When considering how to write an autobiography, it seems to be the most natural of all genres to plan. This is because within it’s very construction there is a presumption of what it will be about: events in your life. From this sense, it is already set up for you. In some ways, this makes writing a lot easier. On the other hand, the risk that easy planning poses, is boredom. For the reader or yourself. The challenge then becomes, how to make these life events interesting and stand out. But we’ll get to that a bit later on…

Nb If you are a pantser (someone who likes to write by the seat of your pants) then you might want to skip this step. In all likelihood you have something in mind to write about, so just start there.

9. Writing Schedule

A schedule helps you to get things done. You will know what works best for you after trying a few things out. You could try planning out how much you are going to write by the hour (i.e. I will write for an hour a day, every weekday) or by word count (I will write 500 words a day). Be realistic and don’t overwhelm yourself. If you are too overambitious, you may find you end up not writing at all.

Otherwise, you could aim to write a certain section of the book per week or month if that works better for you. Because autobiography is so clearly and easily arranged into story beats (was born, had first pimple, dyed hair red etc.) organizing your writing by these events works for almost all writers, even if you are not a fan of planning.

Ask yourself the question, what’s the minimum I could manage on a regular basis? And be honest.

Everyone has their own writing style, including the way they schedule (or don’t schedule) their writing habits. So don’t ever let anyone tell you how you should be writing. It’s up to you.

10. How to Start an Autobiography

how to write autobiography using primary sources

Well, now you have a list of important events in your life, starting to write should be pretty straight forward. If you don’t like planning, it’s even simpler, just pinpoint a significant moment in time and get to work! If you have a plan, all you need to do is start writing out a first draft of each event.

Next up we have a few tips and tricks to get you started.

11. Go Digging

While figuring out how to write an autobiography, you will want to have everything you are writing as fresh and vivid in your mind as possible. This clarity will translate onto the page and give your readers a strong impression of each moment.

To do this, you will be wanting to dig out any old photos of you and whomever you might be writing about, and begin filing things away for each chapter or section of the book.

You also might find it beneficial to interview anyone who remembers what happened. This can bring a new light on old events. Try using a recorder or dictaphone and typing up the best bits once you’re done.

12. Fill Up Your Senses

A good way to get into the moment before a writing session is to surround yourself with the materials relating to that particular event. Look at photos or listen to recordings from around that time, and jot down any thoughts you might have about them.

You may also want to listen to some music from the time. If you have any old clothes or keepsakes from the person, you will also want them to be around or near as you write. Listen to any interviews about the time or the characters before writing.

13. Write a letter

If you’re struggling to start writing, you can try writing a letter to yourself or to other members of the family from the time. This is a very personal way of connecting with the past. Remembering your connection to your characters will help your writing to flow more easily and mean you have material to draw from before you even start writing.

14. Emotions

Writing about certain life events is likely to be emotional. Say you had a car crash when you were younger, or had to deal with some maltreatment of some kind, this will impact your writing, and how you feel about it.

It can be a difficult balance. You need to care enough about your subject matter to write it. But you don’t want your emotions to take over to the point where style and the content of your book suffers.

While feeling impassioned by your writing, it is also important to be able to step back and take a second look at your viewpoint. This may take several rewrites to get right.

If you are finding it difficult, then consider writing out as many different viewpoints of the event as you possibly can. This will open up how you see it and may even lead to an inspiring revelation for both you and your book.

15. New Insights

One of the benefits of learning how to write an autobiography, is that, as you develop as a writer, new insights will likely occur.

So while emotions can run high, it is good to know that writing about anything difficult that has happened in your life can help you psychologically.

Dr. James Pennebaker, a professor at Austin Texas university discovered that students who wrote for just fifteen minutes a day over three days about difficult or emotional experiences had a better level of wellbeing. He found that going through the process was upsetting for them, but it was the new insights the students discovered through the process of writing, that led to their improved levels of psychological health.

16. Take Care

As with memoir, if you feel that it is too much to write any subject matter, always take a break and come back to it (or not). Your mental health and general wellbeing are always more important than a book.

17. Know Your Why

Make sure that you don’t add in topics or incidents simply to vent about them. Instead, get all your feelings out about it during your first draft, and then start with a fresh perspective. If your writing is only about venting, it will not interest the reader. You may come across as petty or whiny.

Instead, you will want to make sure you can see the benefit of sharing your experiences with people. When you truly know how to write an autobiography, it should empower and enlighten people and help them connect to your story, rather than reading like an unfinished diary entry. It is perfectly acceptable for it to start out that way. But by the end of your writing process, you should be confident in the purpose of why you are writing your book, and what kind of impact it will have on its readers.

Knowing why you are writing will keep you on the right track, and help you like a compass in the storm, when you are lost.

18. Tone of Voice

An important aspect of telling your story will be your narrative style and tone of voice. This completely depends upon who you are writing for and the purpose of your book.

If you are writing for your grandchildren, for example, you may use more simplistic language. If you are writing for a broader audience, then you may use a more neutral tone. Writing for friends? You might want to use more familial or colloquial terms.

This also depends a lot on what kind of person you are, and you will want your attitude and personality to be reflected in your writing. This should happen naturally, but don’t be afraid to write as if you are talking or to use a recording device and write up your account of each chapter afterwards.

Pro tip: Relax. You won’t find your tone of voice by constantly thinking about how you might come across. Just write as you think and your natural expression will do the rest.

19. First or Third Person?

You can experiment with viewpoint as you go along, but once you have chosen, you will be wanting to stick with it. Third person gives us the feeling it has been written by someone else. So, if you are employing a ghostwriter or are working on a fictional work, then this is a good way to go.

First person is the generally accepted viewpoint for most autobiographies, because it is your story, and you are the one writing it.

20. Conflict

As you recall the people in your life, adding in any conflicts, even if they are comical, will add to the richness of the book. Conflict drives drama, intrigue and interest. And that’s what you want, if you want your book read, that is.

21. Story Arc

how to write autobiography using primary sources

One of the most critical components of how to write an autobiography is story arc. Like most genres of story, autobiography is no exception and will need some sort of an all-encompassing story arc. This is one of the main challenges you may face while writing this kind of book.

It simply can’t be a long list of events and then an ending. They have to all meld together cohesively in order to have some sort of an impact on your reader.

A story arc gives writers a structure, in which our main character aims to do something, and then either manages (or doesn’t) to achieve it. There are normally many obstacles in the protagonist’s way, and they must overcome them. Simply put, our main character must get from A to B. And you will need to decide at some point, what your start and end points in the story will be.

This ties into your overall message in the book. The great thing about autobiography is that it basically tells your reader who you are as a person.

You can start by making a note of your core beliefs and who you feel you are as a person before you begin. But don’t be surprised if, as you write, you reveal a value you hold that you had never especially acknowledged. This is a true gift to the reader, to leave them with your wisdom or knowledge.

Your philosophy can play a big role in the book, as it has likely led you to make certain decisions and can be featured and interlaced with certain events when your process of decision making was integral to the direction of your life.

22. Comedy and Funny Anecdotes

While you don’t want to overdo it on the comedy (unless it is a comedic autobiography, in which case, carry on!) a little comic relief can work wonders in this genre. It can lighten the mood and even make sad moments even more poignant. Funny stories specific to your family can add to the color of your characters, so they don’t fall flat .

23. Where to Begin ?

Think about when you might want to start your story. The logical point to start is from birth, but as your writing evolves over time, you may change your mind. You may want to add some perspective about your life from before you were even born. Your heritage may also be a large influence on who you are as a person today.

Once you have written a full first draft, you can consider changing around the order. Editing in this way can make for a more dynamic and varied read. If placed in the right way, you can even add in a plot twist or add to the suspense of your book.

24. Consider Your Reader

Don’t rest on your laurels. This can especially be a risk if you are writing only for friends or family. Just because someone knows you, it doesn’t mean your story will automatically become interesting to them. It will likely make it more interesting than if you were a random passerby, true. But this is not something to take for granted.

This point can be ignored during the first draft, but as you begin to develop your story, it becomes an implicit part of the process.

If you are wanting your book to sell, this becomes even more important as the reader’s interest and word of mouth can mean the difference between a book being put down or another sale.

25. How to Make Events More Colorful

Once you have written the thing, you will want to make sure that it is an interesting read. Even if you are writing just for friends and family, they will want to be excited by your life. And surely, that is why you are writing this in the first place?!

So a few tips to make sure that each story beat pops with color is to:

  • 1. Keep a notebook with you at all times for when you remember particular details about a person or place. Details will always give your story more originality and color.
  • 2. Show don’t tell – this is always relevant to any kind of writing and autobiography is no exception. Try adding in things you saw, smelt, tasted or touched within the scene. Avoid making a statement and describe what happened in the moment, instead.
  • 3. Add metaphor or simile- when describing a character or a vivid memory, don’t just describe how it looked on the surface. Unless this is not at all your writing style, you can enjoy emphasizing how something made you feel through descriptions that include metaphor. (use ext link for how to use metaphor) For example, ‘she was as fit as a fiddle’.
  • 4. Avoid common descriptive words – words such as ‘nice’ and ‘good’ should be considered with great caution once you have reached the third draft of your book.

26. Consider Your Reader

An important part of knowing how to write an autobiography, is having an awareness of the reader throughout the entire manuscript. This is not only a book for you. So don’t rest on your laurels.

This can especially be a risk if you are writing only for friends or family. Just because someone knows you, it doesn’t mean your story will automatically become interesting to them. It will likely make it more interesting than if you were a random passerby, true. But this is not something to take for granted.

Many new writers are tempted to leave in every detail of their life. But longer doesn’t always equal better – often it means that you simply haven’t cut out the parts that aren’t needed. So make sure you have your ego in check – don’t make your book too long just for the sake of it. Just because it’s interesting to you, does not mean every reader will want to know about it – family and friends included.

The average autobiography is around 75,000 words long. Much shorter than 60,000 and you might want to find other sources to write about, and any longer than 100,000, you might want to cut it down a bit.

28. Consider Privacy/Confidentiality

Much like memoir, autobiography includes characters who are real people. This means that some might be negatively affected by your work. So make sure to talk to those involved and to have an attorney at hand, just in case.

If you are unsure about leaving in their real name, it is best to give their character a pseudonym.

29. Editing

Both editing your book and getting it proofread will make or break it.

That means that you will want to find a professional editor to work with, who knows what she or he is doing. Ideally, you will want to find someone who is experienced in editing autobiography or memoir. Check that you have similar values and that you are both clear on what you are going to be working on, before you start.

30. Proofreading

Make sure that all your hard work shows. You can have a strong storyline and everything else in place, but if there’s a typo on the front cover, there is no way you will be taken seriously.

So, ask friends to check over your manuscript, or better yet, employ a few proofreaders to check it over for you. Don’t use the same editor to proofread, as they will find it more challenging to spot minute mistakes by the time they have reread the story more than once. A fresh pair of eyes will likely do a better job.

31. Autobiographies on the Shelf

The autobiographies in our bookshops today, you will notice, are mostly written by celebrities. This is because they often have interesting lives that we want to read about. They include incidents that we could never have access to otherwise, in our day to day lives.

And that’s what makes them so appealing.

Most people are not so interested in other’s lives, unless they have done something extraordinary. So if you’re thinking of writing something purely to try and get it sold, then you might want to rethink the genre you are writing in. We’re not saying it doesn’t happen that unknown authors sell a lot of autobiographies. It does. It’s just a lot less likely.

But don’t dismay, this is only a problem if that is the only reason you are writing your book. If it is because you feel impassioned to do so, then that is all the reason you need.

If it is for your friends and family to read, then you need not worry about big sales or landing a large publisher. It is so easy to self-publish these days on a relatively small budget, that you are pretty much guaranteed to achieve your aim.

If you are looking for a book deal, then you might be hard pushed, if you can’t say your life has an original element to it at all. If this is the case, consider writing a memoir , instead. There are many more memoirs written by ordinary people with extraordinary stories, than autobiographies. Because people love to hear about how ordinary people overcame the odds.

No matter what your reason, if you believe in your book enough to start writing the first page, then don’t let anyone stop you from writing the book inside of you.

So there you have it. Hopefully you will now feel confident about how to write an autobiography and ready to start. All it takes, is putting pen to paper.

how to write autobiography using primary sources

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How to Write an Autobiography: Format + Writing Tips

how to write autobiography using primary sources

The world is eager to hear your story, which is one that deserves to be told. The options are unlimited when you have a blank sheet and a pen in your hand. It might be both thrilling and terrifying at the same time, but don't allow your fear of writing an autobiography to deter you!

Writing about your life has a lot more to it than meets the eye. It's a fantastic chance to get to know yourself and learn how to talk to new people - two important life skills that can be used in a lot of other contexts. It will also be helpful to you as a writer. It's normal for writers of books, papers, and different attempts to deliver their own self-portraits to acquaint themselves with the crowd.

Although it could appear challenging to write a successful autobiography, this is only true when you don't know how to approach the work. Our term paper writing services have included important guidelines, tips, and recommendations on this page to help you while you write. By the end of this post, you'll be able to fearlessly get started on writing your own life story.

What Is an Autobiography

It is essential to define what an autobiography is and specify the various forms before we can move on to our writing advice. An autobiography is a self-written work depicting the author's life story chronologically. These narrative-style articles can serve a variety of purposes, depending on the type of writing. You can also look at other narrative essay topics on our blog for endless inspiration.

There are typically four categories of autobiographical writing:

  • An autobiography is a lengthy and thorough account of the author's life. Everything from birth to the present is covered in this type of writing. Frequently, the reason for composing a life story is: to convey a person's life story to a large audience, to leave a mark, to reconcile one's past, or to preserve one's memories.
  • Autobiographical essay for college – Typically, this type of autobiographical writing is submitted with the rest of your application. This essay aims to present yourself to admissions officers and persuade them that you are a good fit for their educational establishment.
  • Memoirs – The only difference between memoirs and autobiographies is that memoirs do not have to cover a person's entire life. Instead, you can focus on a memoir's most exciting and significant past events and include as many details as possible.
  • Personal essay – This is the last and shortest form of autobiographical writing. Simply put, it is a self-portrait essay. This type of essay, unlike others, is more personal and emotional; sharing your personal experiences is necessary. Such a paper typically focuses on a single event, period, individual, etc. In schools and colleges, this is a common type of academic assignment.

Because of their distinct characteristics, each type may necessitate a different strategy. As a result, the purpose of this article will be to specifically discuss how to write a autobiography about yourself effectively.

Autobiography Example

As was mentioned earlier, reading a few good examples of autobiographies can give you an additional burst of inspiration and help find the right tone for your own writing. And you will say 'Yes, I can do my paper'! Here are a few brilliant examples to help you generate fresh ideas to get rolling:

As mentioned earlier, reading a few good examples of autobiographies can give you an additional burst of inspiration and help you find the right tone for your writing. And you will say, 'Yes, I can do my paper'! Here is a brilliant sample to help you generate fresh ideas on how to write an autobiography example:

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Autobiographical Essay Structure

Although the exact format of an autobiography will depend on the chosen type of writing, there are some basic principles to bear in mind.

autobiographical essay structure

First, similar to any other kind of essay, an autobiographical one should consist of three main blocks:

So, how to start autobiography? 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., to make them want to read further). Therefore, 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 make your introduction for autobiography example flawless 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 should be:

  • Well-structured – each paragraph should focus on a specific event or a 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 know how to end an autobiography. The conclusion of your autobiography is a great place to assess your life, consider 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 for a good story.

Creating a proper title page is essential to writing an interesting story. 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 for 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 will focus more on the details and tips on writing an autobiography flawlessly.

Literary Forms of Autobiography

Let’s examine the literary forms of autobiography:

Literary Forms of Autobiography

Autobiographies with a central topic frequently go beyond just telling a person's life narrative. Through this storytelling style, the author may be attempting to communicate particular ideas or thoughts that they feel are important to share. Again, the objective is to express your views and opinions.

Religious/spiritual 

An author of a religious autobiography is someone who has or has had a relationship with God. Before being redeemed by God, the individual goes through several events and circumstances. They could also discuss their actions before being rescued.

Intellectual

In an intellectual autobiography, you describe your path and the significant events that shaped who you are today. You consider the factors influencing your viewpoint and share them with the audience. The person reading this is curious about how you became who you are.

The goal of a fictional autobiography is to accurately depict the author's experiences. To preserve people's identities, as some of it has been fabricated. Actions in this kind of autobiography may be inflated or altered for artistic reasons.

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How to Start an Autobiography: 8 Steps for the Writing Process

Writing your life story 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 tipWriting your life story 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 step-by-step process of how to start an autobiography essay:

Step 1: Find an Example

The first thing you should do before you rush to begin 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 what a flawless autobiography should look like, to grasp the general tone, autobiographical format, and structure—applicable to this form of writing, and to get inspired.

Just in case you have no idea 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, by 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 remarkable 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

Generally, you would have to write about your whole life in an autobiography. However, since we are focusing on tips for great essay writing about your own life, you have to pick a focus point.

In an autobiographical essay, you must 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 consider 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. 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 writing.

Step 5: Create a Detailed Outline

Although many people skip this step, writing a good outline can make the writing process simpler and more productive. There are plenty of reasons that indicate the importance of planning. Most importantly, making a proper autobiography format 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 of autobiography 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 three 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 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 interesting your story is if the text contains mistakes. Therefore, allocate enough time for proofreading and carefully check your essay for spelling, punctuation, grammar, style, and other mistakes.

Step 8: Ask for a Feedback

When you write an autobiography, no matter how carefully you proofread your text, there is always a chance that you've missed out on something important. That's why asking someone else to read your essay and share their thoughts is always a good idea. In addition, you can request help from close friends or family members. They should be able to look at your autobiography differently and notice things you haven't.

Writing Techniques to Use in an Autobiography

Here is a list of useful techniques for writing an autobiography for students.

  • A clear narrative

Remembering that autobiographies are still literature is important when discussing them. There should be a unifying storyline to link all of these experiences, regardless if they may not adhere to traditional creative narrative techniques. It should seem like a tale rather than just a series of disconnected incidents.

  • Attention to detail and key points

Detail-oriented autobiographies are advisable. We read this book to learn about the writer's unique history and expect interesting facts and key points from the subject's life. For reference, what career did they pursue, and where did they receive an education? 

  • Chronological order 

The majority of autobiographies are written in the following order: birth, childhood, adolescence, early adulthood, maturity, and senior years. Remember that this sequence does not always apply to all autobiographies. Autobiographies can be quite extensive and exhaustive, covering every aspect of a person's life.

The Perks of Writing About Your Life Story

When you write a good story of your life, it'd be great to include:

  • Helps you establish your place 

You don't need to be well-known or a professional writer to document your life's journey. Not all legacies are intended to reach a broad audience. Instead, most people leave behind a legacy in family history that is more humble in scope—with the people they have a lasting impact on.

The entire autobiography will be passed from one generation to the next. Admittedly, life events written on paper cannot easily be wiped out. A life story is a perfect tool for establishing one's auWhen you write a good story of your life, it'd be great to include the following:

The entire autobiography will be passed from one generation to the next. Admittedly, life events written on paper cannot easily be wiped out. A life story is a perfect tool for establishing one's authority in the realm of the earlier days.

  • You can reflect on your life lessons and learn more about yourself.

An autobiography is a form of learning about oneself. It allows the writer to delve into their experiences and reflect on their lives. As an outcome, self-knowledge develops while the adventure gains clarity. The detailed account gives the audience a window into the enchanted self-exploration process. Perhaps, the readers will also find their route due to this journey. Read a little about the reflective essay ; it will be helpful.

  • It can be a powerful tool for therapy.

The writing process of an autobiography involves the writer examining their feelings at different points in their own life. But the process of writing an autobiography looks back on the author's life with the advantage of retrospect. The recovery period might then start as a result. Numerous sensations, both good and bad, abound in human psychology. Ultimately, writing helps to clear up such feelings and attain awareness.

  • You are given a fresh feeling of direction.

An autobiography gives the author a chance to consider their life's purpose. Additionally, it enables the reader to evaluate their own. It helps people determine the meaning of their lives. Life, as we experience it, frequently feels frustratingly disjointed. It seemed more like a collection of mismatched storyboards from several movies than the storyline of a cohesive movie.

Writing your life story might help your life feel more linked and worthwhile. One of the main advantages of writing your story is this. A fresh insight, appreciation, and even tenderness for your life are brought about by reliving your past and viewing it from a distinct viewpoint.

