A Comprehensive Guide on How to Write an Autobiographical Essay

author By Mary Boies

An autobiography essay assignment is a pretty common college assignment. An autobiographical essay is about the life of the person writing it, so it uses a first-person perspective and personal pronouns like “I” and “me.” As a college student, you must learn and master how to write one to get an excellent grade when you get such an assignment.

Autobiography essays are pretty straightforward for some students and very complicated for others. This post is for the latter group. We have compiled all the vital information on how to write a brilliant autobiography in it.

We believe that any student that reads this post should not have extreme difficulties writing an excellent autobiography.

Let’s dive in.

What is an autobiography?

Before we look at how to write an outstanding autobiography, we must first define the term autobiography. So what exactly is an autobiography? Well, it is a piece that captures the writer’s life story. If you decide to write about your life right now on a piece of paper or you type it on a computer app, the resulting piece is what is known as an autobiography.

It is important to note a big difference between autobiography and biography. For a while, autobiography is self-written, and another person writes a biography. In other words. If you write your own life story, it will be an autobiography. If you pay someone to do it, it will be a biography. Because the terms autobiography and biography are different, they cannot be used interchangeably.

Before we delve deeper, check our guide on how to write a biography essay, which is a contrast to autobiography writing. It is also related to writing a profile essay.

Types of autobiography

There are four general types of autobiography:

Purpose of an Autobiography

The purpose of an autobiography is to capture the author's life story. Therefore, it must be written in the late stages of life.

Since the author writes an autobiography, writing it in the first person is terrific. There is no harm in doing this.

Structure of a Good Autobiography Essay

Now that you know the different types of autobiography writings and the purpose of an autobiography, it is time to discover what to include in an autobiography. Here is the standard structure of an autobiography.

Use an important fact, quote, or achievement about yourself to grab the reader’s attention. Then proceed to present the topic on which your essay will focus (the aspect of your life you will be talking about most). Lastly, give the reader sufficient background information about yourself to make them want to read the whole thing.

Typically, an autobiography introduction paragraph should not be more than five sentences long. It should have a thesis statement at the end.

It is important to ensure your body paragraphs are well-structured, clear, and logical. You should make them well-structured by focusing on a single topic or idea. You should make them clear by using simple and easy-to-understand language. And it would help if you made them logical by chronologically presenting your ideas and ensuring the transition from one paragraph to the next is smooth.

It is important to ensure your conclusion is concise and straight to the point.

Check out our in-depth guide for writing a narrative essay from scratch.

Steps for Writing an Autobiography Essay

With an understanding of the comprehensive structure and the types of autobiography writing, it is imperative to look at the steps for writing an excellent autobiographical essay when assigned one. Here is how to write an autobiography essay in 5 steps.

1. Look at Samples for Inspiration

Before writing an autobiography, you should seek inspiration from another autobiography. Doing this will help to get your creativity going. It will also help you to get a clue on the language to use, the formatting, and the elements of your life story to focus on.

There are many autobiography examples available online. Finding one you can relate to and imitate in your writing shouldn't be challenging. Even if you don’t find an autobiography you can relate to or imitate, you should skim through autobiographies to familiarize yourself with the different writing styles and focuses of autobiographies.

2. Note Down Your Most Important Memories

What positive or negative memories do you remember vividly? What experiences, events, or happenings do you remember in your life story? Note everything you remember in your life story –good and bad.

Once you have noted your most crucial memories, you should rank them from the most significant to the least significant. Then pick one of the most significant memories to focus your essay on.

You should focus your autobiographical essay on an aspect of your life because discussing many different things will make your essay look disjointed. It isn't easy to pick one memory to focus on, but it will make your essay sharper and more engaging.

3. Create an Outline

Once you’ve picked something to focus on, you should create an outline. The outline should detail the topic you want to focus on and the number of paragraphs you want to include. Once you’ve noted these things, you should brainstorm ideas to build an essay for your chosen memory or topic.

Once you’ve noted a good number of ideas, you should formulate a thesis statement plus arguments to support it. You should then plug this into your outline. The thesis statement will be the centerpiece of your introduction, and each supporting argument will be the centerpiece of a body paragraph.

Ensure you add supporting evidence and examples to each supporting argument (body paragraph) in your outline.

