What Is a Biographical Essay?
A biographical essay is a written composition describing the life and times of a particular individual. In general there are two primary types. The first is an academic report or essay used to paint a picture of a historical figure or person of some importance to the writer. This sort of paper is usually structured somewhat rigidly, often with fixed introduction, body, and conclusion paragraphs. Colleges, universities, and certain grants associated with higher education also sometimes ask for biographical essays as part of their application materials, and these sorts of compositions are usually a lot different in that schools are usually asking applicants to write about themselves. Furthermore, rather than trying to present a complete composite of their lives to date, most writers in these contexts focus on certain defining moments and experiences. The structure is often looser and less academic.
Both types of essay have a few things in common. They’re both focused on a specific person, for instance, and can and often do weave in details that define that person’s context. This can include things like family relationships and geographical settings. Additionally, both usually have a singular point they’re trying to make. Even though the structure varies, organization is important. In academic papers, the writer’s main point is usually captured in what’s known as a “thesis statement.” This statement makes a specific claim that the rest of the paper will be used to support. Self-portraits and personal statements don’t necessarily need a defined thesis statement, but writers who organize their thoughts around a central argument usually find that their compositions are more coherent and successful as a result.
Analyzing Figures from the Past
In an academic essay, the thesis might link certain key events in a subject's life to his subsequent actions, and by so doing offer an explanation of his or her motives. It might also simply describe how the subject lived his or her life, and the effects that he or she had on the world. Generally speaking, the thesis of this sort of essay ties the various stories and facts together and places them in a single, meaningful context.
This type of essay is generally no more than a few pages long and cannot, therefore, adequately cover all of the events in a person’s life. By selecting the events to include in an essay, writers usually emphasizes certain aspects of the subject’s life.
The Importance of Context
In nearly all cases, biographical-style essays in academic settings can be seen as written histories of the times in which the subject lived, and this history needs to provide some context for the essay. An essay on the life of Franklin Delano Roosevelt that failed to at least briefly discuss the history of the Depression, for instance, would be difficult to understand. In the same way, a personal essay should include key historical events or relationships that were important in the author’s life, but this should be done in an objective and balanced way.
Accuracy can be impacted by words as much as implications. For example, a biographical essay of Lenin that focuses on the execution of his brother by the government might read like a tale of revenge, while an essay discussing the life of Winston Churchill that ends before he was replaced as prime minister will read very differently from one that covers his entire life and career.
Goals of a Self-Portrait
One of the most common objectives of an autobiographical essay is to secure admission to a university or to obtain a scholarship. The essay should include elements that speak to an applicant’s character and personality. Personal hardships that have been overcome, admirable life goals, or a discussion of the role played by an inspiring mentor are common subjects for this type of writing. Interests and academics will generally be covered in other parts of the application and as such will not usually be the focus of this type of biographical essay, though this does vary from place to place. It’s important for writers to pay close attention to the instructions provided in order to submit a successful piece.
An autobiographical essay follows many of the same rules as an essay written about another person’s life. This type of essay should still contain a central thesis or theme, an appropriate level of personal detail, and a discussion of any other topics relevant to the specific position or posting. Writers should also be careful to stay on topic. An essay asking for admission to a religious institution, for example, should probably address issues of faith, but one included in an application for a physics grant probably should not.
Based on my experience, I've always felt that the hardest part about writing an essay, whether it be autobiographical or not, is gathering all your sources. In my opinion, that takes the longest time. Not only do you have to make an outline about how you plan to use your sources, but even more so, you have to make sure they're all accurate. While some websites are beneficial, others (such as Wikipedia) can be edited by anyone, often leading to some false information.
When I was in seventh grade, I remember writing a biographical essay on Martin Luther King. Being the first autobiography I've written, it wasn't an easy task. Not only was there a lot of research involved, but the teacher had some very strict guidelines as well. However, since I already knew much about Martin Luther King, I was able to gather my sources rather easily. I imagine it would have been much more difficult if I picked someone I didn't know beforehand.
When writing an essay, whether it's informative or biographical, it's always helpful to remember who your audience is. Remember, what may work for one essay may not work for others. For example, let's say that you're trying inform someone about a topic that most are unaware of. It would help to make a list of very important facts. However, if it's a biographical essay, you're telling the story of another person's life (though you can't cover all the facts).
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