How to Write a Biography and Cite Sources

Whether you're writing your first research paper or your tenth, the prospect of starting a long essay can be intimidating. In order to write a biography, you must break the writing process into steps that include outlining the paper, compiling relevant information, and beginning to write. Properly citing sources is key to a professional and complete biographical essay. Specific rules, such as those found in the Modern Language Association, American Psychological Association and Chicago style guides, will govern your reference formatting and writing style.

Step 1

List three to five important discoveries, works, or time periods in the life of person whose biography you are writing. These facts will become the body or core of your biography. You may use print or web sources to help you research and gain information. If the paper is short -- five pages or less -- or you get to choose your own essay length, aim for a list of three to four key facts. If your essay must be longer than five pages, try to think of four to five key facts.

Step 2

Research the facts you listed more deeply. Use reputable print or web sources, such as books, journals, or the websites of government and professional organizations. Do not use blogs, forums, or self-published material as sources.

Step 3

Write down the the key information and citation data for each source you use on an index card. Cite the reference according to the format specified by your instructor.

Step 4

Write an introduction that gives a broad overview of the person's life. Mention your key points, but do not go into great detail. Your first sentence should be very broad. Subsequent sentences can contain more specific information, but the introduction should remain a general overview of the text.

Step 5

Write the body of your essay. Write one paragraph or more for each key fact that you originally identified. When you use information from your print or web sources, use in-text citations to give credit to the authors. In-text citations come at the middle or end of sentences and may be formatted using superscripted footnotes, endnotes, or parentheses that contain information about author, page number or year. The format of the citations depends on the writing style you've been instructed to use.

Step 6

Write a conclusion that sums up the key points of your paper without repeating sentences from the body of the text. State the most important information that you want your readers to learn from your essay, but do not introduce any new information in your conclusion.

Step 7

Compile a works cited page that lists all of the sources that you directly cited in your paper. If you looked at a source, but did not list it in a parenthetical citation, do not include it in your works cited page. Type "Works Cited" at the top of a new sheet of paper, center the text, and then list your sources alphabetically by the authors' last names.


Finish all your research before you start your paper. This will help you have a better sense of how your essay will be structured than if you began writing without obtaining complete background information.

Do not start your biography with "(author's name) was born on this day and died on this day." This opening is common in high school writing but adds no interest to the paper, does not introduce the topic, and is out of chronological order.

Things You'll Need

  • Print or web sources
  • Computer with word processor
  • Pen or pencil
  • Index cards

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