4. Write The First Draft

After completing your outline, you should write your first draft. When writing the draft, you should focus on completing it. Do not mind the grammatical errors and other errors in your work. Focus on completing your first draft.

Do this by following your outline closely. Remember, you already highlighted what will be in your introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion. Therefore, following your outline will help you move along quickly as you develop your autobiographical essay.

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5. Revise and Edit Your First Draft

Once you are done writing your first draft, you should revise and edit it. This is the point when you will transform it from average to excellent. Hence it would help if you took your time with this step.

Once you eliminate errors and correct poor sentences, you should proofread and edit your work using a grammar checker like Grammarly.com. This will help you to catch the mistakes you might have missed.

Recheck your essay by proofreading it loudly to eliminate any remaining errors.

Once you revise and edit your essay as detailed above, it should be 100% ready for submission.

Tips and Tricks for Writing a Good Autobiography

You must know what to include in your paper to write a good autobiography. You also need to know what to avoid in your writing. Below are a few valuable techniques and tips you might find helpful when writing your paper.

A clear narrative

While writing, it is essential to remember that autobiographies are still a type of literature. You should have a unifying plot or storyline to connect all the discussed experiences, irrespective of whether or not they abide by conventional storyline methods. Your paper should be more of a tale than just an account of disconnected events.

People have complicated and messy lives, lacking a climax point. We have numerous episodes of spiritual awakenings, instances of clarity, and even moments that feel like peaks in our individual character arc, but if we took the time to map all these happenings throughout our lives, then we wouldn’t come up with a solid pyramid structure.

And just mentioned earlier, it is vital to remember that autobiographies are still books or stories. And even though they may not follow the traditional storytelling techniques, there ought to be a common tale to link all of these happenings together.  Your autobiography should not feel like a series of unrelated incidents but a flowing story.

Attention to detail and main points

It is advisable to go for autobiographies that are detail-oriented. Your reader will read your book or paper to learn more about your unique history, expecting fascinating facts and points regarding the subject’s life. You can, for instance, give an account of the subject’s educational background and their chosen career path.

Chronological order

Your autobiography should be written in chronological order. An autobiography that is well-written begins right from birth till the present day. Autobiographies are generally exhaustive and extensive, encompassing all aspects of an individual’s life. Most autobiographies are written in this order; birth, childhood, teenagehood, early adulthood, and senior years. However, it is important to note that this particular sequence does not apply to all autobiographies.

Some sections might be more action-packed and citing than others, but you should not fail to discuss the entire years of the subject’s life. Notably, an autobiography should dig deep into detail. After all, your readers will get hold of your autobiography to learn more about the author’s exciting life; your readers want lots of points!

You can include details such as where the subject went to school, what they studied, and their first job. Unlike a memoir, whereby the author can skip some pieces and parts of their life, an autobiography requires you to put down all the essential details; there are exemptions.

Covers an entire lifetime

A good autobiography covers the entire lifetime of the subject. It covers the subject’s upbringing, education, adolescence, and adulthood. The autobiography, nonetheless, may not spend equal time describing each of these particular areas. For instance, a medical researcher who went to Africa in her mid-thirties decided to write an autobiography; he might not spend as much time describing his unexciting childhood as he does on his adventures in Africa.

The main objective of an autobiography is to document the author’s life. That said, even if the reader skims through some parts of the book or paper, they should still be able to get the complete picture.

Balanced characters

Your autobiography should also involve balanced characters. People in real life can be a hot mess! Similar to how we do not usually document a dialogue exactly how those involved spoke, since this would be nonsensical, we also do not document people to be exactly like real people. With that in mind, honest people can be challenging, random, and inconsistent.

Even though an autobiography should not edit its characters to make them more pleasant or suitable for the reading experience, it should make its featured characters realistic. A good autobiography presents its characters with balance and nuance.

Now that you know what to observe when writing your autobiography, below are the things to avoid when writing your autobiography:

Boring details

First off, there is nothing wrong with autobiographies about regular individuals. You do not necessarily have to be a millionaire or go to space to have a life worth documenting. However, even with that, readers are not interested in tedious, unexciting works. All scenes featured in an autobiography should have a purpose. If an event does not impact the subject’s life, it should not be included in the autobiography. But only include those experiences that significantly impacted your life in one way or the other.