Top Tips to Make Your Autobiography Look Flawless

Hopefully, our guide will show you the right way and help you get started. Now, here are a few more tips to help make your essay perfect:

Keep it short. You don't need to write your full biography, so there is no need to write a long piece. Try to keep your essay clear and concise.

Write from the first-person perspective. While it may be inappropriate in other papers, first-person narration is perfect for autobiographical essays. After all, you are telling your life story, so it is necessary to make it personal.

Search for examples. Even if you have never dealt with this type of task before, looking at some autobiographical sketch examples will help you get some ideas about autobiographical writing. Here are a few good examples to look at:

  • The Story of My Experiments with Truth, Mahatma Gandhi
  • Chronicles, Vol 1, Bob Dylan
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou
  • Agatha Christie: An Autobiography, Agatha Christie
  • Autobiography of Mark Twain, Mark Twain
  • On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Stephen King
  • The Road Ahead, Bill Gates
  • Faster than Lightning, Usain Bolt
  • A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking
  • My autobiography, Charlie Chaplin

Don't make it trivial . You shouldn't be afraid of adding your personal voice to this piece. If you make your essay trivial and follow a standardized writing pattern, it can turn out dull.

Add vivid details. Since this writing is meant to be emotional, you should add as many sensory details as possible. By adding such information, you will keep your readers even more engaged as they will be able to feel and see every part of your life story.

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Table of Contents

Collaboration, information literacy, writing process, autobiography.

  • © 2023 by Joseph M. Moxley - University of South Florida

Who are you? How have your experiences shaped your sense of what is important or possible? Realize the benefits of using writing to reflect on your life. Read exemplary autobiographies and write about a significant, unusual, or dramatic event in your life.

Autobiographies are stories that people write about themselves. These stories can be factual accounts of significant, unusual, or dramatic events. They can be remembrances of  famous   or interesting people. And sometimes, when people slip from fact into fiction, they can be fictional stories, what some writers call “faction.”

Why Write an Autobiography?

As we age, we invariably wonder who and what experiences shaped us. One of our most elemental impulses is to define and explore the self. We try to understand who we are and  who we can be by examining how we respond to different situations and people. Sometimes we wonder what other people think of us and wonder why we behave the way we do. Sometimes we are perplexed and feel inner discord because our self-images don’t fit with what other people or society seem to expect of us. When we feel the urge to make changes in our lives, we often find that reflecting on our experiences is a prerequisite for change. As Abraham H. Maslow remarks in his thought-provoking book on human development, Personality and Motivation, “One cannot choose wisely for a life unless he dares to listen to himself, his own self, at each moment of life.”

Not all autobiography is about expressive writing. As illustrated by the sample readings, people also tell stories about themselves to sell products or motivate people, to entertain, and to persuade people:

My role in society, or any artist or poet’s role, is to try and express what we all feel. Not to tell people how to feel. Not as a preacher, not as a leader, but as a reflection of us all -John Lennon

In a very real sense, the writer writes in order to teach himself, to understand himself -Alfred Kazin

People write autobiographies for many reasons, and they employ a variety of media while addressing diverse audiences. For some, such as John Lennon, autobiography is a social process, a way of reflecting on our culture, while for others, such as Alfred Kazin, autobiographies are a deeply personal genre, a tool for internal reflection and personal growth.

Diverse Rhetorical Situations

The most common purpose in a brief autobiography or profile is to depict an important challenge or event in the author’s life. Writers of autobiographies may hope to entertain readers or to educate them. They may hope their story helps readers understand the lives of others who come from different backgrounds.

Alternatively, writers may seek self-understanding. They may tell personal stories about important moments in their lives. For example, they may author a cultural autobiography, which is an autobiography that examines how elements of the culture they were raised in—family, friends, church, schooling, community—helped to shape their identity, their sense of what is possible, and their perception of what is important. Some authors may assume a false voice, writing a fictional autobiography with an assumed persona.

Autobiographies usually employ a strong personal voice, using the first person; they often employ many of the techniques of story telling, including hooking the reader with a compelling introduction, dialog, showing rather than telling, and using rich description.

Typically autobiographers do not rely on secondary research (library or Internet research) or primary research (questionnaires, interviews, or ethnographies). Instead of focusing on the lives of others, external research, or reviews of others’ writing, autobiographers are focused inward, questioning who they are, who they can become, and why their world vision is what it is.

A college education can increase your ability to analyze experiences, to empathize with others, and to understand how cultural assumptions shape behavior. One of the primary reasons for becoming educated is to learn to evaluate your beliefs and to question how others may be trying to manipulate you. Perhaps more than any other medium, the blank page offers you the best opportunity to examine your assumptions and to explore the conflicts in your life.

Because autobiography involves reflecting about who you are and why you make decisions, you may not see immediately how autobiographies relate to typical academic writing, which generally focuses on subjects other than the self. On a practical level, however, autobiographical writing engages many of the same thinking strategies required by other forms of writing. For example, when writing an autobiography, you will probably explore causes and effects, hypothesize about developmental steps, and perhaps even persuade a reader about the rightness of your actions.

More importantly, on a broader level, we should note that all writing—all knowing—is to some degree autobiographical. Without personal relevance, much information can seem inane and trivial. Writers routinely draw on their personal experience to select topics. Most educators agree that we learn best when we relate new information to what we already know, and some experts in writing theory believe that expressive, autobiographical writing plays a part in all writing, including academic writing. Others argue that the personal voice should be present even in traditional academic discourse, that knowledge and argument are always personal.

Sampling of Rhetorical Situations

Rhetorical analysis of online readings.

Consider the context, audience, purpose, and media invoked by the following readings. Also examine how ideas are developed in these texts. Are assertions grounded in personal experience, interviews with authorities, questionnaires, Internet and library research, or empirical research? How does the writer’s choice of media influence the shape of content?

  • In a first year seminar course at Sonoma State University, Suzanne Toczyski explores how her Polish-American upbringing shaped her identity [Suzanne Toczyski’s Cultural Autobiography].
  • To help understand “Exceptional Human Experience,” people write and share autobiographies at the Exceptional Human Experience Network .
  • Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin : Benjamin Franklin reflects on how to evolve as a person and on events in the new world.
  • Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave : Frederick Douglass writes about the cruelties of American slavery.
  • The Diary of Anne Frank , a German-Jewish teenager, wrote her diary while hiding from the Germans for 25 months during World War II. Frank’s diary has now been translated into 67 languages.
  • Daily blogs are becoming exceedingly popular. People like Jason Aleksandr Kottke , a Web designer in California, have created daily online blogs that have attracted significant numbers of readers. Jason’s site also features a webcam that lets you watch him write. Jason has also archived his blogs over the past three years.

Brevity - Say More with Less

Brevity - Say More with Less

Clarity (in Speech and Writing)

Clarity (in Speech and Writing)

Coherence - How to Achieve Coherence in Writing

Coherence - How to Achieve Coherence in Writing

Diction

Flow - How to Create Flow in Writing

Inclusivity - Inclusive Language

Inclusivity - Inclusive Language

Simplicity

The Elements of Style - The DNA of Powerful Writing

Unity

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Autobiography: A Very Short Introduction

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(page 1) p. 1 Introduction

  • Published: July 2018
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Autobiography continues to be one of the most popular forms of writing, produced by authors from across the social and professional spectrum. It is also central to the work of literary critics, philosophers, historians, and psychologists, who have found in autobiographies not only an understanding of the ways in which lives have been lived, but the most fundamental accounts of what it means to be a self in the world. The Introduction describes what autobiography means and compares it to other forms of ‘life-writing’. Autobiographical writing is seen to act as a window on to concepts of self, identity, and subjectivity, and into the ways in which these are themselves determined by time and circumstance.

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Literacy Ideas

How to write an Autobiography

How to write an autobiography

A Complete Guide to Writing an Autobiography

A quick scan of the bestseller lists will quickly reveal that we are obsessed with the lives of other people.

Books by and about actors, politicians, and sports stars regularly top the charts as we seek to catch a glimpse into the lives of remarkable people.

While many of these books are written by professional writers after meticulous research ( biographies ), just as many are written by the person themselves (autobiographies) – albeit often with a ghostwriter’s help.

Today we are going to show you how to write an autobiography that tells a great life story.

Visual Writing Prompts

WHAT IS AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY?

how to write an autobiography | DO you have an amazing tale to share 1 | How to write an Autobiography | literacyideas.com

Autobiography is a subcategory of the biography genre and, strictly speaking, it’s a life story written by the subject themselves.

Autobiographies are sometimes confused with memoirs and it’s no surprise as the two share many features in common. For example, both are written in the first person and contain details of the subject’s life.

However, some clear distinctions can be made between the two.

For example, a memoir usually explores a specific period of a person’s life, whereas an autobiography tends to make an account of the person’s life from their earliest years right up to the time of writing.

Autobiographies aren’t just the preserve of the celebrities among us though, each of our lives is a story in and of itself. Whether or not it’s a good story will depend largely on the telling, which is what this article is all about.

A COMPLETE UNIT ON TEACHING BIOGRAPHIES

how to write an autobiography | biography and autobiography writing unit 1 | How to write an Autobiography | literacyideas.com

Teach your students to write AMAZING BIOGRAPHIES & AUTOBIOGRAPHIES using proven RESEARCH SKILLS and WRITING STRATEGIES .

  • Understand the purpose of both forms of biography.
  • Explore the language and perspective of both.
  • Prompts and Challenges to engage students in writing a biography.
  • Dedicated lessons for both forms of biography.
  • Biographical Projects can expand students’ understanding of reading and writing a biography.
  • A COMPLETE 82-PAGE UNIT – NO PREPARATION REQUIRED.

  WHAT ARE THE MAIN FEATURES OF AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY?

Once students have a good grasp of what an autobiography is, we need to ensure they are familiar with the main features of the genre before they begin writing.

Let’s take a look at some of the main technical elements of an autobiography:

Purpose of an Autobiography:

To give an account of the person’s life so far

Tense: Mostly written in the past tense, but usually ends in the present tense and sometimes shifts into the future tense at the very end.

how to write an autobiography | memoir vs autobiography 768x1920 1 | How to write an Autobiography | literacyideas.com

Structure of an Autobiography:

●     Usually written in chronological order

●     Uses time connectives such as before, then, after that, finally, etc

●     Uses the names of real people and events

●     Is specific about times, dates, places, etc

●     Includes personal memories and specific details and descriptions

●     Reflects on how positive and negative experiences shaped the author

●     Gives an insight into the thoughts, feelings, and hopes of the author

●     May include some relevant photographs

●     Usually ends with a commentary on life, reflections on significant large events, and hopes and plans for the future.

When teaching these specific features, you may wish to compile a checklist with the students that they can subsequently use to assist them when writing their autobiography.

PRACTICAL ACTIVITY:

One great way to help your students to internalize the main features of the genre is to encourage them to read lots of autobiographies. Instruct the students to be conscious of the different features discussed above and to identify them in the autobiography as they read.

If you have compiled a checklist together, students can check off the features they come across as they read.

When they have finished reading, students should consider which features were well done in the book and which were missing or had room for improvement.

TIPS FOR WRITING A GREAT AUTOBIOGRAPHY

As we know, there is more to a genre of writing than just ticking off the main features from a checklist.

To write well takes time and practice, as well as familiarity with the features of the genre. Each genre of writing makes different demands on our skills as a writer and autobiography are no different.

Below, we will look at a step-by-step process for how students can best approach the task of writing their autobiography, along with some helpful hints and tips to polish things up.

Let’s get started!

 HOW TO START AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY WRITING TIPS:

Tip #1: brainstorm your autobiography.

The structure of an autobiography is somewhat obvious; it starts at the beginning of the subject’s life, works its way through the middle, and ends in the present day.

However, there’s a lot in a life. Some of it will be fascinating from a reader’s point of view and some of it not so much. Students will need to select which events, anecdotes, and incidents to include and which to leave out.

Before they begin this selection process in earnest, they need to dump out the possibilities onto the page through the process of brainstorming. Students should write down any ideas and sketches of memories that might be suitable onto the page.

While they needn’t write trivial memories that they know definitely won’t make the cut, they should not set the bar so high that they induce writer’s block.

They can remove the least interesting episodes when making the final selection later in the writing process. The main thing at this stage is the generation and accumulation of ideas.

how to write an autobiography | autobiography writing skills 1 | How to write an Autobiography | literacyideas.com

TIP #2: CREATE AN OUTLINE OF YOUR AUTOBIOGRAPHY

After students have selected the most compelling episodes from their brainstorming session, they’ll need to organize them into the form of an outline.

One good way to do this is to lay them out chronologically on a simple timeline. Looking at the episodes in such a visual way can help the students to construct a narrative that leads from the student’s earliest childhood right through to the present day.

Students need to note that an autobiography isn’t just the relating of a series of life events in chronological order. They’ll need to identify themes that link the events in their autobiography together.

Themes are the threads that we weave between the cause and effect of events to bring shape and meaning to a life. They touch on the motivation behind the actions the author takes and fuel the development growth of the person.

Some themes that might be identified in an outline for an autobiography might include:

●     Overcoming adversity

●     Adjusting to a new life

●     Dealing with loss

●     The importance of friendship

●     The futility of revenge

●     The redemptive power of forgiveness.

These themes are the big ideas of a person’s life story. They represent how the events shape the person who is now sitting writing their story. For students to gain these insights will require the necessary time and space for some reflection.

For this reason, autobiography writing works well as a project undertaken over a longer period such as several weeks.

TIP #3: DO THE BACKGROUND RESEARCH ON YOUR AUTOBIOGRAPHY

Even though no one knows more about the topic of an autobiography than the author, research is still a necessary part of the writing process for autobiographies.

Using the outline they have created, students will need to flesh out some of the details of key events by speaking to others, especially when writing about their earliest experiences.

The most obvious resources will be parents and other family members who were privy to the joys of babyhood and their earliest childhood.

However, friends and ex-teachers make excellent sources of information too. They will enable the student to get a different perspective on something they remember, helping to create a more rounded view of past events.

For older and more advanced students, they may even wish to do some research regarding historical and cultural happenings in the wider society during the period they’re writing about. This will help to give depth and poignancy to their writing as they move up and down the ladder of abstraction from the personal to the universal and back again.

When students make the effort to draw parallels between their personal experiences and the world around them, they help to bridge the gap between author and reader creating a more intimate connection that enhances the experience for the reader.

TIP #4: FIND YOUR VOICE

Students need to be clear that autobiography is not mere personal history written dispassionately and subjectively.

For their autobiography to work, they’ll need to inject something of themselves into their writing. Readers of autobiography especially are interested in getting to know the inner workings of the writer.

There is a danger, however. Given that autobiographers are so close to their material, they must be careful not to allow their writing to denigrate into a sentimental vomit. To counter this danger, the student author needs to find a little perspective on their experiences, and following the previous tip regarding research will help greatly here.

A more daunting obstacle for the student can lie in the difficulties they face when trying to find their voice in their writing. This isn’t easy. It takes time and it takes lots of writing practice.

However, there are some simple, helpful strategies students can use to help them discover their authentic voice in their writing quickly.

1. Write to a close friend or family member

All writing is written to be read – with the possible exception of journals and diaries. The problem is that if the student is too conscious of the reader, they can find themselves playing to the audience and getting away from what it is they’re trying to express. Showboating can replace the honesty that is such a necessary part of good writing.

A useful trick to help students overcome this hurdle is to tell them to imagine they are writing their autobiography to an intimate friend or family member. Someone who makes them feel comfortable in their skin when they are around. Students should write like they’re writing to that person to who they can confide their deepest secrets. This will give their writing an honest and intimate tone that is very engaging for the reader.

2. Read the writing out loud

It’s no accident that we talk about the writer’s ‘voice’. We recognize the actual voice of people we know from its many qualities, from its timbre, tone, pacing, accent, word choice, etc. Writing is much the same in this regard.

One great way to help students detect whether their writing captures their authentic voice is to have them read it out loud, or listen to a recording of their work read out loud.

While we don’t necessarily write exactly as we speak – we have more time to craft what we say – we will still be able to recognize whether or not the writing sounds like us, or whether it’s filled with affectation.

As the student listens to their own words, encourage them to ask the following questions:

●     Does this sound like me?

●     Do the words sound natural in my voice?

●     Do I believe in the events related and how they were related?

Finding their real voice in their writing will help students imbue their writing with honesty and personality that readers love.

TIP #5: DRAFT, REDRAFT AND REFINE YOUR AUTOBIOGRAPHY

how to write an autobiography | Proofreading and editing1 | How to write an Autobiography | literacyideas.com

In the first draft, the brushstrokes will be large and broad, sweeping through the key events. The main notes of the tune will be there but with sometimes too much ornamentation and, at other times, not enough. This is why redrafting is an essential part of the writing process.

Students should understand that every piece of writing needs redrafting, editing , and proofreading to be at its best. There are no masterpieces full-borne into the world in a single draft.

For many, the tightening-up of a piece will involve the merciless cutting out of dead words. But, for some, the redrafting and refining process will demand the adding of more description and detail.

For most, however, it’ll be a little from column A and a little from column B.

Often, it’s difficult for students to get the necessary perspective on their work to be able to spot structural, grammar , punctuation, and spelling errors. In these instances, it can be best to enrol the eyes of a friend or family member in the role of editor or critic.

One effective way of doing this in class is to organize the students into pairs of editing buddies who edit each other’s work in a reciprocal arrangement.

These ‘edit swaps’ can be continued through to the proofreading stage and the final, polished piece.

A COMPLETE UNIT ON TEACHING FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE

how to write an autobiography | figurative language Unit 1 | How to write an Autobiography | literacyideas.com

❤️The use of  FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE  is like  “SPECIAL EFFECTS FOR AUTHORS.”  It is a powerful tool to create  VIVID IMAGERY  through words. This  HUGE 110 PAGE UNIT  guides you through a complete understanding of  FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE  as both a  READER  and  WRITER covering.

A Final Thought

Employing the 5 tips above will go a long way to ensuring a well-written and engaging autobiography.

While autobiography is a nonfiction genre, it is clear that with its emphasis on narrative, it has much in common with other fictional genres. So, it’s important when teaching autobiography that students learn to recognize the important role of storytelling in this genre too.

As with all good story-telling, there are some necessary elements to include, including a plot of sorts, a cast of characters, and an exploration of some central themes. For this reason, teaching autobiography often works well after the students have completed a unit on fictional story writing.

When all is said and done, the best way a student can ensure their autobiography is worth a read is to ensure they find the story within their own life.

After all, we’re obsessed with the lives of other people.

how to write an autobiography | how write an autobiography | How to write an Autobiography | literacyideas.com

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Personal Narrative Writing Guide

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The content for this page has been written by Shane Mac Donnchaidh.  A former principal of an international school and English university lecturer with 15 years of teaching and administration experience. Shane’s latest Book, The Complete Guide to Nonfiction Writing , can be found here.  Editing and support for this article have been provided by the literacyideas team.

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Is a Biography a Primary Source? Details Every Author Should Know

POSTED ON Oct 1, 2023

Shannon Clark

Written by Shannon Clark

Is a biography a primary source? Good question.

When writing for an audience, adding relevant quotes, excerpts, and data provides credibility to your work. Primary sources reign supreme because information that comes from the original source leaves little room for error. In our digital age, where so much information is repeated from website to website, it's easy for data to be mistyped, quotes to be misattributed, and information to just be wrong.

It's similar to the group game, Telephone, that kids play. One person starts the game by whispering a phrase into the person's ear next to them. The phrase is repeated until it gets to the last person who says the phrase out loud to see if the message changed. When I played it as a little girl, the phrase hardly ever came out like the original. We run the same risk when we copy statistics or information from random websites that aren't the primary or original source.

In the first half of this article, we'll answer the question, “Is a biography a primary source?” define what the answer means, and then take a closer look at why biographies are categorized as such. In the second part, we’ll look at what to consider before writing one.

Table of Contents

So, is a biography a primary source.

The short answer is no. In most cases, a biography is considered a secondary source; however, there’s a little more to it than that.

A primary source is a first-person account (e.g., direct quote, diary entry) or the original source of information (e.g., a research organization that creates original data for an industry.).

A secondary source is a third-party account where the person or company sharing the information, got it from somewhere else. As I mentioned in the Telephone example, the problem with secondary sources is that since they aren't the first hands to touch the information, there's no guarantee that it's correct. Primary sources aren't always available, but if you have a choice between the two, do the extra research to find the primary source. It will pay off in the long run.

