Biographical Writing

Be a biographer! Learn to write a biography, family history, biograhical novel, write a biographical magazine article or even an obituary. Great online course - learn from dedicated and enthusiastic tutors.

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

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Learn the importance of research and research techniques


Learn about different types of research, where to start gathering information, and how to apply the art of fiction to the craft of a biography. In the final lesson, you'll write a 2000 - 4000 word biography and receive individual feedback from our academic staff. 

Biographical writing can be large-scale, and cover a person's whole life, or it can be small scale, and cover only a short period, from a week to a few years. Sometimes the subject's life is the entire focus. Other times, it's his or her work, or their life in the context of a particular philosophy or achievement.

A biography is neither a diary nor a journal. It's more than a collection of ‘she did this’ and ‘he did that’. Although biographies are writing about life, it's more useful to think of them as a collection of writings about life events. What are the key events? How do these tie around a central theme or purpose?

Lesson Structure

There are 8 lessons in this course:

  1. Scope and Nature of Biographical Writing
    • The difference between a biography and autobiography
    • Unauthorised biographies
    • Using ghost writers in biographies
    • Choosing your subject
    • Biography vs. Memoir
  2. Researching a Biography
    • Types of Evidence
    • Using Evidence
    • Fair Use
    • Where to find evidence
    • Conducting an Interview
    • How to deal with conflicting sources and information
    • Citations and Referencing
  3. Developing Context
    • Determining Your Theme
    • Developing the theme
    • Themes and Structure
    • Using Context
  4. Short Biographies
    • Principles of the Short Biography
    • Distilling Information
    • Preparing to write from life experience
  5. Comprehensive Biographies
    • What makes a comprehensive biography comprehensive?
    • Writing a Great Biography
    • Voice in Writing
  6. Planning a Biography
    • The Short Outline
    • The Detail-Heavy Outline
    • Outlining the biography
    • Defining a theme, writing to a central theme
    • Word Budget
    • Organising Chapter Content
  7. Editing and Marketing a Biography
    • Editing
    • Writing a Sales Package
    • The Publishing Process
    • Publishing Processes for Ebooks
    • Self-Publishing Your Work
    • Distributing and Selling your Work
    • Grants for Writing
  8. Project – Writing a Biographical Story
    • In this final lesson, you will bring together everything that you have been learning to undertake research and construct a first draft of a biographical piece of between 2,000 and 4,000 words.

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


  • Determine when, why, where and how biographies are written.
  • Determine sources of information and then acquire appropriate information for a biography.
  • To decide on the type of biography and context in which it should be developed, based upon researched information.
  • Write different types of short biographies to meet different purposes.
  • Analyse a life to determine the structure, style and content of a comprehensive biography that could become a small book, large book, or screenplay.
  • Plan a type of biography.
  • Determine how a biographical manuscript may be dealt with after writing is completed by the author; to produce and market a finished product.
  • Apply knowledge and skills developed throughout this course, to research and produce a biographical short story.

What You Will Do

  • Discuss how topics are integrated into a biography and how they help or hinder the work.
  • Create a biographical timeline.
  • Locate a biography, in print or online, and assess the referencing used.
  • Identify a theme or themes in a biographical work and think about how events in the work tie back to the theme.
  • Research copyright and libel laws in your area.
  • Research letters requesting information or interviews with experts or other sources.
  • Locate two pieces of primary evidence, then two pieces of secondary evidence for the topic of your choice. Keep notes on how you found your evidence and what makes it primary and secondary respectively.
  • Research short bios of “ordinary” people.
  • Analyse the life of a person you’d like to write about. Look at this task from the perspective of deciding what content you would include and the best structure and style to use for this particular subject.

Examples of biographical writing might include:

  • An historical account of someone's life, such as the explorer Douglas Mawson
  • An account of someone's philosophy in the context of their life, sometimes generally, sometimes for motivational reasons.collection of interviews about a person's life
  • A feature article discussing only one or two aspects of the subject's life, through empirical research or anecdotal research (interviews with the subject, people who know the subject etc.)
  • A biopic, or film representation of a person's life – the screenplays or teleplays for such work are a form of biographical writing
  • A play about a subject's life, or period in their life.

A biography may be short or long, a book or short story, a profile written for promotional purposes or an obituary to celebrate a person's life.

Learn to write, edit and produce a well-constructed work - our tutors will guide you through this course.

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