Biography: what is biography, definition, types of biography, characteristics, origin and more 


What is biography?

It is one of the most important subgenres of the didactic genre of literature, since it consists of the text of the history of the life of a person. It is a written narration in which the most important facts of a person’s life are related as a summary, starting with the birth, with the whole context of the place of origin, and in some cases even going back to family history. The narrator is not the protagonist.

As for the completion of the biography, many of them are written when the protagonist has already died, so that it covers his or her life from beginning to end. However, it is up to the writer to choose how far the biography will go, especially if the protagonist lives.

Meaning of the subgenre biography

The term comes from the union of the Greek bios, which refers to life, and graphein, which refers to writing. This is how the term is configured, giving rise to a form of writing focused on life, so that it can also be used in a symbolic sense.

Definition of the sub-genre biography

It is a type of text written in the third person, in which the content consists of a summary of the life of a person, however, it may include appreciations by the author in which aspects related to the context of the life of the protagonist of the biography are specified, in addition to information related to accurate data.

What is the function of a biography?

A text like this gathers a great amount of information about the life of a person, so that its purpose is, above all, to make known fundamental features of the life of the person about whom the biography is made, in most cases it is about public people in which their professional activity is highlighted, appreciations about their private life or other activities for which they have stood out, which are essential to understand their work.

Definition of the sub-genre biography

History and origin of the biographical subgenre

It is considered that the biographical text type has its beginnings since Antiquity, however, it should be noted that at that time it had not been established as a literary subgenre, so it had not been formally classified. It was in the Middle Ages, with the Renaissance movement, that biography began to be recognized, since at that time it was necessary to provide specific information on the artists in order to gradually eliminate the ancient Greek models from which it sought to dissociate itself.

With the passage of time, biography, like humanity, achieved an important evolution, in which it gradually came to incorporate a desperate search for documents that would allow an approach to the lives of subjects and artists. This will be key to the realist movement, which we have already talked about in a previous article. Thus, by the present time, the biography manages to consolidate itself as a writing that allows us to know the life of a character from the most relevant and determining events for the activity for which he is publicly known, in the case of figures recognized in the political, social, cultural, etc. field.

Characteristics of the biography subgenre

Let us look at the essential characteristics of this literary subgenre:


The central theme that distinguishes the biography from other didactic subgenres is the narration of the most relevant facts of a person’s life, which is presented through a written text. It deals with real events in the life of an equally existing person. Its content goes from the birth of a person until the present time or the time of his death. Some authors write about the author even after death, especially if he left works that keep his name active.

Mode of composition

At the time when a biography is being written, as well as when it is read, the organization of the events that are exposed are arranged chronologically, following the line of life. Likewise, in the writing, the author maintains an objective and accurate look in which everything he mentions can be verified. However, the author may mention some particular assessments.


Another of the most relevant aspects of this type of subgenre has to do with the type of narrator who writes, since the story is narrated in the third person.

Mode of presentation

Although it is essentially a written text, so that it can be presented in documents and books, the truth is that these serve as a basis for the reproduction of the biography through other formats, as has happened in recent years where the lives of key characters are exposed through documentaries, films, programs, etc.

Historical content

A biography, although it has a series of data on important dates, also tends to make tours around important trips or journeys made by the character, so that it incorporates historical events during their travels, as many of them influence their activities and will have an important impact on decision making. This information also allows the reader to situate and contextualize the reader in relation to the time and space of the person’s life.

Structure of the biography subgenre

As for the structure of this type of text, it is similar to the organization usually used in narrative texts, since it has an opening section, an introduction and a closing section as a conclusion at the end of the text. Thus, the biography is organized as follows:

Introduction: as its name indicates, this initial part introduces the character about whom we are going to talk. Thus, the full name, date and place of birth (if desired date and place of death), and finally the activity he/she developed in life, that is to say, his/her profession and specialty, are mentioned.

Development: in this part begins as such the order of the biography. Here the author begins with the narration of all those events that were transcendental for the protagonist’s life, so he can start by pointing out particularities of his origin, the activity of his parents and siblings, if he focuses on the family circle, etc.

Conclusion: it is the closing of the text in which we reach the last years of the character’s life, if he/she has passed away, or the present time, if the author prefers. Often, in this part the author’s subjectivity is evident due to a series of evaluations that are made in relation to the transcendence of the protagonist.

Likewise, the structure of the biography usually includes other elements in its organization such as:

Dedication: this is a space that occupies one or two short sentences in which the author or writer of the biography allows himself to show affection, either to the protagonist of his biography or to people he esteems.

Preface: in this section the author can relate some of his or her personal experiences in relation to the moment prior to consolidating the biography to be presented. In this sense, he/she can address issues such as the reasons that prompted him/her to develop his/her work, the reasons and the research tools, for example.