A biography is a third-person account of another person’s life, written by a biographer whose name appears on the cover. The subject of the biography can be living or deceased and the work can be authorized or unauthorized. For these reasons, biographies are classified as secondary sources. 

The rare occasion when a biography can be used as a primary source is when the biographer is the subject of the content being written. For example, if one were to write an article that analyzed the works of the American biographer Jean Strouse, her best biographies , Alice James: A Biography or Morgan: American Financier would be considered primary sources. The source status of her biographies changes from secondary to primary because it is her writing that's being analyzed not the personal knowledge of what she wrote (unless that was part of the review).

What’s the Difference Between an Authorized and an Unauthorized Biography? 

With an authorized biography, the subject of the work is either involved in the writing process or they’ve given permission for the biographer to write the book. The biographer works with the person to ensure that the information included is correct and approved. This can include talking to close family members and friends to get a more well-rounded, objective view of the person's life.

Unauthorized biographies are not approved by the subject. Anyone can write an unauthorized biography about anyone they’d like. You don’t need permission, and the final book doesn’t have to be approved to be published; however, unauthorized biographies can be seen as less reliable than approved ones. Content presented as fact may come into question exposing the work to libel, invasion of privacy claims, and other legal issues. To be clear, biographies, autobiographies, and memoirs can all be vulnerable to legal claims, so tread lightly when writing them. 

According to the Writer’s GPS: A guide for navigating the legal landscape of publishing by intellectual property attorney Matt Knight, securing life story rights is key to protecting yourself and your book from legal claims. Regarding life story rights, he says the following:

Life story rights are a collection of legal rights held by an individual regarding a story about someone's life. The purpose for securing these rights or the permission to use the facts of someone's life is to protect the writer and publisher from being sued for defamation, invasion of privacy, or the misappropriation of the right to publicity. Life story rights agreements, depending on the breadth of the contract language, allows the writer to use and potentially change or dramatize the life story for entertainment purposes (whether in print or on screen). Knight, M. (2020). The Writer’s Legal GPS: A Guide for Navigating the Legal Landscape of Publishing (A Sidebar Saturdays Desktop Reference) . Sidebar Saturdays Desk Referen.

If you're considering writing a biography (authorized or unauthorized), it's important to understand potential liability issues and how they can impact you as the writer.

It's interesting that for every authorized biography, it is not uncommon to find many unauthorized ones. For actress Elizabeth Taylor, the book on the left (below) was released in December 2022 and listed as “ the first ever authorized biography of the most famous movie star of the twentieth century, Elizabeth Taylor “; however, I found many biographies listed for her over the years (I stopped counting at 20).

Is A Biography A Primary Source - Images Of Authorized And Unauthorized Images Of Elizabeth Taylor Biographies.

Is it Possible to Write a Biography about Yourself? 

No. If you write a biography about yourself it is called an autobiography (different from a memoir). If you get a ghostwriter to write it, it is still an autobiography. Autobiographies are primary sources because they are first-hand accounts based on the subjects' memories and recall of past experiences. 

Is A Biography A Primary Source? - Image Of &Quot;I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings&Quot; By Maya Angelou

Unlike a biography, the subject of the autobiography is viewed as the author , whether they wrote it or used a ghostwriter . Autobiographies are considered subjective compared to biographies since they are a single person's account of events (not friends, family, or other third-party references like with a biography.)

How do You Write a Biography About Someone Who Has Passed?

As previously mentioned, if you can get permission to write the biography, do so. If the person is deceased, look for a representative, like a family member, or an executor of their estate. It’s important to share with them your plan for writing the person’s life story and hopefully get the green light to move forward. Getting approval can open the door to accessing archives and other personal details about the person to create a more in-depth work. This can include personal photos, diaries, and other information. Compare this to an unauthorized biography where you may only have access to what has already been talked about or uncovered. 

If the person passed a long time ago, getting permission might be a challenge, but you can still write the biography. Just do your research, save your notes, and try to write a biography that is thorough, objective, and professional. Prioritize primary sources over secondary and cite all of your sources to add credibility. It may be tempting to try to rush through the process, especially when you've been staring at the same information day after day, but doing a thorough job can pay big dividends.

In the writing of the Pulitzer Prize-winning biography American Prometheus: The Triumph and Trajedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer , it took author, Martin J. Sherwin, 25 years to complete the work. The first 20 years were spent doing interviews and collecting over fifty boxes of archives (some received through the Freedom of Information Act). The last five years he partnered with author Kai Bird to complete the work . While it doesn't take every biographer that long to write a biography, it does add a weighty perspective to what writing an in-depth book about someone's life could entail.

Is A Biography A Primary Source - Image Of Pulitzer Prize Winning Biography American Prometheus By Kai Bird And Martin J. Sherwin.

Whether you write an authorized or unauthorized biography, the quality and objectivity of your writing are what matter most. Although biographies are considered secondary sources, it doesn’t mean that they can’t make a significant contribution to the tapestry of a person’s public life record. 

Seek out the permission of the person you want to write about if they are living or their family or representative if they are incapacitated or deceased. People’s life stories are personal, so the best advice from one writer to another is to write their stories with the same respect you’d want someone to write yours. This will add a strong entry to your book portfolio, save you a lot of headaches in the long run, and help keep you out of a courtroom.

Note: In this article, we touched on nonfiction life stories, but there are also biographical novels (fictitious) and autobiographical fiction that are not within the scope of this article. For more information on creative nonfiction, start here . 

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How to Write an Autobiography: A Step-by-Step Guide

How to Write an Autobiography: A Step-by-Step Guide

Writing one's own biography may seem like an overwhelming task with uncertainties as to how or where to commence the process. While engaging a professional biographer might seem like an ideal solution; however not all possess sufficient funds for it.

Yet fear not for creating one's self-account has never been more achievable; given appropriate guidance offered within our guide here. It offers insightful tips on choosing the theme that resonates with your life's journey, implementing an effective outline, weaving-in captivating writing techniques, and refining your manuscript perfect to keep readers engaged till the very last page. With these guidelines in hand, anyone can tell their unique story in an inspiring and captivating manner.

Ask yourself why and for whom you're writing

Writing an autobiography invites readers on a personal journey through one's life experiences. To craft something impactful for others to enjoy - It starts by considering two fundamental elements: Why write such a memoir? And who should read it? Your motivation: What drives the desire to do so? Is it about providing guidance through lessons learned over time or sharing powerful experiences that have meaning for future generations? Identifying these underlying reasons serves as invaluable sources of inspiration when crafting your unique narrative.

Knowing WHO will primarily connect with these memories also provides powerful clues on storytelling tactics most likely resonate deeply with readership while still being true unto oneself. Whether personal reflections or narratives aimed at community groups - recognize this direction is crucial when telling someone's life story. To summarize; your autobiography provides readers with an intimate look into your personal narrative. To create something that resonates, reflect upon why you write the memoir, and who should read it to best connect with all who engage with it.

Choosing a Focus for Your Autobiography

Crafting an enthralling autobiography hinges on selecting a suitable focus. The initial step is to record names of influential people, places, or occasions that left an indelible impression in your life's tapestry. Such an exercise helps zero in on the overriding theme for your memoirs. Once you have identified the dominant motif within your story, concentrate on spotlighting significant events or transformative junctures which made you who you are presently- including not just wins but losses too as they add genuine depth and relatability to your narrative. By homing in on these critical points within your tale, readers can imbibe profound insights into how these incidents shaped who you are.

Decide on a theme

If sharing one's life story through written word is on the cards, identifying a theme truly makes for a more impactful read. Begin by pinpointing which values matter most at this stage of life—what challenges have been faced up until then? This clarifies things when connecting with potential audiences; then select autobiographical approaches that prompt reader engagement while maintaining originality as well as uniqueness down its plotline structure or core message--one way might be by showcasing success AND failings side-by-side throughout said journey within one dominating text format!

Structuring Your Autobiography

how-to-write-your-autobiography.jpg

To effectively share your story in an autobiography, it's crucial to determine which structure will work best - whether chronological or thematic - depending on what you're looking to convey as an author. A chronological structure follows events over time whereas using themes highlights specific ideas across various stages of life; both options require clear formatting for ease-of-reading continuity. Adding flashbacks and memories is an excellent way to provide additional depth while improving reader insight into pivotal personal experiences - make sure they seamlessly populate a relevant plotline without becoming excessively distracting.

Additionally, including historical and cultural context can deepen a story's overall meaning while painting a more immersive picture of the times covered in your narrative.

Start by brainstorming and outlining your life story, including significant events and turning points.

Set out writing an autobiography through introspection about notable moments in existence. Craft a catalogue of instances that molded the personage inherent within and ponder how they influenced thinking processes as well as behavioural patterns. These could encompass significant milestones such as graduation ceremonies from universities or wedding ceremonies alongside smaller instances like meeting people who leave lasting impressions or exploring unfamiliar locales. Ponder upon each circumstance carrying memories about how it affected emotional states and how these reverberate till today. Did any of them revolutionize perceptions of living? Or did they foster personal development by teaching valuable lessons? Weighing their consequences will enable selecting impactful anecdotes resulting in a narrative that grips reader attention.

Highlight your achievements and failures

Here's a fictional example :

My life has indeed been shaped by various incidents and people over time, leading up to moments of ultimate pride such as graduating from college with honors - an achievement marked by immense dedication and perseverance invested along the way.
Additionally, one particular milestone that stands out was embarking alone on a journey to Japan for the first time - an experience that taught me independence while boosting self-esteem. Whilst there have been many high points in life so far worth noting it would be remiss not to acknowledge some challenges faced head-on: one particularly tough chapter unfolded during senior year involving depression with each day proving more challenging than the last until finding solace through therapy-led progress towards recovery.
Furthermore, after graduation securing employment proved challenging due perhaps significantly less experience than employers much preferred. In hindsight, those hardships were vital experiences that offered powerful life lessons. Through it all, I learned the importance of persistence in challenging times and resilience that have willingly prepared me for future professional development as well as personal growth goals.

Free Outline

This will assist you in organizing your thoughts into the major sections of your book. These are as follows:

  • The difficulties you have overcome.
  • The lessons you've learned.
  • The people who had the greatest influence on you.
  • The most significant events and experiences in your life.
  • Your accomplishments and successes.

I find that asking myself specific questions while brainstorming helps to activate my imagination. So I've compiled a list of compelling questions to assist you in putting your thoughts on paper or on your screen.

  • The most significant accomplishments
  • The Worst Mistakes
  • The best moments
  • What event influenced your life?
  • Who influenced your life?
  • What places have had an impact on your life?
  • Worst instances
  • What have you discovered?
  • How have you evolved?

In each section, write three questions to be answered.

You've already done the bulk of the work. You've organized and outlined the major sections. Next on your autobiography to-do list is to select and write down three questions for each section. You can record your questions in the "boxes" provided for each section of the template outline (or on another piece of paper).This is simpler than it appears. Simply select one of the following sample autobiography questions or create your own: Questions allow you to write quickly and clearly.

  • What made me select this person/event?
  • What is this person/event significant to me?
  • How did I come across this person?
  • Where did it take place?
  • When did it occur?
  • What caused it to happen?
  • What caused it?
  • What is the most intriguing aspect?
  • What was my reaction to this person or event?
  • How do I feel right now?
  • Why is this person or event important to me?
  • How has this person or event influenced my life?
  • What is the most difficult part?
  • What went wrong?
  • How did I do it?
  • What did I discover?

Decide on a chronological or thematic structure

As you consider how best to shape your autobiography, it's vital to contemplate whether employing a chronological or thematic structure will better suit your aims. Are you motivated by the desire to preserve a record of your existence for posterity's sake or do you hope to excite and inspire readers with an enthralling account?

Depending on what drives you, one approach may be more effective than another; using chronological sequencing could provide readers with comprehensive insight into events over time while focusing on key themes can emphasize their importance throughout our lives. Deliberating about what life experiences have had substantial effects or have transformed us is essential when deciding on the scope of our stories - these experiences serve as key anchors in both types of structures. Additionally worth pondering are how such themes are connected culturally or historically which amplifies their significance within our narratives- adding depth which enriches any approach we choose.

Use flashbacks and memories to add depth

In creating a memoir about yourself, be thoughtful about selecting flashbacks or memories that contributed to who you become. An impactful moment may define certain aspects of your character or changed the course of your life experiences; aim for those types of memories when writing autobiographically.Use blended tenses between the present and past when narrating flashback scenes creates an effect that positions readers within those poignant moments alongside you.By describing each scene vividly ,you make it all easier for readers to visualize,the more immersive story-telling becomes.

Weave in relevant historical and cultural context

Autobiographies are not just mere chronicles detailing one's personal experiences; they act as mirrors reflecting back the society we inhabit in its various stages. To give depth to your memoirs, weaving significant historical events that took place during your lifetime could help ground readers about the choices you made along the way. It would be prudent when incorporating personal stories into wider societal changes to mention political, social and economic factors that impacted you directly since this gives texture to these pivotal moments in life.

Furthermore highlighting distinctive cultural influences like art forms such as music or literature adds another dimension highlighting how they shape one's identity, or even how religious traditions passed down from one generation to another brought their own transformative impact. Bringing together these different contexts into your narrative would allow readers a more profound insight into what inspired and influenced some of the most momentous times in your life.

Writing Techniques to Engage Your Readers

Writing an autobiography might cause some trepidation – after all, sharing personal stories can expose vulnerabilities- nonetheless it’s this emotional honesty that makes an inspiring read: one that imparts valuable lessons and memories upon its audience . Fortunately it does not have to be difficult ! By following some guiding principles, this task can become an engrossing journey that leaves both the author and audience fulfilled. In crafting a remarkable memoir , we offer a few suggestions: firstly, captivate readers through rich imagery created through descriptive language consisting of adjectives or metaphors that evoke characterizations of people , places , or events so vivid they seem tangible .

Additionally , prioritizing dialogue or actions over reciting emotions as they occur ‘flatly’ enables emotional engagement amongst readers as if they are experiencing life alongside the author's memories . Creating brilliantly depicted characters acts as integral piece of enhancing reader investment in the narrative . Try including distinct personalities for each primary character even if covering many members connected with shared/family stories this offers perspective from various viewpoints combining into an unforgettable cast capturing reader attention until all chapters have been perused.

Use colorful and descriptive language

It's important to remember that when telling our personal stories through an autobiography, the choice of words we use plays an instrumental role in driving our message across effectively. Captivating our audience requires us to select dynamic vocabulary choices filled with rich descriptions; using intense adjectives that illuminate key moments while using sensory details allowing us as storytellers to transport our audience right into these moments in time as we present them with figurative language like similes or metaphors - giving deeper meaning behind each experience shared.Here are some tips for making your autobiography more vivid:

  • Choose strong adjectives that evoke emotions: Instead of saying "I had a nice time," try "I had an exhilarating experience" or "I felt euphoric."
  • Use sensory details: Bring the reader into the moment by describing sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures. For example: "The salty ocean breeze whipped through my hair as I gazed out at the endless expanse of turquoise sea."By utilizing these techniques and others like them throughout your autobiography, you can create an immersive reading experience that will captivate any reader from beginning to end.
  • Incorporate metaphors or similes: These figures of speech create memorable comparisons that add depth to your writing. For instance: "My heart was like a wildfire burning out of control" or "His laughter bubbled up like champagne."

By utilizing these techniques and others like them throughout your autobiography, you can create an immersive reading experience that will captivate any reader from beginning to end.

Show, don't tell

Crafting an autobiography that really captures the attention of readers requires utilizing the "show not tell" approach as one of its critical techniques.Specific examples which emphasize your point give the reader something tangible which make them interested.Integrating illustrations clearly displaying personality attributes throughout along with plainly presenting character’s conversations give extra dimensions making for insightful reading.

Trying out elaboration of physical responses in place of direct representation insinuate emotional experience providing room for stronger connections.Characterization is accomplished by employing colorful and descriptive language.Your account will effectively hold the interest if you focus on these core elements throughout its development process.

Create vivid characters, including yourself

Make your characters memorable and captivating by using descriptive language that brings them to life. Give each character unique traits that readers will remember, like twirling hair or pen chewing. It’s crucial to let the reader into every character’s motivations so they can see a fully realized person come off the page. This technique applies whether you are writing an autobiography or not.

Editing and Polishing Your Autobiography

One of the primary stages of crafting a compelling autobiography is thoroughly refining and editing one's work. It's essential to allow for some time away from writing once you've finished drafting it before delving into the editing process for fresh perspective. When you receive feedback from others concerning ways to enhance your autobiography during revision, it can be greatly beneficial.

Enlisting loved ones or close associations as beta readers might enable them to give their constructive criticism without feeling personally attacked by utilizing tactful language that highlights areas for potential growth.

It's also crucial while going over each page repeatedly during revisions always making sure there is logical continuity between dates, facts and names throughout each chapter so readers can make sense of everything smoothly progressing towards clarity about the unique path of yours.

Take a break before editing

Before beginning to edit your autobiography, it is essential to take some time away from it so that when you come back to it after refreshing yourself fully, giving yourself plenty of time away- whether through immersing oneself in nature where possible like walking along trails outside; sitting down quietly reading an inspiring book; spending time conversationally engaged over lunch meetings amongst friends– there will be much tussle for revising worthy additions once more review!When you do come back to your writing, try these tips:

  • Read through the entire manuscript without making any changes.Take notes on areas that need improvement or clarification.
  • Pay attention to consistency of style and voice throughout.

By taking breaks before editing, you'll find it easier to spot errors and create an engaging story that captivates your readers.

Get feedback from others

Jotting down memories about one's life journey feels overwhelming at first glance yet becomes an effortless process once supportive resources are found promptly. To begin drafting meaningful stories that will resonate with readers worldwide, reach out to dependable friends or family who can offer helpful feedback and unbiased critique of the narrative. Constructive criticism ensures that the memoir's ending leaves a lasting impression.

Alternatively, consider joining a writers' group like-minded peers who could explore how your story resonates while providing objective feedback. Sharing parts of your story with this community extends support, helps distil complex concepts and guarantees an efficient delivery.

Finally, writers seeking professional input from an editor or proofreader may benefit from insight into structuring their manuscript for maximum impact. Attention to detail on matters like coherence, flow and grammar helps identify areas of synchronicities across the narrative thread. These steps ensure filling more pages with captivating life experiences that impact and leave a lasting mark on readers.

Check for consistency and accuracy

Making sure that your autobiography is consistent and accurate throughout the entire book is crucial to keeping your readers engaged. Small discrepancies can cause confusion or distract from the overall story. Here are a few things to keep in mind when checking for consistency and accuracy:

  • Double-check all names, dates, and factual information mentioned in the text.Ensure that there is consistency in tone, style, and language used throughout the book.
  • Verify any quotes or references mentioned in your story.

By taking these steps to review your work thoroughly, you can feel confident that you have created a compelling autobiography that accurately reflects your life experiences.

⚠️ What Not To Include In an Autobiography

Crafting an autobiography should be approached with caution as not every detail needs mentioning. Though there may be a desire to share everything, some details are better left unsaid. When writing one's memoirs, consider what should be left aside such as:

  • Confidential Information - Though it is acceptable to mention notable persons,is is always advisable not to disclose sensitive information concerning them without their consent.
  • Negative experiences or individuals - You must mandate acknowledging rather than overemphasizing difficult moments as this could distort public perception leading it away from gaining proper meaning clarity.  Instead focus on positive things in order for others to draw inspiration from and how you triumphed over adversity.
  • Sensitive or Controversial issues – While honesty is essential while writing an autobiography, considering any possible repercussions might due care need surrendering some of oneself up willingly giving way for sensitivity intervals where appropriate expressing respect for others who come after us who seek knowledge about our past experiences but also preserving dignity .
  • Irrelevant material- Making sure that your autobiography only includes information relevant to the overall narrative is essential. Be precise, direct and concise so that readers can engage well with your story. Anything deemed redundant is better left out.

By providing the best of all worlds in terms of clarity, readability and relevance, an impactful and memorable autobiography can be published that strikes a balance between being engaging while highlighting one's personal journey without deviating unnecessarily off-topic at any point. Remember to leave out anything irrelevant and emphasize only positive aspects while holding caution before sharing any sensitive or controversial storylines or sentiments embedded within your personal account of life experiences at large.

