The Art of Biography Writing

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Have you ever been in a situation where your excitement about a new opportunity was deflated by the dreaded request for a biography? In my experience most people don’t give themselves enough credit when writing their biography, but then there are the people that include the fact that they woke up this morning as an accomplishment. On a more serious note, a well written biography can not only provide readers with context, it can also establish credibility. Another great perk of a well written biography is that it can remind you of your worth. Below I’ve outlined a few strategies that will elevate the quality of your biography:

  1. Variety is key. Similar to a resume or CV, you should always have a master document and many variations available to consider. It’s appropriate to revise an existing biography, but you should avoid copying and pasting existing bios. Having a variety of biographies available to choose and revise from will ensure that you are drafting a piece that is relevant to the event, audience, and moment in time.
  2. Always start with your name. This may sound obvious, but we sometimes forget that our names are our brand. When writing your biography make sure that it begins with your name and appropriately uses it throughout. Don’t fall victim to overusing pronouns.
  3. Use an active voice. Using an active voice portrays confidence. I call this absolute writing because your written voice does not share the ups and downs of the action, simply the action or outcome which are the facts of your life. This is best accomplished by writing in third person.
  4. Edit ruthlessly. This is probably the most important advice of all. We’ve all experience a time when we’ve found an error in something we thought was perfect. I recommend maintaining an “editing cabinet” made up of the following people:
    1. The person who knows your every day schedule;
    2. The person who sees more potential in you than you see in yourself, and;
    3. The person who enjoys editing and finding errors in others work (we all know at least one).

The above steps assume you’ve already written at least one biography. There are many ways to organize an biography, but my go-to method is one based on my initials, ASR.

  1. Audience: The first section focuses on the audience I am writing the biography for and incorporates facts, where relevant. Speak specifically about your connection or involvement to the audience and the mission or purpose that drives their efforts. This will help answer why you’ve been invited to participate or engage.
  2. Service: The second section focuses on my service to the industry. As a higher education professional and educator I think it is important to views our professional experiences as collective, rather than segmented. Although I reference my positional titles, I try to focus on my service to higher education by including my experience with relevant functional areas, years of experience, and community service.
  3. References: The third section serves as a reference for all the people who require credentialing to establish creditability. In this section I include my degrees, certification, and research interests. Sometimes, I will include personal information about my hometown or family to connect with the audience, but I don’t do this often.

Feel free to share examples of your bios in the comments. Happy writing friends!

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