Slander of characters

An autobiography is not the place to trash-talk an ex that broke your heart several years ago. You need to obtain permission from individuals to publish their names. Publicly insulting someone will not only turn off most of your readers but will also get you sued. If you had someone who disrespected or was mean to you, you should view them through a nuanced lens while writing. This might be difficult and painful, but it is required when writing an autobiography.

Rushing over the main events

Nothing is more annoying than getting to an exciting part of an autobiography only to find that the writer has decided to rush over it quickly. If you relocated to Asia with only your backpack and a hundred dollars, your readers would want to know more about what happened. And if a particular relationship in the subject’s early life affected them, the readers will want to know more about how that turned out in the individual’s adult life.

Literary Autobiography sample

Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin, born in the United States of America on the 17th of January, 1706, was a famous author, civic activist, diplomat, statesman, printer, political theorist, scientist, postmaster, and inventor. On top of all these, he is also known to be one of America’s notable founding figures.

Benjamin’s father, Josiah Benjamin, was a soap maker, and his mother, Abiah Folger, was his father's second wife. Benjamin was the eighth of his parent’s ten children, and he also as seven stepsisters and stepbrothers from his father’s first wife, Anne Child. It was Josiah’s dream for his son to become a clergyman, but he could barely afford to send Benjamin to school. Being a clergyman required numerous years of training, and Josiah could not even manage to keep Benjamin in school for a single year. After spending two years at a Boston Latin School, Benjamin’s official schooling stopped when he was only ten years old. And since Benjamin enjoyed reading, he turned to his elder brother, James, a trained printer, for an apprenticeship. After serving his brother in making pamphlets, which was quite a demanding job, 12-year-old Benjamin began vending products on the streets.

When Benjamin was fifteen, his elder brother James introduced his first newspaper called “the New England Courant” in Boston. At that time, two newspapers in Boston already existed, but they hardly featured news from abroad. The Courant, James’ paper, featured articles and opinion pieces authored by his friends, advertisements, and news on ship schedules. Benjamin was highly gifted in writing, and one of his aspirations was to write for a newspaper, so he started authoring his letters under an alias. He masked himself as a widow named Mrs. Silence Dogood, fearing that James would not publish his letters if he knew the real author.  Benjamin’s writings became popular and loved, and the readers became interested in the author’s real name. Once Benjamin revealed himself as the author of the letters, his brother became angry and pestered him. It was this harassment that made Benjamin flee New York in 1723 before moving to New Jersey. Ben finally arrived in Philadelphia at the youthful age of seventeen, where he later met Deborah Read, his future wife. Benjamin lived in Deborah’s father's house as a paid guest.

Benjamin proposed to Deborah, seventeen, who was barely fifteen years old. Deborah’s mother did not support their marriage as Benjamin was not financially stable. She was also worried that he was moving to London at Governor Sir William Keith’s request. Nonetheless, everything was well sorted out, and Deborah married Benjamin in 1730. The two raised William Franklin, Benjamin’s illegitimate son. William’s mother's identity was never known, but Benjamin later on publicly acknowledged his son.

With time, Benjamin slowly started publishing his works under the fictional name Richard Saunders. Ben’s composition of the book “Poor Richard’s Almanack” remained secret. He received great recognition in writing and also worked in numerous governmental posts. And due to his over-dedication in several fields, his health quickly deteriorated. His obesity worsened, and he died due to a pleuritic attack on the 17th of April, 1790.

Benjamin wrote abundantly. In 1728, Benjamin published the newspaper “The Pennsylvania Gazette.” He published the book “Poor Richard’s Almanack” in 1723 and later printed “Father Abraham’s Sermon” in 1758. He also authored his biography, which got published after his demise. Ben also edited and published his essays like “On Simplicity” in “The Pennsylvania Gazette.”

Benjamin Franklin also authored numerous poems. Some of the most popular ones include “Death is a Fisherman,” “Wedlock,” and “Equivocation.” His writing style was clear, simple, and rational, with a self-deprecatory tone.

Back in 1753, Benjamin got awarded honorary degrees by Harvard University and Yale University for his outstanding contribution to the field of literature. Additionally, in 1762, Oxford University presented him with an honorary doctorate for his great scientific inventions. The Pennsylvania Assembly elected him as a foreign diplomat, and he also worked for the colonial union.

Before you leave this page, …

The information we have presented above and the sample should make it simple and easy for you to write your autobiographical essay.

Related Reading:

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