5 autobiographies to read for inspiration

The following are five remarkable autobiographies that describe the experiences and journeys of influential individuals:

  • "The Autobiography of Malcolm X" by Malcolm X and Alex Haley is a profound memoir about the life of a civil rights activist who emerged as one of the most influential figures in the African American community after being imprisoned for his beliefs.
  • "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" by Maya Angelou is a powerful autobiographical account of her childhood in the American South during 1930s and 1940s. Angelou shares her experiences growing up and how they shaped her later life as an accomplished writer and activist.
  • Trevor Noah's autobiography, "Born a Crime," tells his personal story growing up in apartheid-era South Africa. He candidly narrates his challenges as being a son born from different races – white Swiss father and black Xhosa mother.
  • In "Bossypants," Tina Fey presents an intriguing look at her life journey, from childhood in Pennsylvania to becoming an acclaimed writer and performer on shows like "Saturday Night Live" and "30 Rock." Her autobiography is not just humorous but also insightful.
  • In Jeannette Walls' memoir, "The Glass Castle," she narrated her unconventional upbringing by parents who struggled with poverty and addiction while moving frequently with their family around America's Southwest region.

Writing your autobiography requires a fair amount of preparation, thought, and effort. Much like writing any book. And for many, it is indeed their first one. While many start this work, few make it to the end. That's why we developed life-story.ai: to assist you in this task and to greatly facilitate this work.

Don't wait to preserve your family's memories

Telling your story in a book has never been so quick and easy.

  • Primary Sources
  • Definitions
  • Documents - Printed & Published
  • Objects and Artifacts
  • Sound Recordings
  • Visual Materials
  • Digitized Sources
  • Locating Sources
  • Sources By Subject
  • Evaluating Sources
  • Documenting Sources / Copyright
  • Research Tips
  • Using Archives This link opens in a new window

Primary Sources Definition

What are primary sources .

Primary sources enable the researcher to get as close as possible to the truth of what actually happened during an historical event or time period. Primary source is a term used in a number of disciplines to describe source material that is closest to the person, information, period, or idea being studied.  A primary source (also called original source ) is a document, recording, artifact, or other source of information that was created at the time under study, usually by a source with direct personal knowledge of the events being described. It serves as an original source of information about the topic.

Similar definitions are used in library science , and other areas of scholarship. In journalism, a primary source can be a person with direct knowledge of a situation, or a document created by such a person. Primary sources are distinguished from secondary sources , which cite, comment on, or build upon primary sources, though the distinction is not a sharp one.

Newspaper Research

  • Historical Newspapers (ProQuest) This link opens in a new window Includes the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, LA Times, Christian Science Monitor, and more. Newspapers are in PDF format and provide a visual representation of the newspaper.
  • ProQuest Central This link opens in a new window Includes both newspapers and scholarly journals
  • Historical Newspapers The Guardian and The Observer Search The Guardian (1821-2003) and its sister paper, The Observer (1791-2003)
  • New York Newspaper Archive This link opens in a new window Access New York Newspaper Archives and discover stories of the past with NewspaperArchive.com. The archive covers New York history from 1753-2023, with lots of content from smaller, local newspapers. Articles have been scanned as PDFs and include images and advertisements, and are full text searchable.
  • America's Historical Newspapers This link opens in a new window America's Historical Newspapers includes articles from local and regional American and Hispanic American newspapers from all 50 states. Coverage dates from 1690 to the early 20th century. Articles have been scanned as PDFs and include images and advertisements, and are full text searchable.
  • American Periodicals Series Online This link opens in a new window includes digitized images of the pages of American magazines and journals published from colonial days to the dawn of the 20th century, 1740-1940.
  • Times Digital Archive (London) This link opens in a new window Provides full-text access to back issues of The Times newspaper. Dates of coverage: 1785 to 2006.
  • Hispanic American Newspapers, 1808-1980 This link opens in a new window Hispanic American Newspapers, 1808-1980 provides access to searchable digitized copies of newspapers printed in the U.S. during the 19th and 20th centuries for a Hispanic readership. It features hundreds of monolingual and bilingual newspapers in Spanish and English, including many obscure titles from the 19th century.
  • Global Newsstream This link opens in a new window Full text of 300+ U.S. and international news sources. Includes coverage of 150+ major U.S. and international newspapers such as The New York Times and the Times of London, plus hundreds of other news sources and news wires.
  • Gale Newspaper Sources This link opens in a new window The Gale NewsVault is a portal to several historical collections of British newspapers and periodicals. It enables full-text searching across several titles simultaneously, including the Times of London, Financial Times, and Times Literary Supplement, along with aggregate newspaper and periodical collections covering the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries.
  • Access World News This link opens in a new window Access World News provides the html full text and, for some titles, the pdf "as printed" visual representation, of articles from a variety of national and international news sources, including newspapers, digital-native news websites, television and radio transcripts, blogs, college and university newspapers, journals, magazines, and some audio and video. Most international titles are English language. Dates of coverage vary from title to title, but primarily span the late 20th century to present.

The Billy Rose Theatre Collection

TITLE: [Scene from Othello with Paul Robeson as Othello and Uta Hagen as Desdemona, Theatre Guild Production, Broadway, 1943-44]   http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Robeson_Hagen_Othello.jpg SOURCE:Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540

The Billy Rose Theatre Collection of The New York Public Library is one of the largest and most comprehensive archives devoted to the theatrical arts. This image is a work of an employee of the United States Farm Security Administration or Office of War Information domestic photographic units, created during the course of the person's official duties. As a work of the U.S. federal government, the image is in the public domain.

  • Billy Rose Collection NYPL The Billy Rose Theatre Division of The New York Public Library is one of the largest and most comprehensive archives devoted to the theatrical arts.
  • New York Public Library Archives & Manuscripts On this site, you can search The New York Public Library's vast holdings, initiate a research visit, submit a query to an archivist, and access digitized material. Most Broadway shows can be viewed in the special collections. You will need a NYPL library card to view them.
  • ArchiveGrid Thousands of libraries, museums, and archives have contributed nearly a million collection descriptions to ArchiveGrid.
  • WorldCat - FirstSearch (OCLC) Search for books and more in libraries in the U.S. and around the world. Indicates when NYU Libraries holds a copy of a book and shows you nearby libraries with holdings.
  • Internet Archive Internet Archive is a non-profit digital library offering free universal access to books, movies & music, as well as 456 billion archived web pages.
  • Archives Unbound NYU is currently subscribing 14 collections:African America, Communists, and the National Negro Congress; Federal Response to Radicalism; Federal Surveillance of African Americans; Feminism in Cuba - 19th through 20th century archival document; Global Missions and Theology; India from Crown Rule to Republic; Testaments to the Holocaust (Documents and Rare Printed Materials from the Wiener Library, London); The Hindu Conspiracy Cases (Activities of the Indian Independence Movement in the U.S., 1908-1933); The Indian Army and Colonial Warfare on the Frontiers of India; The International Women’s Movement (The Pan Pacific Southeast Asia Women’s Association of the USA, 1950-1985); The Middle East Online - Arab-Israeli Relations; The Middle East Online - Iraq; U.S. and Iraqi Relations: U.S. Technical Aid; and, Witchcraft in Europe.

Historical Databases

An advert for P.T. Barnum's "Feejee Mermaid" in 1842 or thereabout. Author: P. T. Barnum or an employee, Source: Newspaper advert commons.wikimedia.org/ wiki/File:Barnum_mermai... This image (or other media file) is in the public domain because its copyright has expired.

  • America: History and Life with Full Text This link opens in a new window ndexes literature covering the history and culture of the United States and Canada, from prehistory to the present. The database indexes 1,700 journals and also includes citations and links to book and media reviews. Strong English-language journal coverage is balanced by an international perspective on topics and events, including abstracts in English of articles published in more than 40 languages. Publication dates of coverage: 1964 to present.
  • Historical Abstracts with Full Text (EBSCO) This link opens in a new window Covers the history of the world (excluding the United States and Canada) from 1450 to the present, including world history, military history, women's history, history of education, and more. Indexes more than 1,700 academic historical journals in over 40 languages. Publication dates of coverage: 1955 to present.
  • Theatre in Context Collection This link opens in a new window O’Dell’s Annals of the New York Stage, the Oxford University Press Companion series, and Greenwood’s American Theatre Companies series are just a few of the many in-copyright sources included in the Theatre in Context Collection. Placed alongside thousands of playbills, posters, photographs, and related theatrical ephemera, users will be able to paint a more comprehensive picture of the life and evolution of dramatic works.
  • Shakespeare Collection This link opens in a new window The Shakespeare Collection provides access to general reference data, full-text scholarly periodicals, reprinted criticism, facsimile primary source material and the full-text annotated works from The Arden Shakespeare. Users can view page images of the First Folio, key Quartos, and major editions and adaptations of Shakespeare's works, plus works by Shakespeare's contemporaries and promptbooks from the 17th to the 20th century.
  • Black Thought and Culture This link opens in a new window Contains 1297 sources with 1100 authors, covering the non-fiction published works of leading African-Americans. Particular care has been taken to index this material so that it can be searched more thoroughly than ever before. Where possible the complete published non-fiction works are included, as well as interviews, journal articles, speeches, essays, pamphlets, letters and other fugitive material.
  • Periodicals Archive Online This link opens in a new window Provides full-text and full-image access to hundreds of journals published in the arts, humanities, social sciences, and areas of general popular interest. Each periodical is covered back to its first issue, regardless of when it began publication. International in scope, PAO covers periodicals in a number of Western languages.
  • Accessible Archives This link opens in a new window Includes the following collections: African American Newspapers, The Civil War Part I. A Newspaper Perspective, The Pennsylvania Genealogical Catalog, Pennsylvania Newspaper Record, South Carolina Newspapers, and The Liberator. ** Within these collections are papers such as The Charleston Mercury, The Christian Recorder, The Colored American, Douglass Monthly, Frederick, Douglass Paper, Freedom's Journal, Godey's Lady's Book, The Liberator, The National Era, The New York Herald, The North Star, The Pennsylvania Gazette, The Pennsylvania Packet, The Maryland Gazette, Provincial Freeman, Richmond Enquirer, The South Carolina Gazette, The Gazette of the State of South Carolina, The South Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, The South Carolina and American General Gazette, Weekly Advocate.
  • Early English Books Online (EEBO) This link opens in a new window Early English Books Online (EEBO) contains digital facsimile page images of virtually every work printed in England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and British North America and works in English printed elsewhere from 1473-1700. Searchable full text is also available for a subset of the collection.
  • Eighteenth Century Journals This link opens in a new window Eighteenth Century Journals brings together rare journals printed between 1685 and 1835, primarily in the British Isles (with some publications from India, the Caribbean, and Europe). Users can view and download page images and search transcribed full text for all journals in the collection.
  • C19: The 19th Century Index This link opens in a new window C19: The 19th Century Index provides bibliographic coverage of nineteenth-century books, periodicals, official documents, newspapers and archives from the English-speaking world. This database includes the Wellesley Index to Victorian Periodicals (1824-1900), Poole's Index to Periodical Literature, Palmer's Index to The Times, the Nineteenth Century Short Title Catalogue, and more.
  • Sixties: Primary Documents and Personal Narratives 1960 - 1974 This link opens in a new window This resource consists of diaries, letters, autobiographies and other memoirs, written and oral histories, manifestos, government documents, memorabilia, and scholarly commentary. With 150,000 pages of material at completion, this searchable collection is a resource for students and scholars researching this period in American history, culture, and politics.
  • African American Archives (via Fold3) This link opens in a new window This full text resource offers access to original documents that reveal a side of the African American story that few have seen before.
  • African American Experience This link opens in a new window Full-text digital resource exploring the history and culture of African Americans, as well as the greater Black Diaspora. Features access to full-text content from more than 400 titles, 3,000 slave narratives, over 2000 images, 5,000 primary sources, and 250 vetted Web sites.

Letters & Diaries /Oral Histories

  • Oral History Online This link opens in a new window Provides in-depth indexing to more than 2,700 collections of Oral History in English from around the world. The collection provides keyword searching of almost 281,000 pages of full-text by close to 10,000 individuals from all walks of life.
  • American Civil War: Letters and Diaries This link opens in a new window This database contains 2,009 authors and approximately 100,000 pages of diaries, letters and memoirs. Includes 4,000 pages of previously unpublished manuscripts such as the letters of Amos Wood and his wife and the diary of Maryland Planter William Claytor. The collection also includes biographies, an extensive bibliography of the sources in the database, and material licensed from The Civil War Day-by-Day by E.B. Long.
  • British and Irish Women's Letters and Diaries This link opens in a new window Includes 10,000 pages of diaries and letters revealing the experiences of approximately 500 women. The collection now includes primary materials spanning more than 300 years. The collection also includes biographies and an extensive annotated bibliography of the sources in the database.
  • North American Immigrant Letters, Diaries and Oral Histories This link opens in a new window North American Immigrant Letters, Diaries and Oral Histories includes 2,162 authors and approximately 100,000 pages of information, so providing a unique and personal view of what it meant to immigrate to America and Canada between 1800 and 1950. Contains contemporaneous letters, diaries, oral histories, interviews, and other personal narratives.
  • North American Women's Letters and Diaries This link opens in a new window North American Women's Letters and Diaries includes the immediate experiences of 1,325 women and 150,000 pages of diaries and letters.

Gale Primary Sources

  • Gale Primary Sources This link opens in a new window Gale Artemis is a groundbreaking research environment that integrates formerly disparate digital collections to enable innovative research. Gale Artemis provides an unprecedented, seamless research experience that helps students find a starting point, search across a wide array of materials and points in time, and discover new ways to analyze information.

Victorian Popular Culture

  • Victorian Popular Culture An essential resource for the study of popular entertainment in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This innovative portal invites users into the darkened halls, small backrooms and travelling venues that hosted everything from spectacular shows and bawdy burlesque, to the world of magic and spiritualist séances. ** The resource is divided into four self-contained sections: Moving Pictures, Optical Entertainments and the Advent of Cinema; Music Hall, Theatre and Popular Entertainment; Circuses, Sideshows and Freaks; Spiritualism, Sensation and Magic

Historical Image Collections

commons.wikimedia.org/ wiki/File:Cushman_in_Ha... , The American actress Charlotte Cushman advertised in William Shakespeare's Hamlet at the Washington Theater in 1861.  Author:Washington Theater, SOURCE:Public Library of Congress. this image (or other media file) is in the public domain because its copyright has expired.

  • American Broadsides and Ephemera This link opens in a new window American Broadsides and Ephemera offers fully searchable images of approximately 15,000 broadsides printed between 1820 and 1900 and 15,000 pieces of ephemera printed between 1760 and 1900. The remarkably diverse subjects of these broadsides range from contemporary accounts of the Civil War, unusual occurrences and natural disasters to official government proclamations, tax bills and town meeting reports. Featuring many rare items, the pieces of ephemera include clipper ship sailing cards, early trade cards, bill heads, theater and music programs, stock certificates, menus and invitations documenting civic, political and private celebrations.
  • Early American Imprints, Series I. Evans, 1639-1800 This link opens in a new window Search or browse the books, pamphlets, broadsides and other imprints listed in the renowned bibliography by Charles Evans.
  • Early American Imprints, Series II. Shaw-Shoemaker, 1801-1819 This link opens in a new window Search or browse the books, pamphlets, broadsides and other imprints listed in the distinguished bibliography by Ralph R. Shaw and Richard H. Shoemaker. 1801-1819
  • American Antiquarian Society (AAS) Historical Periodicals Collection (EBSCO) This link opens in a new window Provide digital access to the most comprehensive collection of American periodicals published between 1691 and 1877. Included digitized images of American magazines and journals never before available outside the walls of the American Antiquarian Society. The collection is available in five series: Series 1 (1691-1820) - Series 2 (1821-1837) - Series 3 (1838-1852) - Series 4 (1853-1865) - Series 5 (1866-1877)

Link to Bobst Special Collections

  • Fales It is especially strong in English literature from the middle of the 18th century to the present, documenting developments in the novel. The Downtown Collection documents the downtown New York art, performance, and literary scenes from 1975 to the present and is extremely rich in archival holdings, including extensive film and video objects.
  • Tamiment One of the finest research collections in the country documenting the history of radical politics: socialism, communism, anarchism, utopian experiments, the cultural left, the New Left, and the struggle for civil rights and civil liberties.

Guide to International Collections

  • SIBMAS International Directory of Performing Arts Collections and Institutions

Books Containing Primary Source Documents

how to write autobiography using primary sources

  • The mediaeval stage by Chambers, E. K. (Edmund Kerchever), 1866-1954 Call Number: Online versions avail.
  • The Elizabethan stage by Chambers, E. K. (Edmund Kerchever), 1866-1954 Call Number: PN2589 .C4 1965 4 vol. plus online version avail
  • The diary of Samuel Pepys by Pepys, Samuel, 1633-1703 Call Number: Avail. online
  • A history of theatrical art in ancient and modern times. by Mantzius, Karl, 1860-1921 Call Number: PN2106 .M313 1970 4 vol. also internet access
  • Ben Jonson by Ben Jonson Call Number: online access
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  • Last Updated: Feb 5, 2024 11:40 AM
  • URL: https://guides.nyu.edu/primary

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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  • Primary vs. Secondary Sources | Difference & Examples

Primary vs. Secondary Sources | Difference & Examples

Published on June 20, 2018 by Raimo Streefkerk . Revised on May 31, 2023.

When you do research, you have to gather information and evidence from a variety of sources.

Primary sources provide raw information and first-hand evidence. Examples include interview transcripts, statistical data, and works of art. Primary research gives you direct access to the subject of your research.

Secondary sources provide second-hand information and commentary from other researchers. Examples include journal articles, reviews, and academic books . Thus, secondary research describes, interprets, or synthesizes primary sources.

Primary sources are more credible as evidence, but good research uses both primary and secondary sources.

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Table of contents

What is a primary source, what is a secondary source, primary and secondary source examples, how to tell if a source is primary or secondary, primary vs secondary sources: which is better, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about primary and secondary sources.

A primary source is anything that gives you direct evidence about the people, events, or phenomena that you are researching. Primary sources will usually be the main objects of your analysis.

If you are researching the past, you cannot directly access it yourself, so you need primary sources that were produced at the time by participants or witnesses (e.g. letters, photographs, newspapers ).

If you are researching something current, your primary sources can either be qualitative or quantitative data that you collect yourself (e.g. through interviews , surveys , experiments ) or sources produced by people directly involved in the topic (e.g. official documents or media texts).

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A secondary source is anything that describes, interprets, evaluates, or analyzes information from primary sources. Common examples include:

  • Books , articles and documentaries that synthesize information on a topic
  • Synopses and descriptions of artistic works
  • Encyclopedias and textbooks that summarize information and ideas
  • Reviews and essays that evaluate or interpret something

When you cite a secondary source, it’s usually not to analyze it directly. Instead, you’ll probably test its arguments against new evidence or use its ideas to help formulate your own.

Examples of sources that can be primary or secondary

A secondary source can become a primary source depending on your research question . If the person, context, or technique that produced the source is the main focus of your research, it becomes a primary source.

Documentaries

If you are researching the causes of World War II, a recent documentary about the war is a secondary source . But if you are researching the filmmaking techniques used in historical documentaries, the documentary is a primary source .

Reviews and essays

If your paper is about the novels of Toni Morrison, a magazine review of one of her novels is a secondary source . But if your paper is about the critical reception of Toni Morrison’s work, the review is a primary source .

Newspaper articles

If your aim is to analyze the government’s economic policy, a newspaper article about a new policy is a secondary source . But if your aim is to analyze media coverage of economic issues, the newspaper article is a primary source .

To determine if something can be used as a primary or secondary source in your research, there are some simple questions you can ask yourself:

  • Does this source come from someone directly involved in the events I’m studying (primary) or from another researcher (secondary)?
  • Am I interested in evaluating the source itself (primary) or only using it for background information (secondary)?
  • Does the source provide original information (primary) or does it comment upon information from other sources (secondary)?

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how to write autobiography using primary sources

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Most research uses both primary and secondary sources. They complement each other to help you build a convincing argument. Primary sources are more credible as evidence, but secondary sources show how your work relates to existing research. Tertiary sources are often used in the first, exploratory stage of research.

What do you use primary sources for?

Primary sources are the foundation of original research. They allow you to:

  • Make new discoveries
  • Provide credible evidence for your arguments
  • Give authoritative information about your topic

If you don’t use any primary sources, your research may be considered unoriginal or unreliable.

What do you use secondary sources for?

Secondary sources are good for gaining a full overview of your topic and understanding how other researchers have approached it. They often synthesize a large number of primary sources that would be difficult and time-consuming to gather by yourself. They allow you to:

  • Gain background information on the topic
  • Support or contrast your arguments with other researchers’ ideas
  • Gather information from primary sources that you can’t access directly (e.g. private letters or physical documents located elsewhere)

When you conduct a literature review or meta analysis, you can consult secondary sources to gain a thorough overview of your topic. If you want to mention a paper or study that you find cited in a secondary source, seek out the original source and cite it directly.

