mahatma-gandhiWhat is a biography?

A biography is the story of a person’s life. Some biographies are just a few sentences long, others are a book. Short biographies give the basic facts of a person’s life. Longer biographies include the facts with more details.

Most biographies are about famous, or infamous, people. Some are about historical people, and others are about people still living. Everyone can have a biography.

Biographies have an early history. The oldest are thought to be the ancient carvings and hieroglyphics on Egyptian tombs and temples, the inscriptions on Assyrian palace walls, and Persian rock faces. They dealt with the rulers of those times. The Dialogues of Plato, and the Gospels of the New Testament, also contain biographies.

It is a novel way of being remembered. The following pointers can help you to write a biography.

The basic facts for any biography must include the following:

Full name

Place and date of birth

Family details (parents, spouse, children)

Marriage(s) dates and places

Spouse(s): full names, parents’ names, birth date and place

Children: full names, birth dates and places, spouse names

Parents: full names (including mother’s maiden name), birth dates and places

Places lived



Significant incidents in his or her life

You need to find out the basic facts of the person’s life. Next you can ask some questions to help add some detail:

Did they have nicknames?

Where were they educated?

Did they do military service (which units, where)?

Church or fraternal affiliations?

What makes this person interesting or important in your life?

What impact did this person have on the world or other people?

What events shaped or changed this person’s life?

Did he or she overcome obstacles, take risks?

Did he or she live by a personal motto?

Primary and secondary sources are used to write biographies. A primary source is a record that was created at the time of an event by a person who had reasonably close knowledge of the event, or was present at the event. A marriage certificate would be a primary source for a marriage date, name of spouse, etc… because it is created at the time of the marriage. A secondary source is a record that was created a significant amount of time after an event occurred or by a person who was not present at the event. Secondary sources include reference books and newspaper reports.

Once you have all the information, write an outline. Select the main events in the person’s life on which to focus, and write them in a chronological order. Edit the work for grammar, punctuation and content (logical flow

You can find examples of biographies in the following resources:

New Dictionary of South African Biography

South African Dictionary of Biography, Volumes 1 – 5

The South African Jewish Year Book (1929), in the Who’s Who section

Women of South Africa (1913)

Women of South Africa (1935)