Acknowledgements: in the final part of the biography, although it can also appear at the beginning, the author proceeds to thank different people, including those who helped him/her to find relevant information about the protagonist, as well as other people who have accompanied the process through complementary activities, company, photographic work, data collection, etc.

Annexes: in this section the author can include annexes such as photographs, articles and documents that have been mentioned during the course of the biography and that are duly indicated to lead the reader to them.

Types of the biography subgenre

According to the field in which a biography is developed, it is possible to identify some modalities that give rise to a number of types of biography. These are:

Authorized biography

These are all biographies that have been reviewed and validated by the author, who, once he/she has reviewed them, approves everything that is exposed within their content and allows the publication of the biography that has been written.

Unauthorized biography

In this case, the biography has not been reviewed by the author, in most cases without seeking the approval of the person whose life is narrated. Often this type of biography is part of the journalistic activity when reporting on a public person, especially when it is a political or social figure.

Book biography

It is given by the type of format in which the biography is presented. Its length allows for a much more detailed and thorough exploration of the protagonist. Often the person written about is a public personality of interest in a specific society and context. Its content includes background, moments prior to becoming known, work, etc.

Professional biography

In this type of biographies the content is focused on the exaltation of the person’s skills, as well as his or her knowledge, abilities, experience and other aspects that may increase the value of the proposal. It includes skills related to personality traits in the quality of the activity.

Informative biographies

They are usually biographies not marked within the literary world, but within the journalistic world, since they tend to emphasize in-depth research with the intention of informing a much wider audience. There is no deepening of the data presented, but they are exposed in an objective and concrete way where specific aspects are highlighted.

How to write a biography

How to write a biography?

Now that we have seen what a biography consists of in broad strokes, it is time to see how to write such a text correctly:

Choosing the protagonist 

The first thing we must do when we plan to write a biography is to choose the person about whom we want to develop the text. We can practically choose any person, whether it is a friend, a relative, an acquaintance, an artist, a doctor, a lawyer, a teacher or any other person we want to write about.

Collecting the information 

Once you have chosen the person you are going to write the biography about, it is time to start gathering as much information about the person as possible. Gather information about their life, background, institutions they went through, their jobs, activities and so on, this will allow you to make a complete biography. If you can have contact with the person, interviewing him or her, for example, will be of great help.

If you choose a famous personality, you may find much of this information in audiovisual media, interviews, books, among others. If not, you can approach relatives, friends and people close to you to obtain much more information.

Asking important questions

As you collect information, it is important, at the same time, to keep in mind a series of key questions that will allow you to go deeper and collect baseline information to provide as much data as possible about your entire life. So some of these questions can be: Who were his parents and what did they do, what was the relationship with his family circle like, what was his childhood like, what led him to approach what would become his main activity in life, what are his first steps in his passion, etc.

Organization of the information

When you have all this information, it is time to organize it. Remember to keep a chronological order, even though there are connections between past and present directly, so you should go deeper into different moments that allow you to configure the future of the protagonist seen from the past.

Establish a central idea 

Many biographies maintain an order that revolves around a particular idea, it can be a particularity of the character, an activity or profession that he/she has developed, etc. Elaborating this central idea will allow you to develop the content around the character’s life, through which all the events will pass.

Start writing

It is time to get down to work. Start writing keeping the order you have chosen and the central idea you have set up, although you can indicate it from the beginning, you must take care that the information you add builds it during the course of the biography.

Adding the bibliography 

Because of the type of text you are writing, since it involves a large number of sources of information, it is necessary that each of the sources be added to the final document, including not only documents or books, but also interviews and people who gave you their word, online sources consulted, etc.

Final proofreading 

We have the whole document ready, now we just need to check again aspects such as spelling and grammar, as well as the coherence between paragraphs and other divisions you have decided to make within the biography. You can ask someone to read it so that they can give you their feedback, especially if the person you are talking about is of interest to them as well.

Remember to check some sources beforehand. You can refer to existing biographies of authors, artists, doctors, politicians or any other important personalities. This will allow you to have a closer guide to start writing the biography.

Example of the biography subgenre

The following is an excerpt from the authorized biography of Steve Jobs, one of the most well-known biographies of our times, written by Walter Isaacson:

“This is a book about the eventful life and searing, intense personality of a creative entrepreneur whose passion for perfection and fierce determination revolutionized six different industries: personal computers, animated films, music, telephony, electronic tablets, and digital publishing. We could even add a seventh: retail, which Jobs didn’t exactly revolutionize, but he did revamp. He also paved the way for a new digital content market based on applications rather than websites. Along the way, he has not only created products that have transformed the industry, but also, on his second try, an enduring company, imbued with his very DNA, filled with creative designers and daring engineers who will be able to carry his vision forward.”