Remember that all primary and secondary sources must be cited to avoid plagiarism . You can use Scribbr’s free citation generator to do so!

If you want to know more about ChatGPT, AI tools , citation , and plagiarism , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.

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Common examples of primary sources include interview transcripts , photographs, novels, paintings, films, historical documents, and official statistics.

Anything you directly analyze or use as first-hand evidence can be a primary source, including qualitative or quantitative data that you collected yourself.

Common examples of secondary sources include academic books, journal articles , reviews, essays , and textbooks.

Anything that summarizes, evaluates or interprets primary sources can be a secondary source. If a source gives you an overview of background information or presents another researcher’s ideas on your topic, it is probably a secondary source.

To determine if a source is primary or secondary, ask yourself:

  • Was the source created by someone directly involved in the events you’re studying (primary), or by another researcher (secondary)?
  • Does the source provide original information (primary), or does it summarize information from other sources (secondary)?
  • Are you directly analyzing the source itself (primary), or only using it for background information (secondary)?

Some types of source are nearly always primary: works of art and literature, raw statistical data, official documents and records, and personal communications (e.g. letters, interviews ). If you use one of these in your research, it is probably a primary source.

Primary sources are often considered the most credible in terms of providing evidence for your argument, as they give you direct evidence of what you are researching. However, it’s up to you to ensure the information they provide is reliable and accurate.

Always make sure to properly cite your sources to avoid plagiarism .

A fictional movie is usually a primary source. A documentary can be either primary or secondary depending on the context.

If you are directly analyzing some aspect of the movie itself – for example, the cinematography, narrative techniques, or social context – the movie is a primary source.

If you use the movie for background information or analysis about your topic – for example, to learn about a historical event or a scientific discovery – the movie is a secondary source.

Whether it’s primary or secondary, always properly cite the movie in the citation style you are using. Learn how to create an MLA movie citation or an APA movie citation .

Articles in newspapers and magazines can be primary or secondary depending on the focus of your research.

In historical studies, old articles are used as primary sources that give direct evidence about the time period. In social and communication studies, articles are used as primary sources to analyze language and social relations (for example, by conducting content analysis or discourse analysis ).

If you are not analyzing the article itself, but only using it for background information or facts about your topic, then the article is a secondary source.

Cite this Scribbr article

If you want to cite this source, you can copy and paste the citation or click the “Cite this Scribbr article” button to automatically add the citation to our free Citation Generator.

Streefkerk, R. (2023, May 31). Primary vs. Secondary Sources | Difference & Examples. Scribbr. Retrieved February 15, 2024, from https://www.scribbr.com/working-with-sources/primary-and-secondary-sources/

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  • Autobiographies

How to Write an Autobiography

Last Updated: November 29, 2023 Fact Checked

This article was co-authored by Gerald Posner . Gerald Posner is an Author & Journalist based in Miami, Florida. With over 35 years of experience, he specializes in investigative journalism, nonfiction books, and editorials. He holds a law degree from UC College of the Law, San Francisco, and a BA in Political Science from the University of California-Berkeley. He’s the author of thirteen books, including several New York Times bestsellers, the winner of the Florida Book Award for General Nonfiction, and has been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in History. He was also shortlisted for the Best Business Book of 2020 by the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing. There are 8 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been fact-checked, ensuring the accuracy of any cited facts and confirming the authority of its sources. This article has been viewed 2,275,001 times.

What's your story? Anyone who has lived a full life has something fascinating to share with the world. The trick to writing an autobiography is to treat it like any good story: it should have a protagonist (you), a central conflict, and a cast of fascinating characters to keep people engaged. You may want to think about a certain theme or idea that has been present in your daily life to revolve your story around. Read on to learn how to craft the story of your life and polish your writing to make it sing.

Mapping Out Your Life

Step 1 Write out your...

  • Your autobiography doesn't have to begin with your birth. You may want to include some family history as well. Write down information about your ancestry, your grandparents' lives, your parents' lives, and so on. Having information about your family history will help readers get a sense of how you became the person you are.
  • What happened when you were a teenager? What led you to make the decisions you made?
  • Did you go to college? Write about those transitory years, too.
  • Write about your career, your relationships, your children, and any big life-altering events that occurred.

Step 2 Identify the main characters.

  • Teachers, coaches, mentors, and bosses are extremely influential in people's lives. Decide whether someone who has been a role model (or the opposite) for you will figure into your story.
  • Ex-boyfriends and girlfriends might co-star in some interesting stories.
  • What enemies have you had in life? Your story will be boring if you don't include some conflicts.
  • Offbeat characters such as animals, celebrities you've never met, and even cities are often points of interest in an autobiography.

Step 3 Pull out the best stories.

  • The childhood story. Whether your childhood was happy or traumatic, you should include a few anecdotes that give a picture of who you were and what you experienced at the time. You can tell the story of your childhood by breaking it down into smaller anecdotes that illustrate your personality - your parents' reaction when you brought home a stray dog, the time you climbed out of the window at school and ran away for 3 days, your friendly relationship with a homeless person living in the woods… get creative.
  • The coming of age story. This heady and often sensual period in a human's life is always of interest to readers. Remember that it's not about writing something unique; everyone comes of age. It's about writing something that resonates with readers.
  • The falling in love story. You could also write the opposite of this, the never-finding-love story.
  • The identity crisis story. This usually occurs in the 30s or 40s and is sometimes referred to as a mid-life crisis.
  • The story of facing down some force of evil. Whether it's your battle with addiction, a controlling lover, or a madman who tried to kill your family, you've got to write about conflict you've experienced.

Step 4 Write in your own voice.

  • Write as though you're opening your heart to a trusted friend, in prose that's clear, strong and not too cluttered with vocabulary words you rarely use.
  • Write so that your personality is revealed. Are you funny? Intense? Spiritual? Dramatic? Don't hold back; your personality should come through in the way you tell your story.

Step 5 Be revealing.

  • Don't always cast yourself in a positive light. You can have foibles and still be the protagonist. Reveal mistakes you've made and times when you've failed yourself and other people.
  • Reveal your inner thoughts. Share your opinions and ideas, including those that may spark controversy. Be true to yourself through your autobiography.

Step 6 Capture the spirit of the times.

Crafting a Narrative

Step 1 Create an overarching...

  • What's your central conflict? What's the biggest obstacle life presented that took years to overcome or come to terms with? Maybe it's an illness you were diagnosed with at an early age, a relationship wrought with turmoil, a series of career setbacks, a goal you worked for decades to achieve, or any other number of things. Look to your favorite books and movies for more examples of conflicts.
  • Build tension and suspense. Structure the narrative so that you have a series of stories leading up to the climax of the conflict. If your central conflict is trying to reach the goal of competing in the Olympics for skiing, lead up to it with stories of small successes and plenty of failures. You want your readers to ask, will she make it? Can he do it? What's going to happen next?
  • Have a climax. You'll get to the point in your story when it's time for the conflict to come to a head. The day of the big competition has arrived, a showdown happens with your worst enemy, your gambling habit gets the better of you and you lose all your money - you get the picture.
  • End with a resolution. Most autobiographies have happy endings because the person writing the story lived to tell the tale - and hopefully get it published. Even if your ending isn't cheerful, it should be deeply satisfying. You somehow accomplished your goal or won the day. Even if you lost, you came to terms with it and gained wisdom.

Step 2 Decide where the story is going to start.

  • You could frame the entire autobiography with reflections from the present, telling your story through a series of flashbacks.
  • You could begin the story with a poignant moment from your childhood, go backward to tell the story of your heritage, move forward to your college years, and launch into the story of your career, with anecdotes from your childhood sprinkled in for comic relief.

Step 3 Weave in themes.

  • Consider ending chapters on a poignant or suspenseful note, so people can't wait to start the next one.
  • The beginnings of chapters are a good place to take a bird's eye view of your past, describe the setting of a place, and set the tone for what's to come.

Editing the Book

Step 1 Make sure you get the facts right.

  • You can stretch the truth about your own goals and intentions, but don't include fabricated conversations with real people, or altered versions of events that really happened. Of course, you won't remember everything perfectly, but you should reflect reality as best you can.
  • Get permission to use people's names or quote them if you're including content on what other people said or did. Some people don't appreciate appearing as a character in someone else's autobiography, and you should respect that by altering the way you describe them or changing their names if necessary. [6] X Research source

Step 2 Edit your draft

  • If several people recommend cutting a certain section, strongly consider making the cut.
  • Try to get opinions from people outside your circle of family and friends. People who know you might try to spare your feelings, or they might be biased - especially if they appear in the story.

Step 4 Hire a copyeditor.

  • Bossy Pants , by Tina Fey.
  • My Confession , by Leo Tolstoy.
  • A Long Walk to Freedom , by Nelson Mandela.
  • The Sound of Laughter , by Peter Kay. [7] X Research source

Publishing Your Story

Step 1 Take steps to...

  • If you don't want to pay for a publishing service, you can still create a nice copy of your book by taking it to a copy store and having it printed and bound.

Step 2 Consider finding a literary agent.

  • Start the query letter with an airtight blurb succinctly describing the highlights of the book. Situate your book in the correct genre, and describe what will make it stand out from the rest. Tell the agent why you think he or she is the right person to shop your book around to publishers.
  • Send sample chapters to agents who show interest.
  • Sign a contract with an agent you trust. Make sure to read the contract carefully and check into the agent's history before signing anything.

Step 3 Submit a query...

  • Many publishers don't accept unsolicited manuscripts or queries. Make sure you only send letters to publishers that accept them.
  • If a publisher decides to move forward with a book deal with you, you'll need to sign a contract and set up a schedule for editing, designing, proofreading, and finally publishing the book.

Step 4 Look into publishing your book online.

Writing Help

how to write autobiography using primary sources

Expert Q&A

Gerald Posner

Video . By using this service, some information may be shared with YouTube.

  • Your biography can also include a dedication, foreword, vital statistics, chronology sheets, family tree, and epilogue. Thanks Helpful 7 Not Helpful 0
  • If the purpose of your autobiography is to pass on your story to your heirs, consider including memorabilia (e.g. pictures, heirlooms, medals, mementos, letters, etc.) and putting your story in a scrapbook format. Of course, you may not be able to copy the memorabilia that accompanies your autobiography, so you still have to think about what you intend to do with your original work and other items, such as medals or bulky heirlooms. Thanks Helpful 5 Not Helpful 0
  • Make your story vivid but don't get bogged down in unimportant details. While you want your autobiography to be memorable, you don't want it to be boring. Too many details—listing everyone that was at a party or trying to include all the events of each day—will bog the story down. Thanks Helpful 5 Not Helpful 1

how to write autobiography using primary sources

  • Be aware of what constitutes libel. If you write something defamatory or maliciously untrue about another person in an autobiography that you intend to publish, consider changing his or her name (if still living). Otherwise, you might find yourself facing a lawsuit. If you're unsure about what to change, consult a lawyer who specializes in libel. Thanks Helpful 5 Not Helpful 0

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Self Publish a Book

Expert Interview

how to write autobiography using primary sources

Thanks for reading our article! If you'd like to learn more about writing as a career, check out our in-depth interview with Gerald Posner .

  • ↑ https://theamericanscholar.org/how-to-write-a-memoir
  • ↑ https://self-publishingschool.com/how-to-write-an-autobiography/
  • ↑ https://blog.reedsy.com/narrative-arc/
  • ↑ https://cdn5-ss8.sharpschool.com/UserFiles/Servers/Server_222705/File/Parents%20and%20Students/Star%20Works/How%20to%20write%20an%20Autobiography.pdf
  • ↑ https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/jun/04/how-to-write-a-memoir-jeanette-winterson-and-helen-macdonald
  • ↑ https://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/defamation-and-invasion
  • ↑ http://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2013/feb/07/biographies-autobiography-nielsen-2001
  • ↑ http://www.pw.org/literary_agents

About This Article

Gerald Posner

To write an autobiography, start by making a timeline of your most important life events that you feel you could write about. Then, identify the main characters in your life story, including family members, ex-boyfriends or girlfriends, friends, and enemies. Once you have your cast of characters, pull life events from your timeline, such as a story from your childhood, a coming of age story, a love story, or a triumphant story. Write about these events and then connect them with a cohesive plot by writing in your own voice and being honest with the reader. To learn more about how to edit and publish your autobiography once it's finished, keep reading! Did this summary help you? Yes No

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2.3: Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Sources

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  • Carol M. Withers with Bruce Johnson & Nathan Martin
  • San Diego City College Library

One way to figure out if something is a primary source is to ask yourself, "Can I get any closer to the actual event/person I am interested in studying?" If you can, then it is probably not the primary source. If you read an article that was written using diaries and interviews as the source of information you would be using a secondary source. You can get closer to the event/person. If you read the diaries and interviews themselves , you are using primary sources. Diaries, interviews, trial records, autobiographies and original research are often given as examples of a primary source. A secondary source usually interprets a primary source. They can include books (such as biographies) and many periodicals. A novel or film ( The Great Gatsby or Star Wars ) or any other work of art is a primary source; a review of the film or a book analyzing or commenting on the novel is a secondary source.

Determining if something is a primary or secondary source can get blurry because it really depends upon what you are studying. A great primary source for women’s experiences in California during the gold rush is the Shirley Letters . These were written by Dame Shirley (Mrs. Louise Amelia Knapp Smith Clappe) who lived in gold rush towns and wrote letters about her experiences in 1851-1852 to her sister. If we use her letters to write a paper, we are using a primary source. If, however, she wrote about what she heard at the saloon on how mines were built, that part of her letter would be a great secondary information source about how gold mines were built even though we most often consider her letters primary sources. In his book, Anybody’s Gold , Jackson uses Shirley Letters as a primary source to write about Clappe and the California she lived in. When we use Jackson for a paper/project, therefore, we are reading a secondary source .

As you can see, the lines can be blurred. Newspaper reporters or foreign correspondents on the front lines of a war reporting what they observe first hand are considered a primary source. An editorial commenting on the same war, published in the same newspaper would be considered a secondary source.

When all this information is compiled, studied and reviewed for an encyclopedia entry, that would be considered tertiary. Encyclopedia and biographical dictionaries strive to provide straight forward background information on a topic, idea or event without a pronounced point of view. The purpose of tertiary sources is to summarize or to lead you to other sources by way of their bibliographies.

Let’s say that we want information about Benjamin Franklin. There are thousands of information sources about Franklin. How you will search for the information is dependent upon how you will ultimately use it. A primary source would be the title The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by Benjamin Franklin. Secondary sources would be the titles Benjamin Franklin, Genius of Kites, Flights and Voting Rights by Seymour Block and Stealing God’s Thunder: Benjamin Franklin’s Lighting Rod and the Invention of America by Philip Dray.

A tertiary source containing facts about Franklin would be Dictionary of American History or Encyclopedia of World Biography which distils just the facts from primary and secondary sources and offer this background information to us in encyclopedic form. A selection of examples follows.

Writing Beginner

How To Write an Autobiography 2024 (Tips, Templates, & Guide)

Your life story has value, merit, and significance. You want to share it with the world, but maybe you don’t know how .

Here’s how to write an autobiography:

Write an autobiography by creating a list of the most important moments, people, and places in your life. Gather photos, videos, letters, and notes about these experiences. Then, use an outline, templates, sentence starters, and questions to help you write your autobiography .

In this article, you are going to learn the fastest method for writing your autobiography.

We are going to cover everything you need to know with examples and a free, downloadable, done-for-you template.

What Is an Autobiography?

Typewriter, lightbulb, and crumpled paper - How To Write an Autobiography

Before you can write an autobiography, you must first know the definition.

An autobiography is the story of your life, written by you. It covers the full span of your life (at least, up until now), hitting on the most significant moments, people and events.

When you write your autobiography, you write an intimate account of your life.

What Should I Include In an Autobiography?

If you are scratching your head, baffled about what to include in your autobiography, you are not alone.

After all, a big part of how to write an autobiography is knowing what to put in and what to leave out of your life story. Do you focus on every detail?

Every person? Won’t your autobiography be too long?

A good way to think about how to write an autobiography is to use the Movie Trailer Method.

What do movie trailers include?

  • High emotional moments
  • The big events
  • The most important characters

When you plan, organize, and write your autobiography, keep the Movie Trailer Method in mind. You can even watch a bunch of free movie trailers on YouTube for examples of how to write an autobiography using the Movie Trailer Method.

When wondering what to include in your autobiography, focus on what would make the cut for a movie trailer of your life:

  • Most important people (like family, friends, mentors, coaches, etc.)
  • Significant events (like your origin story, vacations, graduations, life turning points, life lessons)
  • Emotional moments (When you were homeless, when you battled a life-threatening condition, or when you fell in love)
  • Drama or suspense (Did you make it into Harvard? Did your first surgery go well? Did your baby survive?)

Autobiography Structure Secrets

Like any compelling story, a well-structured autobiography often follows a pattern that creates a logical flow and captures readers’ attention.

Traditionally, autobiographies begin with early memories, detailing the writer’s childhood, family background, and the events or people that shaped their formative years.

From here, the narrative typically progresses chronologically, covering major life events like schooling, friendships, challenges, achievements, career milestones, and personal relationships.

It’s essential to weave these events with introspective insights.

This allows readers to understand not just the what, but also the why behind the author’s choices and experiences.

Towards the end, an effective autobiography often includes reflections on lessons learned, changes in perspective over time, and the wisdom acquired along life’s journey.

Example of the Structure:

  • Introduction: A gripping event or anecdote that gives readers a hint of what to expect. It could be a pivotal moment or challenge that defines the essence of the story.
  • Childhood and Early Memories: Recounting family dynamics, birthplace, cultural background, and memorable incidents from early years.
  • Adolescence and Discovering Identity: Experiences during teenage years, challenges faced, friendships formed, and personal evolutions.
  • Pursuits and Passions: Describing education, early career choices, or any particular hobby or skill that played a significant role in the author’s life.
  • Major Life Events and Challenges: Chronicles of marriage, parenthood, career shifts, or any significant setbacks and how they were overcome.
  • Achievements and Milestones: Celebrating major accomplishments and recounting the journey to achieving them.
  • Reflections and Wisdom: Sharing life lessons, changes in beliefs or values over time, and offering insights gained from lived experiences.
  • Conclusion: Summarizing the journey, contemplating on the present state, and sharing hopes or aspirations for the future.

How To Write an Autobiography Quickly: Strategies & Templates

Want the quickest way to organize and write your autobiography in record time? You can literally write your autobiography in 7 days or less with this method.

The secret is to use done-for-you templates.

I have personally designed and collected a series of templates to take you from a blank page to a fully complete Autobiography. I call this the How to Write an Autobiography Blueprint.

And it’s completely free to download right from this article. 🙂

In the How to Write an Autobiography Blueprint, you get:

  • The Autobiography Questions Template
  • The Autobiography Brainstorm Templates
  • The Autobiography Outline Template

Here is an image of it so that you know exactly what you get when you download it:

Autobiography Blueprint

How To Write an Autobiography: Step-by-Step

When you sit down to write an autobiography, it’s helpful to have a step-by-step blueprint to follow.

You already have the done-for-you templates that you can use to organize and write an autobiography faster than ever before. Now here’s a complete step-by-step guide on how to maximize your template.

  • Brainstorm Ideas
  • Order your sections (from medium to high interest)
  • Order the ideas in each section (from medium to high interest)
  • Write three questions to answer in each section
  • Choose a starter sentence
  • Complete a title template
  • Write each section of your by completing the starter sentence and answering all three questions

Brainstorm Your Autobiography

The first step in writing your autobiography is to brainstorm.

Give yourself time and space to write down the most significant people, events, lessons, and experiences in your life. The templates in the How to Write an Autobiography Blueprint provide sections for you to write down your brainstormed ideas.

How to Brainstorm Your Autobiography

This will help you organize your ideas into what will become the major sections of your book.

These will be:

  • Y our most significant events and experiences.
  • The people who impacted you the most.
  • The challenges you have overcome.
  • Your achievements and successes.
  • The lessons you have learned.

The “other” sections on the second page of the Brainstorm template is for creating your own sections or to give you more space for the sections I provided in case you run out of space.

As I brainstorm, I find asking myself specific questions really activates my imagination.

So I have compiled a list of compelling questions to help you get ideas down on paper or on your screen.

How to Write an Autobiography: Top 10 Questions

Order Your Sections (From Medium to High Interest)

The next step is to order your main sections.

The main sections are the five (or more) sections from your Brainstorm templates (Significant events, significant people, life lessons, challenges, successes, other, etc). This order will become the outline and chapters for your book.

How do you decide what comes first, second or third?

I recommend placing the sections in order of interest. Ask yourself, “What’s the most fascinating part of my life?”

If it’s a person, then write the name of that section (Significant People) on the last line in the How to Write an Autobiography Outline Template. If it’s an experience, place the name of that section (Significant Events) on the last line.

For example, if you met the Pope, you might want to end with that nugget from your life. If you spent three weeks lost at sea and survived on a desert island by spearfishing, that is your ending point.

Then complete the Outline by placing the remaining sections in order of interest. You can work your way backward from high interest to medium interest.

If you are wondering why I say “medium to high interest” instead of “low to high interest” it is because there should be no “low interest” parts of your autobiography.

But wait, what if you met the Pope AND spent three weeks lost at sea? How do you choose which one comes first or last?

First of all, I want to read this book! Second, when in doubt, default to chronological order. Whatever event happened first, start there.

Here is an example of how it might look:

Autobiography Example

Order The Ideas in Each Section (From Medium To High Interest)

Now, organize the ideas inside of each section. Again, order the ideas from medium to high interest).

Within your “Significant People” section, decide who you want to talk about first, second, third, etc. You can organize by chronological order (who you met first) but I recommend building to the most interesting or most significant person.

This creates a more compelling read.

Keep in mind that the most significant person might not be the most well-known, most famous, or most popular. The most significant person might be your family member, friend, partner, or child.

It comes down to who shaped your life the most.

So, if your “significant people list” includes your dad, a famous social media influencer, and Mike Tyson, your dad might come last because he had the biggest significance in your life.

Write Three Questions to Answer in Each Section

Ok, you’ve done the heavy lifting already. You have the major sections organized and outlined.

Next on your autobiography to-do list is to choose and write down three questions you are going to answer in each section. You can write your questions down in the provided “boxes” for each section on the template outline (or on another piece of paper.

This is easier than it might seem.

Simply choose one of the sample autobiography questions below or create your own:

  • Why did I choose this person/event?
  • What does this person/event mean to me?
  • How did I meet this person?
  • Where did it happen?
  • When did it happen?
  • Why did it happen?
  • How did it happen?
  • What is the most interesting part?
  • How did I feel about this person or event?
  • How do I feel now?
  • Why does this person or event matters to me?
  • How did this person or event change my life?
  • What is the most challenging part?
  • How did I fail?
  • How did I succeed?
  • What did I learn?

Questions are the perfect way to write quickly and clearly. I LOVE writing to questions. It’s how I write these blog posts and articles.

Choose a Starter Sentence

Sometimes the hardest part of any project is knowing how to start.

Even though we know we can always go back and edit our beginnings, so many of us become paralyzed with indecision at the starting gate.

That’s why I provided sample starter sentences in your How to Write an Autobiography Blueprint.

Here are the story starters:

  • I began writing this book when…
  • Of all the experiences in my life, this one was the most…
  • I’ve been a…
  • My name is…
  • Growing up in…
  • It wasn’t even a…
  • It all started when…
  • I first…
  • I was born…

Keep in mind that you do not need to begin your book with one of these story starters. I provide them simply to get you going.

The key is to not get bogged down in this, or any, part of writing your autobiography. Get organized and then get writing.

Complete a Title Template

At the top of the How to Write an Autobiography Outline is a place for you to write your book title.

Some authors struggle forever with a title. And that’s ok. What’s not ok is getting stuck. What’s not ok is if coming up with your title prevents you from finishing your book.

So, I provided a few title templates to help juice your creativity.

Just like the story starters, you do not need to use these title templates, but you certainly can. All you need to do is fill in the title templates below and then write your favorite one (for now) at the top of your outline. Presto! You have your working title.

You can always go back and change it later.

How to Write an Autobiography Title templates:

  • [Your Name]: [Phrase or Tag Line]
  • The [Your Last Name] Files
  • Born [Activity]: A [Career]’s Life
  • The Perfect [Noun]: The Remarkable Life of [Your Name]

Examples using the Templates:

  • Christopher Kokoski: Blog Until You Drop
  • The Kokoski Files
  • Born Writing: A Blogger’s Life
  • The Perfect Freelancer: The Remarkable Life of Christopher Kokoski

Write Your Autobiography

You have your outline. You have your title, templates, and sentence starters. All that is left to do is write your autobiography.

However, you can use tools like Jasper AI and a few other cool tricks to craft the most riveting book possible.

This is the easy way to remarkable writing.

Check out this short video that goes over the basics of how to write an autobiography:

How To Write an Autobiography (All the Best Tips)

Now that you are poised and ready to dash out your first draft, keep the following pro tips in mind:

  • Be vulnerable. The best autobiographies share flaws, faults, foibles, and faux pas. Let readers in on the real you.
  • Skip the boring parts. There is no need to detail every meal, car ride, or a gripping trip to the grocery store. Unless you ran into the Russian Mafia near the vegetables or the grocery store is perched on the side of a mountain above the jungles of Brazil.
  • Keep your autobiography character-driven . This is the story of YOU!
  • Be kind to others (or don’t). When writing about others in your story, keep in mind that there may be fallout or backlash from your book.
  • Consider a theme: Many autobiographies are organized by theme. A perfect example is Becoming . Each section of the book includes “becoming” in the title. Themes connect and elevate each part of the autobiography.
  • Write your story in vignettes (or scenes). Each vignette is a mini-story with a beginning, middle, and end. Each vignette builds. Each vignette should be described in rich sensory language that shows the reader the experience instead of telling the reader about the experience. Each vignette is immersive, immediate, and intimate.
  • Include snippets of dialogue. Use quotation marks just like in fiction. Show the dialogue in brief back-and-forth tennis matches of conversation. Remember to leave the boring parts out!
  • Choose a consistent tone. Some autobiographies are funny like Bossy Pants by Tina Fey. Others are serious such as Open by Andre Agassi. Your story (like most stories) will likely include a mix of emotions but choose an overall tone and stick with it.
  • Don’t chronicle, captivate . Always think about how to make each section, each chapter, each page, each paragraph, and each sentence more compelling. You want to tell the truth, but HOW you tell the truth is up to you. Create suspense, conflict, and mystery. Let drama linger until it becomes uncomfortable. Don’t solve problems quickly or take away tension right away.

How Do I Format an Autobiography?

Most autobiographies are written in the first person (using the pronouns I, me, we, and us).

Your autobiography is written about you so write as yourself instead of pretending to be writing about someone else.

Most autobiographies are also written in chronological order, from birth right up to your current age, with all the boring parts left out. That doesn’t mean you can’t play around with the timeline.

Sometimes it’s more interesting to start at a high moment, backtrack to the beginning and show how you got to that high moment.

Whatever format you choose, be intentional, and make the choice based on making the most compelling experience possible for your readers.

How Long Should an Autobiography Be?

There are no rules to how long an autobiography should be but a rough guideline is to aim for between 200 and 400 pages.

This will keep your book in line with what most readers expect for books in general, and will help get your book traditionally published or help with marketing your self-published book.

How To Write a Short Autobiography

You write a short autobiography the same way that you write a long autobiography.

You simply leave more out of the story.

You cut everything down to the bones. Or you choose a slice of your life as you do in a memoir. This often means limiting the people in your book, reducing the events and experiences, and shrinking your story to a few pivotal moments in your life.

How To Start an Autobiography

The truth is that you can start your autobiography in any number of ways.

Here are four common ways to begin an autobiography.

  • Start at the beginning (of your life, career or relationship, etc.)
  • Start at a high moment of drama or interest.
  • Start at the end of the story and work backward
  • Start with why you wrote the book.

Good Autobiography Titles

If you are still stuck on titling your autobiography, consider going to Amazon to browse published works. You can even just Google “autobiographies.”

When you read the titles of 10, 20, or 50 other autobiographies, you will start to see patterns or get ideas for your own titles. (HINT: the title templates in the Autobiography Blueprint were reverse-engineered from popular published books.

Also, check out the titles of the full autobiography examples below that I have included right here in this article.

Types of Autobiographies

There are several different kinds of autobiographies.

Each one requires a similar but slightly nuanced approach to write effectively. The lessons in this article will serve as a great starting point.

Autobiography Types:

  • Autobiography for School
  • Autobiography Novel
  • Autobiography for a Job
  • Short Autobiography
  • Autobiography for Kids

Therefore, there is actually not just one way to write an autobiography.

Memoir vs. Autobiography: Are They The Same?

It’s common to feel confused about a memoir and an autobiography. I used to think they were the same thing.

But, nope, they’re not.

They are pretty similar, which is the reason for all the confusion. A memoir is the story of one part of your life. An autobiography is the story of your full life (up until now).

What Is the Difference Between an Autobiography and a Biography?

An autobiography is when you write about your own life. A biography, on the other hand, is when you write the story of someone else’s life.

So, if I write a book about the life of the President, that’s a biography.

If the President writes a story about his or her own life, that’s an autobiography.

What Not To Include In an Autobiography

Autobiographies are meant to be a snapshot of our lives that we can share with others, but there are some things that are best left out.

Here are three things you should avoid including in your autobiography:

1) Anything That Readers Will Skip

Your life may not be filled with non-stop excitement, but that doesn’t mean you need to include every mundane detail in your autobiography.

Stick to the highlights and leave out the low points.

2) Character Attacks on Others

It’s okay to discuss conflicts you’ve had with others, but don’t use your autobiography as a platform to attack someone’s character.

Keep it civil and focus on your own experiences and how they’ve affected you.

3) Skipping Highlights

Just because something embarrassing or painful happened to you doesn’t mean you should gloss over it in your autobiography.

These are the moments that shape us and make us who we are today, so don’t skip past them just because they’re uncomfortable.

By following these simple tips, you can ensure that your autobiography is interesting, honest, and engaging.

How To Write an Autobiography: Autobiography Examples

I have always found examples to be extremely instructive. Especially complete examples of finished products. In this case, books.

Below you will find examples of published autobiographies for adults and for kids. These examples will guide you, motivate you and inspire you to complete your own life story.

They are listed here as examples, not as endorsements, although I think they are all very good.

The point is that you don’t have to agree with anything written in the books to learn from them.

Autobiography Examples for Adults

  • A Promised Land (Autobiography of Barack Obama)
  • If You Ask Me: (And of Course You Won’t) (Betty White)
  • It’s a Long Story: My Life (Willie Nelson)
  • Stories I Only Tell My Friends: An Autobiography (Rob Lowe)
  • Becoming (Michelle Obama)

Autobiography Examples for Kids

  • This Kid Can Fly: It’s About Ability (NOT Disability) (Aaron Philips)
  • Bee Fearless: Dream Like a Kid (Mikaila Ulmer)

Final Thoughts: How To Write An Autobiography

Thank you for reading my article on How to Write an Autobiography.

Now that you know all of the secrets to write your book, you may want to get it published, market it, and continue to upskill yourself as an author.

In that case, read these posts next:

  • Can Anyone Write A Book And Get It Published?
  • The Best Writing Books For Beginners 2022 (My 10 Favorites)
  • Why Do Writers Hate Adverbs? (The Final Answer)
  • How To Write a Manifesto: 20 Ultimate Game-Changing Tips

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How To Write An Autobiography

Barbara P

Learn How to Write an Autobiography Step by Step

13 min read

Published on: Sep 6, 2019

Last updated on: Nov 22, 2023

How to Write an Autobiography

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Have you ever thought about capturing your life's adventures in an autobiography but felt lost at the starting line? 

Writing an autobiography can be a great way to preserve your memories, share lessons learned, and connect with future generations. Your story could inspire others, or simply entertain readers with tales of adventure and personal growth.

But the question is, how do you even start?

In this blog, you will get everything you need to know to start writing your autobiography. With practical tips and inspiring examples, you can craft a compelling, honest, and deeply personal story that truly captures the essence of who you are.

So let’s dive in!

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What is an Autobiography?

An autobiography is a form of non-fiction narrative writing where the writer presents his/her own life. The purpose of an autobiography is to provide a firsthand account of the events and experiences from the author’s life.

An autobiography is a powerful way to tell your own story and leave a lasting legacy. Whether you're writing for yourself or for others, it can be a rewarding experience that helps you make sense of your life.

The Benefits of Writing an Autobiography 

Writing an autobiography offers profound benefits. Let’s take a look at some benefits: 

  • Firstly, it serves as a therapeutic exercise , allowing individuals to reflect on their life journey. 
  • Secondly, it preserves personal history , creating a tangible legacy for future generations. 
  • Additionally, the process enhances communication skills , as authors articulate their experiences, emotions, and insights. Moreover, sharing one's story can inspire and resonate with others, fostering empathy and connection. 
  • Lastly, crafting an autobiography hones writing abilities , promoting a structured narrative and introspective thinking. 

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Types of Autobiographies 

There are four main literary forms of autobiography. Let’s examine them one by one: 

Type 1 of 4: Intellectual Autobiography

In this form, individuals focus on their intellectual development, detailing the evolution of their thoughts, ideas, and knowledge. 

Examples include "The Story of My Experiments with Truth" by Mahatma Gandhi, where he reflects on his philosophical and political journey.

Type 2 of 4: Religious/Spiritual Autobiography

Centered around faith and spirituality, these autobiographies delve into an individual's religious experiences and beliefs. 

"The Confessions" by Saint Augustine is a classic example, chronicling his spiritual transformation and journey towards Christianity.

Type 3 of 4: Thematic Autobiography

Thematic autobiographies revolve around a specific theme or aspect of the author's life. It could be their career, relationships, or a particular passion.  An example is "Eat, Pray, Love" by Elizabeth Gilbert, which explores her journey of self-discovery through travel, spirituality, and love.

Type 4 of 4: Fictional Autobiography

This unique form blends reality with imagination. Authors may use their lives as a foundation but embellish or alter details to create a fictionalized narrative. 

"Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit" by Jeanette Winterson is an example, of blending autobiography with elements of fiction to explore her upbringing and coming-of-age.

Each type offers a distinctive lens through which authors can share their stories, allowing for diverse and engaging autobiographical narratives.

How to Write an Autobiography?

Writing an autobiography can be tough, especially if you don’t know where to begin. 

But don’t worry! Here is a simple step-by-step process that you can follow to write your autobiography.

Step 1. Read Some Autobiographies

Before you start writing your own autobiography, it is a great idea to read some autobiographies written by other authors.

This will give you an understanding of what makes a good autobiography and help you find inspiration for your own story.

There are many great autobiographies you could choose from.

For instance, you could read autobiographies by Nelson Mandela, Malcolm X, Maya Angelou, and many other authors. 

Step 2. Note Down Significant Events From Your Life

Take some time to reflect on your life and write down a list of significant events. This is the brainstorming phase. 

Try to think of events that changed or affected you, both positively and negatively. Think about how these events connect to each other and led to the person you are today.

Step 3. Choose a Theme to Focus on

Once you have your list of significant events, it is time to choose a theme to focus on. This could be something like overcoming adversity, learning from your mistakes, or a special turning point. 

Choose a theme that resonates with you and reflects the journey that you have been through in life.

Step 4. Reflect About Yourself

When writing an autobiography, you should ask the right questions. It will help you set the direction of your autobiography. Here are a few ideas that will help you reflect:

  • What are your defining characteristics and qualities?
  • How did different events shape you as a person?
  • What challenges have you faced in your life, and how did you overcome them?
  • What impact did other people (friends, family, teachers, etc.) have on your life?
  • What are some of the most important lessons you’ve learned?
  • What are the values that have motivated you at different stages of your life?

Step 5. Create an Outline

Once you have brainstormed and reflected on yourself, it is time to create an outline for your autobiography. 

This will help organize your thoughts and make it easier for you to write. Your outline should include the major events from your life, relevant details about those events, and how they are connected. 

You can structure your outline chronologically or thematically. Outlining will make sure that the structure of your work is logical.

Step 6. Start Writing the First Draft

Once you have finished your outline, it is time to start writing. 

Start an autobiography by introducing yourself and the story that you are about to tell.  Then, move on to writing about the significant events in your life. 

Remember to keep it simple and focus on the theme that you have chosen for your autobiography.  You can do that by simply sticking to the outline. This will help you create a cohesive story.

Step 7. Proofread, Edit, and Revise Your Work

Once you are done with the first draft of your autobiography, set it aside for a few days. Then come back to it and read it with a fresh pair of eyes.

Look out for any errors in grammar, spelling, or punctuation. Also, check if you have included all the relevant details that you wanted to include in your autobiography. 

If necessary, make changes and add more details wherever needed. Remember that proofreading and editing is an important part of the writing process, so take your time.

Step 8. Get Feedback

Once you are done with the editing and revising, you should get professional feedback before you publish your work.

Share your autobiography with family and friends who can give you honest feedback. This will help make sure that the story is cohesive and interesting to read. 

By getting feedback from other people, you can make sure that your autobiography is the best it can be. 

Now you know the instructions to learn how to write an autobiography. Make sure you follow the correct autobiography format to get your ideas across in an organized way. 

Elements of Autobiography 

Here are the five essential elements that must be included in your autobiography:

  • Describing Your Origins:  An autobiography must include your personal origin story. For instance, where were you born, your family history, and how you grew up?
  • Describing Significant Experiences: Your autobiography should describe events and personal experiences that shaped your life. These are the moments that readers are actually interested in and get inspired by.
  • Reflection on Your Life Moments: Life is full of highs and lows. So reflect on important details and key events of your life. What life lessons have you learned? Which people and events shaped you as a person? Answering such questions can make your autobiography really valuable.
  • Catchy and Compelling Title: The title must be compelling enough to reflect the person’s memories or struggles. So, having generic or boring titles won't do the job.
  • First-Person Point-of-View: Autobiographies are written from a first-person narrative voice. Writing in the first person reinforces the fact that the writer is telling his/her own story.

Autobiographical Essay Structure

An autobiographical essay typically follows a chronological structure, guiding readers through key phases of the author's life.

Here is an autobiographical essay sample template:

Autobiography vs. Biography 

The major difference between a biography and an autobiography is that an autobiography is written by the subject themselves. Whereas, a biography is written by a third person.

Here are the key differences between autobiography vs. biography.

difference between autobiography and biography

If you are interested in detailed reading about the differences between autobiography and biography check out our autobiography vs. biography blog!

Autobiography vs. Memoir

While memoirs and autobiographies share some similarities, there are several key differences between the two.

For instance, writing a memoir focuses on a specific period, experience, or theme in the author's life. In contrast, an autobiography is a comprehensive account of a person's life story from birth to the present day. 

Below are some key differences between an autobiography and a memoir but if you want to learn in detail read our autobiography vs. memoir blog!

difference between autobiography and memoir

To understand and learn more about memoirs, check out this video:  

Autobiography Examples

Now that you know what an autobiography is, you might want to read some good ones. So here are some great autobiographies you can start with:

  • In Order To Live By Yeonmi Park (2015)
  • Permanent Record By Edward Snowden (2019)
  • Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela (1994)
  • The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965)
  • I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai (2013)

Let's take a look at some how to write an autobiography sample pdfs which can help you write captivating autobiographies:

How To Write An Autobiography Introduction

How To Write An Autobiography Essay Example

How To Write An Autobiography About Yourself Examples

How To Write An Autobiography About Someone Else

How To Write An Autobiography of Myself Example

How To Write a Student Autobiography

How To Write an Autobiography For College

How To Write an Autobiography For School

Tips For Crafting an Excellent Autobiography

Here are some tips and techniques that will make your autobiography truly inspiring:

  • Be Honest and Authentic: 

Your autobiography should be an honest reflection of your life experiences. So don't be afraid to be vulnerable and share personal details. Authenticity is key when it comes to writing a compelling autobiography.

  • Focus on Key Themes and Ideas: 

Instead of trying to include every single detail, focus on key themes and ideas that are important to you. This will help you create a more cohesive and structured autobiography.

  • Use Descriptive Language

To make your autobiography more engaging, use descriptive language that helps readers visualize your experiences. Use sensory details to describe the sights, sounds, and emotions of your memories.

  • Show, Don't Tell 

Instead of simply telling readers what happened, show them through specific examples and anecdotes. This will help bring your experiences to life and make them more relatable.

  • Use Dialogue

Including dialogue in your autobiography can make it feel more like a story and help readers connect with your experiences. Use dialogue to bring your characters to life and add depth to your writing.

  • Keep Your Audience in Mind

When writing your autobiography, consider who your target audience is and what they might be interested in reading about. This can help you tailor your writing to your readers and make your autobiography more relatable and engaging.

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Writing Techniques to Use in an Autobiography

Writing an autobiography requires a thoughtful approach to convey your life story in a compelling and engaging manner. Here are some writing techniques you can use:

  • Theme and Purpose: Clearly define the theme or purpose of your autobiography. What message or insight do you want to share with your readers? Understanding your purpose will help you structure your narrative.
  • Clear Narrative: Maintain a clear and coherent narrative throughout your autobiography. Ensure that each chapter or section contributes to the overall story, and transitions smoothly from one event or period to the next.
  • Chronological Order: Organize your life events in chronological order. This helps readers follow the natural progression of their lives and understand the cause-and-effect relationships between different events.
  • Humor and Wit: If appropriate, inject humor into your narrative. Life often includes funny or ironic moments, and adding a touch of humor can make your autobiography more engaging and relatable.
  • Symbolism and Metaphor: Use symbolism and metaphor to convey deeper meanings or themes. This can add layers to your storytelling and make your autobiography more thought-provoking.

By following these tips and techniques, you can craft an interesting autobiography that will attract and inspire your readers.

To conclude, 

Now you know what an autobiography is and how to write a perfect one. Writing your life story may not seem an easy task at first. But thinking and reflecting about the past will help you understand yourself better and write an amazing autobiography.   If it still sounds like a difficult task for you, don’t worry! 

MyPerfectWords.com is here to solve all your writing troubles. Get in touch with our online essay writing service and get your autobiography essay written by experts.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What does an autobiography look like.

Autobiography is about famous people. Like a biography, your autobiography should include information about when and where you were born, how you are like other people who live in the same place, what you like to do, and special events that have happened to you.

What should a short autobiography include?

A short autobiography should include the following points:

  • Your current job title
  • Your company name or personal brand statement
  • Your hometown
  • Your alma mater
  • Your personal and professional goals
  • A relevant achievement or accomplishment
  • Your hobbies

Is autobiography written in the first person?

An autobiography is a story about the author's life. It can be written in first-person, which means you can use "I" and "me." But most academic writing for college does not allow you to use I or me.

What are some autobiographical books?

Some popular autobiographical books are:

  • "The Diary of Anne Frank" by Anne Frank, 
  • “Long Walk To Freedom” by Nelson Mandela,
  • "Tuesdays with Morrie" by Mitch Albom,
  • “I Am Malala” by Malala Yousafzai, and 
  • "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" by Maya Angelou. 

Barbara P (Literature, Marketing)

Dr. Barbara is a highly experienced writer and author who holds a Ph.D. degree in public health from an Ivy League school. She has worked in the medical field for many years, conducting extensive research on various health topics. Her writing has been featured in several top-tier publications.

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  • Harvard Library
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Library Research Guide for the History of Science: Introduction

  • What is a Primary Source?
  • Senior Theses 2023
  • Background and Context/Biography
  • Exploring Your Topic
  • Using HOLLIS
  • What is a Secondary Source?

Page Contents

Knowing a primary source when you see one, kinds of primary sources, find primary sources in hollis, using digital libraries and collections online, using bibliographies.

  • Exploring the Special Collections at Harvard
  • Citing Sources & Organizing Research

Primary sources provide first-hand testimony or direct evidence concerning a topic under investigation. They are created by witnesses or recorders who experienced the events or conditions being documented.

Often these sources are created at the time when the events or conditions are occurring, but primary sources can also include autobiographies, memoirs, and oral histories recorded later.

Primary sources are characterized by their content, regardless of the format available. (Handwritten notes could be published; the published book might be digitized or put on microfilm, but those notes are still primary sources in any format).

Some types of primary sources:

  • Original documents (excerpts or translations acceptable): Diaries, speeches, manuscripts, letters, interviews, news film footage, contemporary newspaper articles, autobiographies, official records, pamphlets, meeting notes, photographs, contemporary sketches
  • Creative works : Poetry, drama, novels, music, art 
  • Relics or artifacts : Furniture, clothing, buildings

Examples of primary sources include:

  • A poster from the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters' 1962 strike
  • The papers of William James
  • A 1970 U.S. State Dept document updating Nixon on U.S.-Soviet space cooperation activities (Harvard login)
  • A British pamphlet: "Electric Lighting for Country Houses," 1898
  • Phineas Gage's skull
  • The text of J. Robert Oppenheimer's "Atomic Weapons" presentation to the American Philosophical Society

Outline of Primary Sources for History

Archives and Manuscripts

Archives and manuscripts are the unpublished records of persons (letters, notes, diaries, etc.) and organizations. What are Archives?   Usually each archival collection has a (short) catalog record and a detailed finding aid (which is often available online).

  • "Catalog record” refers to the kind of record found in library online catalogs, similar to those for books, although often a bit longer. Example of an Archive record .
  • “Finding aid” (sometimes called an inventory) generally refers to a list of the folder labels for the collection, accompanied by a brief collection overview (scope and contents note) and a biographical (or institutional) note on the creator of the collection.  Finding aids may be as long as needed given the size of the collection.  They vary considerably according to the practices of individual repositories. Example of a Finding aid .

To find  Archives and manuscripts  at Harvard, go to  HOLLIS Advanced search .  Search your keywords or Subject terms (see the  HOLLIS page of this guide ) in the Library Catalog, limiting to Resource Type: Archives/Manuscripts.  You can choose the library at the right (Search Scope).  Countway  Medicine has abundant medical archives, and Schlesinger has many archives of women activists, many in health and reproductive rights fields.    Sample search on Subject: Women health .

Library Research Guide for Finding Manuscripts and Archival Collections explains

  • How to find archives and manuscripts at Harvard
  • How to find archives and manuscripts elsewhere in US via search tools and via subject guides .
  • How to find archives and manuscripts in Europe and elsewhere.
  • Requesting digitization of archival material from Harvard and from other repositories .

For digitized archival material together with other kinds of primary sources:

  • Finding Primary Sources Online offers general instructions for finding primary sources online and a list of resources by region and country
  • Online Primary Source Collections for the History of Science lists digital collections at Harvard and beyond by topic.
  • Online Primary Source Collections for History lists digital collections at Harvard and beyond by topic.

Methods for finding books are described under the HOLLIS page  of this guide and in the Finding Primary Sources in HOLLIS box on this page. 

  • Book Reviews may give an indication as to how a scientific work was received. See:   Finding Book Reviews . 
  • Numerous, especially pre-1923 books (as well as periodicals and other sources) can be found and full text searched in several digital libraries (see box on this page).

Periodicals

Scientific articles :

Web of Science Citation Indexes (Harvard Login)  (1900- ) articles in all areas of science. Includes medical articles not in PubMed. You can use the Cited Reference search in the Web of Science to find primary source articles that cite a specified article, thus getting an idea of its reception. More information on the Web of Science .

PubMed (1946- ) covers, usually with abstracts, periodical articles on all areas of medicine. - --Be sure to look at the MeSH (Medical Subject Headings)  at the bottom of pertinent records. Very recent articles may not as yet received their MeSH terms.  So look at older records to find the MeSH terms, and use a variety of keywords as well as MeSH terms to find the new records. --​The MeSH terms are the same as the Medical Subject terms found in HOLLIS. --Hit Free article or Try Harvard Library, not the publisher's name to see full text

JSTOR (Harvard Login)  offers full-text of complete runs (up to about 5 years ago) of over 400 journals. JSTOR allows simultaneous or individual searching, full-text searching optional, numerous journals in a variety of fields of science and medicine. See the list at the bottom of the Advanced search screen. JSTOR searches the "Notes and News" sections of journals ( Science is especially rich in this material). In Advanced Search choose Item Type: Miscellaneous to limit largely to "Notes and News".

PsycINFO) (Harvard Login)  (1872- ) indexes the professional and academic literature in psychology and related disciplines

Many more scientific periodical indexes are listed in the Library Research Guide for the History of Science .

General interest magazines and periodicals see:

American Periodicals Series Online (Harvard Login)  (1740-1900) offers full text of about 1100 American periodicals. Includes several scientific and medical journals including the American Journal of Science and the Medical Repository. In cases where a periodical started before 1900, coverage is included until 1940.

British Periodicals (Harvard Login)  (1681-1920) offers full text for several hundred British periodicals.

Ethnic NewsWatch (Harvard Login)  (1959- ) is a full text database of the newspapers, magazines, and journals of the ethnic, minority and native press.

Periodicals Index Online (Harvard Login)  indexes contents of thousands of US and European journals in the humanities and social sciences, from their first issues to 1995.

Reader's Guide Retrospective (WilsonWeb) (Harvard Login)  (1890-1982)  indexes many American popular periodicals.

Many more general periodical indexes are listed in Finding Articles in General and Popular Periodicals (North America and Western Europe) .

Articles in non-science fields (religion, public policy): see the list in the Library Research Guide for History .

Professional/Trade : Aimed at particular trades or professions.  See the Library Research Guide for History

Newspaper articles : see the Guide to Newspapers and Newspaper Indexes .

Personal accounts . These are first person narratives recalling or describing a person’s life and opinions. These include Diaries, memoirs, autobiographies, and when delivered orally and recorded: Oral histories and Interviews.

National Library of Medicine Oral Histories

Regulatory Oral History Hub  (Kenan Institute for Ethics, Duke University) offers links to digital collections containing interviews with regulators, lawyers, and judges. Mainly U.S.

Visual sources :

Records for many, but by no means all, individual Harvard University Library images are available in  HOLLIS Images , an online catalog of images. Records include subjects and a thumbnail image.  HOLLIS Images is included in HOLLIS  searches.

Science & Society Picture Library offers over 50,000 images from the Science Museum (London), the National Museum of Photography, Film & Television and the National Railway Museum.

Database of Scientific Illustrators  (DSI) includes over 12500 illustrators in natural history, medicine, technology and various sciences worldwide, c.1450-1950. Living illustrators excluded. 

NYPL Digital Gallery Pictures of Science: 700 Years of Scientific and Medical Illustration

Images from the History of Medicine (IHM) includes prints and photographs from the U.S. National Library of Medicine. (The IHM is contained within a larger NLM image database, so this link goes to a specialized search).

Images From the History of the Public Health Service: a Photographic Exhibit .

Wellcome Images

Films/Videos

To find films in  HOLLIS , search your topic keywords, then on the right side of the results screen, look at Resource Type and choose video/film.

To find books about films about your topic, search your topic keywords AND "in motion pictures" ​  (in "")

​Film Platform  offers numerous documentary films on a wide variety of subjects.  There are collections on several topics. Searches can be filtered by topic, country of production, and language. 

A list of general sources for images and film is available in the Library Research Guide for History and additional sources for the history of science in Library Research Guide for the History of Science .

Government documents often concern matters of science and health policy.  For Congressional documents, especially committee reports, see ProQuest Congressional (Harvard Login ). 

HathiTrust Digital Library . Each full text item is linked to a standard library catalog record, thus providing good metadata and subject terms. The catalog can be searched separately.  Many government documents are full text viewable.  Search US government department as Author.

More sources are listed in the Library Research Guide for History

For artifacts and other objects , the Historic Scientific Instruments Collection in the Science Center includes over 15,000 instruments, often with contemporary documentation, from 1450 through the 20th century worldwide.

Waywiser, online database of the Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments .

Warren Anatomical Museum of the Center for the History of Medicine in the Countway Library of Medicine has a rich collection of medical artifacts and specimens.

Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology

Fall 2020: these collections are closed during the pandemic. Check out their links above to see what they have available online.

Primary Source Terms :

You can limit HOLLIS  searches to your time period, but sources may be published later, such as a person's diary published posthumously. Find these with these special Subject terms.

You can use the following terms to search HOLLIS for primary sources:

  • Correspondence
  • Description and travel
  • Manuscripts
  • Notebooks, sketchbooks, etc.
  • Personal narratives (refers to accounts of wars and diseases only)
  • Pictorial works
  • Sources (usually refers to collections of published primary sources)

Include these terms with your topical words in HOLLIS searches. For example: tuberculosis personal narratives

Online Primary Source Collections for the History of Science lists digital collections at Harvard and beyond by topic

Google Book Search, HathiTrust Digital Library and Internet Archives offer books and periodicals digitized from numerous libraries.  Only out-of-copyright, generally post-1923, books are fully viewable.  Each of these three digital libraries allows searching full text over their entire collections.

Google Book Search

HathiTrust Digital Library . Each full text item is linked to a standard library catalog record, thus providing good metadata and subject terms. The catalog can be searched separately.  Many post-1923 out-of-copyright books, especially government documents, are full text viewable. You can search within copyright books to see what page your search term is on.

Internet Archive now offers a beta full text search. Put your terms (phrases or personal names, in quotation marks (""), work best) in the search box. 

The Online Books Page arranges electronic texts by Library of Congress call numbers and is searchable (but not full text searchable).  Includes books not in Google Books, HathiTrust, or Internet Archive. Has many other useful features.

Medical Heritage Library . Information about the Medical Heritage Library. Now searchable full text.

UK Medical Heritage Library

Biodiversity Heritage Library

Contagion: Historical Views of Diseases and Epidemics (1493-1922) provides digitized historical, manuscript, and image resources selected from Harvard University libraries and archives.

Expeditions and Discoveries (1626-1953) features nine expeditions in anthropology and archaeology, astronomy, botany, and oceanography in which Harvard University played a significant role. Includes manuscripts and records, published materials, visual works, and maps from 14 Harvard repositories.

Defining Gender Online: Five Centuries of Advice Literature for Men and Women (1450-1910).

Twentieth Century Advice Literature: North American Guides on Race, Sex, Gender, and the Family.

Many more general History digital libraries and collections: Library Research Guide for History

More History of Science digital libraries: Library Research Guide for the History of Science .

There may already be a detailed list of sources (a bibliography) for your topic.

For instance:

A bibliography of eugenics , by Samuel J. Holmes ... Berkeley, Calif., University of California press, 1924, 514 p. ( University of California publications in zoology . vol. XXV)  Full text online .

Look for specialized subject bibliographies in HOLLIS Catalog . Example .   WorldCat can do similar searches in the Subject Keyword field for non-Harvard holdings.

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Primary Sources - An Introductory Guide

What is a primary source.

  • Primary Sources at Seton Hall University Libraries
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  • Writing & Citing

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Where are Primary Sources?

Primary sources can be found in many different places, but the most common places to find them are libraries, archives, museums, and in the case of digitized primary sources, online databases.

Libraries carry many primary sources, especially newspapers (often on microfilm or in a database), memoirs, autobiographies, maps, audio and video materials, and published collections of letters, diaries, and interviews. Many of these can be found using the library's catalog. Many library materials can be borrowed.

Archives are collections of materials, often rare or unique, generated or created by individuals or organizations, that are of historical value and which are kept and preserved for the use of current and future communities. Many archives are located within libraries or museums, and are usually dedicated to a particular organization, geographic area, subject, or some combination of these. Materials that are collected by archives are often collections of papers, manuscripts, photographs, maps, drawings, sound or video records, objects, and many other formats, many of which are primary sources.

Museums collect, preserve, and display objects of historical or cultural significance. Primary sources found in museums include artifacts, art, maps, tablets, sound and video recordings, furniture, and realia.

Databases of primary sources often include sigitized or scanned primary sources that are related by subject, time period, or institutions that maintain the original sources. Several primary source databases can be found via the SHU Libraries website.

A primary source is a first-hand or contemporary account of an event or topic.

Primary sources are the most direct evidence of a time or event because they were created by people or things that were there at the time or event. These sources offer original thought and have not been modified by interpretation. Primary sources are original materials, regardless of format.

Examples of Primary Sources

  • photographs
  • sound and video recordings
  • oral histories
  • newspaper articles
  • journal articles
  • research studies
  • autobiographies

Primary sources may be transformed from their original format into a newer one, such as when materials are published or digitized, but the contents are still primary. There are many primary sources available online today, but many more are still available in their original format, in archives, museums, libraries, historical sites, and elsewhere.

What is Not a Primary Source?

Secondary sources.

Secondary sources usually use primary sources and offer interpretation, analysis, or commentary. These resources often present primary source information with the addition of hindsight or historical perspective. Common examples include criticisms, histories, and magazine, journal, or newspaper articles written after the fact. Some secondary sources may also be considered primary or tertiary sources - the definition of this term is not set in stone.

Tertiary Sources

Tertiary sources are further developments of secondary sources, often summaries of information found in primary and secondary sources and collecting many sources together. Some examples of tertiary sources are encyclopedias and textbooks. Again, this term is not set in stone - some sources may be both secondary and tertiary.

Additional Primary & Secondary Source Sites

  • What Makes A Primary Source A Primary Source - Library of Congress Teaching With The Library of Congress Informational Site.
  • Primary Sources: A Research Guide - University of Massachusetts-Boston Description and examples of Primary vs. Secondary Sources
  • What Is A Secondary Source? - Harvard University This guide serves as an introductory-level companion to the Harvard University Library Research Guide for the History of Science
  • Primary Sources - Society of American Archivists Founded in 1936, the Society of American Archivists is North America's oldest and largest national professional association dedicated to the needs and interests of archives and archivists. SAA represents more than 6,200 professional archivists employed by governments, universities, businesses, libraries, and historical organizations nationally.

Find out more!

There are many good explanations and discussions of primary sources and how to use them. For more information, check out these sites:

Primary sources at Yale: What are primary sources?

ArchivesHub: Using Archives

University of Maryland Guide to Primary Sources

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How to Write an Autobiography With Step-By-Step Guide and Tips

22 December 2023

last updated

An autobiography contains personal knowledge that dwells upon a unique life experience that impacted the writer’s personality or perspective. Basically, autobiographers identify exciting topics that relate to human lives. Also, autobiographies serve different purposes, like college assignments or applications, and sharing human life experiences. In this case, great autobiographers brainstorm to develop the life story topic and gather adequate evidence to prepare the essay. Then, the writing process involves developing an outline that contains a working thesis. Besides, writers prepare drafts of an autobiography by using the framework and make necessary revisions to enhance their work’s overall quality. In practice, outstanding writers rely on peer review to identify possible errors that may lower the autobiography’s quality. Moreover, compelling autobiographies must contain adequate details and supporting evidence that helps readers create imagery of the activity described. Hence, people need to learn how to write an autobiography to provide good papers.

General Aspects of Writing an Autobiography Essay

Autobiographies refer to papers based on personal knowledge, which dwell upon a unique life experience that significantly impacted the writer’s personality or perspective. Basically, an autobiography is different from a biography since an individual gives his or her account. In this case, scholars write autobiographies for various reasons, like college assignments or applications, and sharing their own life experiences. Moreover, writing autobiographies requires adequate skills and planning. In turn, one must select an interesting topic and provide clear and accurate explanations. However, these factors make the process of creating autobiographies complicated when compared to other college essays.

How to write an autobiography

Structure of an Autobiography

Practical autobiographies must follow a precise structure that contains the title, introduction, body, and conclusion. Firstly, the title should be short and correct, while the opening paragraph should offer the main points and should create a set of the events discussed. In some other cases, one can state the main issues directly. Then, a good idea is where writers use a non-chronological order when describing specific functions to make the narrative thought-provoking. Besides, using transitional words enhances the overall flow of the narrative. In turn, the conclusion developed should sum up the main issues discussed in the body. Hence, the unique structure of an autobiography enhances the communication of intended ideas.

Definition of an Autobiography

An autobiography refers to a narrative of an individual’s life story. For instance, an autobiography is a personal essay that offers an individual’s unique and felt experience as a written by that person. Basically, this description distinguishes autobiographies from other scholarly articles and biographies. Statesmen, politicians, writers, artists, and celebrities are ordinary people who write autobiographies. However, any person can give an account that encompasses memoirs, testimonials, historical and eye-witness accounts, and other important life events. Hence, autobiographies may contain different topics that interest writers.

Academic Standards

Practical autobiographies should have to meet specific academic standards to achieve higher grades. For instance, one should include catchy titles, an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion. Basically, these sections allow a scholar to develop a clear argument and present thoughts that reveal a sympathetic main character. Moreover, readers expect autobiographies to have a vivid depiction of scenes, emotional tension, a sense of conflict, and a satisfying ending. As a result, these elements enhance the quality of an autobiography and lead to higher outcomes.   

Step-by-Step Guide on Writing an Autobiography

Step 1: definition of a topic.

Writers should take the necessary preparation steps before writing autobiography essays. Basically, the first preparation step is the definition of a topic. In this case, one should brainstorm for possible ideas that can lead to a new issue. Besides, this phase allows writers to recall the events that they intend to use in the essay. In turn, the topic should contain catchy words that attract the reader’s attention.

Step 2: Making Notes on the Topic

The second step in preparation involves making notes on the topic identified. For instance, one should write down all the main ideas related to the problem. This step relies on brainstorming to recall concepts about the life experiences discussed in the topic. The writer should identify the most relevant details that relate to the life-changing event. Besides, one should group related ideas. Therefore, one must make adequate notes that relate to the autobiography’s topic.

Step 3: Defining the Target Audience

Thirdly, one should consider the target audience’s needs. In particular, prudent writers take time to consider the nature of the intended audience. Basically, the step involves reviewing the level of knowledge and life experiences. Also, autobiographies prepared for college admission or testing should have a standard grammar that meets academic expectations. Then, essays prepared for the general public should contain simple language that readers with different goals can understand. In turn, outstanding autobiographies include events that interest the target audience. Besides, having adequate background information about intended readers allows autobiographers to structure essays to meet their needs. Therefore, quality autobiography essays satisfy the requirements of the target audience.  

Step 4: Seting Up the Stage

The step in setting up the stage for an autobiography is finding sources of information. For example, autobiographies should contain compelling and accurate details and evidence. In this case, writers should find reliable sources that can support the main arguments presented in essays. Moreover, some of the places that one should consider for findings sources include the college library and the Internet. However, autobiographers must consider using evidence from credible sources . In turn, peer-reviewed journal articles, published books, and scientific reports are reliable sources that one should find. Hence, an autobiographer should consider gathering adequate evidence from credible sources to support the essay’s significant arguments.

Step 5: Taking Notes from Sources

The step for writing an autobiography involves taking notes. For example, writers should gather relevant details from the sources identified. In this case, the information identified must relate to the topic developed early. Besides, such sources should support life-changing events considered by autobiographers. Then, one should write down shorts notes and identify correct bibliographic details of sources. In turn, prudent writers revise records to ensure that they remain relevant to the topic. Moreover, the review process helps organize related ideas, select the most compelling arguments, and identify gaps in the evidence. Hence, right notes play a crucial role in promoting the quality of an autobiography essay.

Step 6: Creating an Outline

An autobiographer should use recorded notes to create an outline for the essay. In practice, the essay outline provides the overall structure of the actual piece. Basically, writers should include a brief introduction, a working thesis statement , and main points in the body section. In turn, compelling outlines contain a conclusion that restates the thesis and summarizes the main points. Then, the rough essay structure provides a clear picture of the intended essay. Moreover, autobiographers should include all the relevant details that relate to the topic. Therefore, writers should use the gathered evidence to prepare autobiography’s outline.  

Step 7: Writing an Annotated Bibliography

Prudent autobiographers create an annotated bibliography by using the sources identified. For example, an annotated bibliography’s primary goal is to summarize the main points from scholarly sources and determine their significance to the topic. Besides, autobiographers state how each source will contribute to writing the essay. In particular, this step plays a crucial role in ensuring that authors have adequate background information about the topic. Therefore, autobiographers should create an annotated bibliography of all the scholarly sources identified during the researching stage.

Step 8: Preparing to Writing

Setting up the stage for writing an autobiography is crucial in ensuring that writers organize ideas used for writing. In this case, prudent writers take full advantage of this step to ensure that they develop a clear outline that reveals the flow of significant ideas and concepts. Also, one should make necessary revisions to ensure that intended essays meet the required criteria. In turn, this step provides an opportunity to fill the possible knowledge gaps identified in the outline. Hence, adequate preparation leads to the actual writing stage, which makes preparing the final essay easier.  

Step 9: Writing

The writing process begins with creating a draft of an autobiography essay. Basically, writers prepare an actual autobiography essay, which includes all the sections. In this case, the strategy’s primary goal is to ensure that one organizes all the ideas into a complete paper. Moreover, the procedure helps to identify all the opinions that enhance the essays’ overall flow. In turn, writers should not mind spelling mistakes and other grammatical errors at this stage. Therefore, one should begin the writing process by preparing the first draft of an autobiographical essay.

Step 10: Consolidating Evidence

Autobiographers should consolidate the evidence gathered earlier to prepare the draft. For instance, one should consider using all the facts presented in the outline. In this case, valid selections should include necessary citations. Moreover, one must use accurate and relevant supporting evidence throughout the body of the essay. In turn, combining all the facts and arguments to a draft allows one to determine the flow of ideas. Therefore, writers must consolidate all the points and pieces of evidence in the selection by following the outline.

Step 11: Revising the Sources

The next step in the writing process involves revising the sources. For example, some sources may fail to provide strong evidence of arguments presented in the draft. In this case, autobiographers must consider reviewing such sources to ensure that papers contain compelling evidence. Then, prudent writers find new references to replace old ones that fail to suit the readers’ needs. Besides, one should not use sources that exceed five years from the date of publication. In turn, recent sources contain valuable and up-to-date information relating to a specific topic. However, one should consider only credible sources of evidence where necessary. Therefore, one should consider reviewing the sources and their relevance in supporting the main arguments presented when writing an autobiographical essay.

Step 12: Altering the Outline

The next step in the writing process involves altering the outline of an autobiographical essay. For instance, writers read through their papers several times to ensure that it meets assigned requirements. In this case, autobiographers should alter outlines to capture changes made in first drafts. Basically, the process may involve adding some points and eliminating those that appear irrelevant. Then, one must consider some of the essential factors that should include the flow and clarity of ideas presented in the draft. In turn, revised outlines should ensure that facts presented follow an order that excites the audience. Therefore, one should use the draft essay to review and modify the framework of an autobiography essay.

Step 13: Revising a Thesis

Prudent writers consider revising the working thesis of an autobiography essay. For instance, a working thesis should entail a summary of the facts presented in the piece. In most cases, scholars add essential ideas in body paragraphs when writing. Basically, the failure to revise the thesis statement makes the essay vague as a reader may fail to experience a good flow of ideas when reading through the article. In turn, autobiographers should read through the piece to grasp the main concepts and revise the central argument to ensure its clarity. Also, one of the best strategies to rewrite the thesis statement is through peer reading. In this case, scholars should give a different person the draft essay to read and make constructive criticism, which can improve the thesis statement. Therefore, autobiographers should revise central arguments to ensure that it captures all the main ideas.

Step 14: Rechecking the Quality

Autobiographers should take the writing stage seriously since it determines the quality of the overall essay. Basically, the most outstanding autobiographers prepare more than one draft. In each step, they revise all the elements to enhance the overall quality of the piece. Besides, scholars focus on the structure of paragraphs and sentences. Therefore, one must consider making several revisions to improve the overall quality of an autobiography essay.

Step 15: Wrapping it Up

The next step involves revising initial drafts to develop final essays. For example, autobiographers should consider changing compositions thoroughly to eliminate all possible flaws. At this stage, one should focus on reducing grammatical errors and the clarity of sentences. In turn, outstanding essays have minimal spelling errors and wrong tenses. Therefore, one must concentrate on revising an autobiography essay to ensure that it meets the required perfection level.

Step 16: Editing

Autobiographers should edit autobiographical essays to ensure that it meets the structural requirements. Basically, different colleges have varying needs when writing essays. In this case, writers must ensure that final papers meet the requirements. Then, some of the elements that one must consider include spacing, page margins, title page, numbering, and sources. Moreover, prudent biographers access the college requirements in advance and ensure that their works meet set criteria. Hence, the following are other factors that a scholar should consider when editing an autobiography essay.

  • Topic sentence – Each paragraph must begin with a topic sentence that relates to the thesis statement.
  • Evidence – Each paragraph should contain relevant evidence to support the topic sentence. In this case, autobiographers should consider using real-life cases in each section. Besides, one must provide adequate explanations to ensure that the audience understands the intended meaning in the narrative.
  • Concluding sentence – Each paragraph should end with a sentence that summarizes the main points discussed. In practice, the last sentence contains a transition that links it to the next section.
  • Peer-reviewing – Prudent scholars identify peers who can critique final drafts. In this case, writers must rely on feedback from several peers to make final revisions. However, one must determine if critiques remain relevant to the topic before making final adjustments.
  • Reviewing of the thesis statement – The thesis statement should be the last item that an autobiographer must revise. Basically, this strategy resembles the previous stage in preparing the draft. In this case, one should ensure that the thesis statement remains clear and relates to all the body paragraphs.

Techniques for Writing a Better Autobiography

Autobiographies play an essential role in informing the audience of more information about individuals. Hence, one should follow the following tips when writing different types of autobiographies.

1. Getting the Necessary Motivation

Great autobiographers rely on their motivation to create outstanding essays. For instance, one must select an interesting topic to write an autobiography. Hence, internal motivation allows writers to generate more ideas about the issue. 

2. Developing a Core Concept

Successful autobiographers have a central idea that unifies the overall narrative. In this case, one must consider some of the fundamental concepts that should include persevering love, faith during the challenging times, and strategies that led to success, among other inspiring themes. Moreover, writers should determine one reoccurring theme, which can weave continuity and interest throughout the essay.

3. Recalling Interesting Memories

One should think about different exciting periods in their lives when writing autobiographies. For instance, successful autobiographers focus on unleashing essential memories that may appear unique to the target audience. In some other cases, such memories should allow readers to discover new meanings in their lives.

4. Using Writing Tools

Successful autobiographers should use writing available writing tools to prepare their essays. For instance, some of the useful tools include books that provide a step-by-step guide on how to write outstanding autobiographies. As a result, essay guides allow writers to follow various steps in completing areas that remain unclear.

5. Maintaining Clarity

Great autobiographers ensure that their work has an impressive flow. For instance, one should read written parts loudly to identify awkward phrasing or wordy sentences. Throughout the writing process, scholars should use this strategy to ensure that the entire works have a unique flow of concepts.

6. Showing the Audience

The primary goal of an autobiography is to show the audience as opposed to telling them. Basically, outstanding autobiographies contain vivid explanations of various concepts. In this case, one should use figurative language and similes, among other tools, to create imagery throughout the narrative. Moreover, precise and accurate facts play an essential role in ensuring that readers understand intended messages. Hence, autobiographers should focus on showing how certain events impacted individuals’ lives.

Possible Mistakes and Solutions when Writing an Autobiography Essay

Students make mistakes when writing autobiographies, which makes them score poor grades. The following are the common flaws that people make when preparing their essays.

  • Failing to prepare in advance – Autobiographies are complex papers when compared to ordinary essays. Basically, failing to make in advance may lower the overall quality of papers. In this case, learners should take adequate time to prepare for their writing process.
  • Vagueness – Most students focus on many ideas in their autobiography essays, which make their work vague. Hence, one must focus on a single topic throughout an autobiography.
  • Inadequate evidence – Most students do not consider the use of external evidence when writing their autobiographies. From a practical perspective, autobiographies require adequate scholarly evidence to support the main arguments. In turn, one should gather enough information concerning the topic before starting the actual writing process.

Example of Writing an Autobiography with a Simple Outline

I. introduction.

My name is Michael Jones, and I was born on the 28 th of July, 1995, in Long Beach, California. In particular, my parents were Eddie Jones and Juliet Jones. My mother passed on in 2015 at the age of 57 from lung cancers, which resulted from her regular smoking habits. My father passed on in 2018 at 60 from multiple organ failure caused by excessive smoking and alcohol consumption. Although I grew up in a family that used abused drugs heavily, I have managed to restrict myself from such unhealthy behaviors.

II. Body Paragraphs

A. background information.

I was exposed to smoking and drinking at a young age in my family. Uncontrolled smoking and drinking forced my parents to divorce in 2015 when I was ten years of age. I opted to live with my mother since she was caring and less violent. My father remarried and lived with my stepmother until his death. My mother’s smoking habits intensified as she tried to cope with the stress caused by the divorce. I lived with her until the doctor diagnosed her with cancer, and she passed shortly after. Watching my mother suffering due to the terminal condition stressed me to the extent that I considered engaging in drugs.

B. Describing an Issue

I experienced chronic levels of stress as I took care of my mother. I some instances, I felt that taking hard drugs like cocaine was a suitable way of dealing with the challenges. However, I managed to contain the strong urge to take drugs. I felt that I have a bright future that required me to take serious steps in my life. Through the intervention from a non-governmental organization, I managed to attend high school, where I passed my examinations well. Hence, developing a healthy self-control level enabled me to cope with the temptation of engaging in drugs.

III. Conclusion

In summary, I grew up in a family where smoking and drinking alcohol was the norm. My parents were alcohol and cigarette addicts. Their irresponsible behaviors with the drugs caused them to have chronic illnesses. Their actions caused me to develop constant levels of stress, which increased the urge to use drugs. However, I managed to control my feelings and focus on making my life better.

Summing Up on How to Write a Good Autobiography Essay

Autobiographies are essays that contain personal knowledge, which dwells upon a unique life experience that impacted the writer’s personality or perspective. Basically, autobiographers identify exciting topics that relate to their lives. Moreover, scholars write autobiographies for different reasons, like college assignments, and applications, and sharing their own life experiences. In practice, outstanding autobiographers consider the following concepts:

  • Brainstorm to develop the autobiography topic.
  • Gather adequate evidence to prepare the essay.
  • Develop an outline that contains a working thesis.
  • Make the draft of an autobiography by using the outline.
  • Revise the draft of an autobiography with the outline.
  • Edit the draft of an autobiography to obtain a final version.
  • Rely on peer review to identify possible errors that may lower the quality of an autobiography.
  • Focus on a single life event throughout the essay.
  • Give adequate details and supporting evidence that helps readers to create an imagery of the event described.

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  1. How to Write an Autobiography

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  2. 40 Autobiography Examples ( + Autobiographical Essay Templates)

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  3. Writing An Autobiography by The Wisest Owl

    how to write autobiography using primary sources

  4. 40 Autobiography Examples ( + Autobiographical Essay Templates)

    how to write autobiography using primary sources

  5. 40 Autobiography Examples ( + Autobiographical Essay Templates)

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  6. How to Write a Biography: Biographers use primary and secondary sources

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  2. Anandi Gopal An Autobiography !! Class 8 !! English !! Question & Answers by Akasmika !!

  3. Autobiography in English Literature

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  5. Lincke E127, Final Work: Using Autobiography to Tell a Story with a Theme (CSLO 1)

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COMMENTS

  1. Autobiography

    Primary Sources - An Introductory Guide This site outlines what constitutes a prime research resource. The information presented here is designed to illustrate details on the value of finding and utilizing unique historical materials.

  2. Autobiography Definition, Examples, and Writing Guide

    Written by MasterClass Last updated: Aug 26, 2022 • 6 min read As a firsthand account of the author's own life, an autobiography offers readers an unmatched level of intimacy. Learn how to write your first autobiography with examples from MasterClass instructors.

  3. Is an autobiography a primary source?

    Even though autobiographies are usually written after these events happened, they are still categorized as primary sources given the first-hand information, like letters or photographs, they provide. ️ What is a primary source? ️ What is a secondary source? ️ Is a letter a primary source? Organize your papers in one place. Try Paperpile.

  4. Writing an Autobiography

    Biographical writers usually use primary sources like texts, documents, interviews, and pictures to construct the biography.

  5. Primary Sources

    Shapell Manuscript Foundation "The Shapell Manuscript Foundation has an extensive collection of primary sources, such as letters, documents, photographs, and other artifacts. [They] specialize in manuscripts relating to American History, including the Civil War, American Presidents, etc." Smithsonian Collections

  6. How to Write an Autobiography in 31 Steps

    1. What is an Autobiography? So you want to know how to write an autobiography? First off, let's start with what an autobiography is. Put simply, a biography is a book written about someone's life. It includes all elements of their life, particularly featuring any significant events that took place.

  7. How to Write an Autobiography? Student's Example

    How to Write an Autobiography: Format + Writing Tips Written by Daniel Pn. February 5, 2023 11 min read Share the article The world is eager to hear your story, which is one that deserves to be told. The options are unlimited when you have a blank sheet and a pen in your hand.

  8. Autobiography

    Autobiographies are stories that people write about themselves. These stories can be factual accounts of significant, unusual, or dramatic events. They can be remembrances of famous or interesting people. And sometimes, when people slip from fact into fiction, they can be fictional stories, what some writers call "faction.".

  9. Autobiography: A Very Short Introduction

    The term 'autobiography' (coined at the close of the 18th century) breaks down into its component parts—'auto' (self), 'bios' (life), 'graphein' (writing). The element of writing or text is inscribed in the term itself. Language, as well as the workings of memory, shapes the past. The neologism autobiography has been followed ...

  10. How to write an Autobiography

    Someone who makes them feel comfortable in their skin when they are around. Students should write like they're writing to that person to who they can confide their deepest secrets. This will give their writing an honest and intimate tone that is very engaging for the reader. 2. Read the writing out loud.

  11. Is a Biography a Primary Source? Details Every Author Should Know

    A primary source is a first-person account (e.g., direct quote, diary entry) or the original source of information (e.g., a research organization that creates original data for an industry.). A secondary source is a third-party account where the person or company sharing the information, got it from somewhere else.

  12. How to Write an Autobiography: A Step-by-Step Guide

    Start by brainstorming and outlining your life story, including significant events and turning points. Set out writing an autobiography through introspection about notable moments in existence. Craft a catalogue of instances that molded the personage inherent within and ponder how they influenced thinking processes as well as behavioural patterns.

  13. Primary Sources

    Primary sources enable the researcher to get as close as possible to the truth of what actually happened during an historical event or time period. Primary source is a term used in a number of disciplines to describe source material that is closest to the person, information, period, or idea being studied. A primary source (also called original ...

  14. What Is an Autobiography? (And How to Write Yours)

    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.

  15. Primary vs. Secondary Sources

    When you do research, you have to gather information and evidence from a variety of sources. Primary sources provide raw information and first-hand evidence. Examples include interview transcripts, statistical data, and works of art. Primary research gives you direct access to the subject of your research. Secondary sources provide second-hand ...

  16. 5 Ways to Write an Autobiography

    1 Write out your life timeline. Start writing your autobiography by conducting research on your own life. Creating a timeline of your life is a good way to make sure you include all the most important dates and events, and it gives you a structure to build upon.

  17. 2.3: Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Sources

    A secondary source usually interprets a primary source. They can include books (such as biographies) and many periodicals. A novel or film ( The Great Gatsby or Star Wars) or any other work of art is a primary source; a review of the film or a book analyzing or commenting on the novel is a secondary source. Table 2.3.1 2.3. 1.

  18. How To Write an Autobiography 2024 (Tips, Templates, & Guide)

    Here's how to write an autobiography: Write an autobiography by creating a list of the most important moments, people, and places in your life. Gather photos, videos, letters, and notes about these experiences. Then, use an outline, templates, sentence starters, and questions to help you write your autobiography.

  19. How to Write an Autobiography

    Blog > How To Write An Autobiography Written by Barbara P Learn How to Write an Autobiography Step by Step 13 min read Published on: Sep 6, 2019 Last updated on: Nov 22, 2023 Have you ever thought about capturing your life's adventures in an autobiography but felt lost at the starting line?

  20. What is a Primary Source?

    Primary Source Terms:. You can limit HOLLIS searches to your time period, but sources may be published later, such as a person's diary published posthumously. Find these with these special Subject terms. You can use the following terms to search HOLLIS for primary sources:. Archives; Correspondence

  21. Primary Sources

    Secondary Sources. Secondary sources usually use primary sources and offer interpretation, analysis, or commentary. These resources often present primary source information with the addition of hindsight or historical perspective. Common examples include criticisms, histories, and magazine, journal, or newspaper articles written after the fact.

  22. How to Write an Autobiography With Step-By-Step Guide and Tips

    Firstly, the title should be short and correct, while the opening paragraph should offer the main points and should create a set of the events discussed. In some other cases, one can state the main issues directly.

  23. Primary Sources: Definition and Examples

    Here's a quick list of some common types of primary sources: Photograph and video records. Archaeological artifacts. Data from scientific studies. Artworks (paintings, poems, sculptures, etc.) Live recordings of speeches, music, and other performances. Correspondence letters. Diaries, memoirs, and autobiographies.

  24. What records are exempted from FERPA?

    Records which are kept in the sole possession of the maker of the records, are used only as a personal memory aid, and are not accessible or revealed to any other person except a temporary substitute for the maker of the records.