Write a Biographical Sketch

Biographical sketches can be about yourself or someone else, including historical figures. This article will give you the basics of writing one.

10 Second Summary

1. Gather facts about the subject.
2. Keep the important facts. Discard the unimportant ones.
3. Start writing. Hook the reader with an anecdote.
4. Put the relevant facts and information in the body paragraph.
5. Finish strong with a fact or statement. Leave your readers something to think about.


Gather Information

  1. Gather information about yourself. If you're writing a biographical sketch of yourself, you may feel that you already know everything there is to say. However, you'll need to write down everything you know about yourself before you can begin to write an informative sketch. Here's what to do:
    • Make a list of all of the jobs you have ever worked. Highlight the ones that are the most important.
    • Make a list of all of your achievements, whether they are publications, projects that you've led, or promotions you've earned.
    • Write down the things you're most proud of about your own life.
    • Write down a few key personal details about yourself. Just stating where you live, and who you live with, may be sufficient, depending on the required word length.
    • Read through old cover letters to see the different aspects of yourself that you have emphasized in the past.
  2. Gather information about the historical figure. Gathering information about a historical figure will be harder than finding information about yourself, but if you're writing about someone you care about, it should be a fun and educational process. Here are some ways to get as much information about the historical figure as possible:
    • Research the person on credible sources online. If the person is famous enough, he or she may even have a website.
    • If you're in school and know a professor who is an expert on the historical figure, ask if your professor has time to sit down and answer a few questions about the person.
    • Go to your local library to read a variety of biographies about the person.
    • Search through a variety of reliable sources to get a more well-rounded view of a subject. If you learn specific information, make certain it can be confirmed from other sources.
    • Choose one interesting experience that illustrates the main point that you want to make about that person's life. Gather details about that incident.
    • Write a timeline of the person's life that will show that you know when and where the person was born, where he lived, and what he did throughout the course of his life, and where, when, and how he died.
    • Make a list of the person's jobs, pursuits, and accomplishments. You should know this person inside and out before you begin writing your sketch.

Reflect on the Information

  1. Reflect on your life. Once you've gathered enough information about yourself and have a strong sense of your life and achievements, it's time to take a step back to think about which of your achievements or characteristics you want to emphasize to a potential employer, and which aspects are not as crucial to your goals. Here's what to do:
    • Think of which of your characteristics you want to emphasize. If you want to show that you're an original thinker, highlight the unique projects or ideas that you came up with. If you want to demonstrate that you're great at working with others, emphasize your successful team work.
    • Think of the aspects of your life that you don't need to include. A biographical sketch can be a page or shorter, so you won't be able to include every single thing you've done or you'll run out of room. Cross out the things you've done that may not be relevant to the job.
    • Think of a perfect anecdote that shows the qualities you want to highlight. You can brainstorm a few anecdotes and choose the best one. Remember that the anecdote will only work in longer biographical sketches.
    • Think of the achievements and work experience you want to emphasize. You won't be able to include everything, so pick the most relevant work experience and the most impressive achievements to use.
  2. Reflect on the life of the historical figure. Once you've done your research and have gathered enough information about the historical figure, you should sit back to think about what it means, to see if you notice any trends, and to have a better sense of what you want to convey about the person.
    • Ask yourself about how the historical figure was shaped by his time period and environment.
    • Ask yourself how the historical figure impacted the lives of the people around him, the general public, and future generations.
    • Figure out which of the figure's achievements, work, and life experience you may want to emphasize. Unlike a biographical sketch for work, you may not be interested in the person's work experience, but in her relationships, for example.
    • Figure out which quality of the person you'd most like to emphasize. Are you interested in the person's work ethic, sense of humor, or ambition? Whatever quality you want to focus on, make sure the facts you present support it.
    • Find the perfect anecdote to demonstrate the qualities of the person you'd most like to show.

Write the Biographical Sketch

  1. Start with an anecdote. If you have room for an anecdote, it should go in the beginning of your sketch so you can hook your readers and paint an instant portrait of the person you are writing about. Remember that you should always write in the third person, even if you're writing about yourself. The anecdote can be just one paragraph, or even just a few sentences long, but it should convey a sense of the person's character and what makes him or her special.
    • Clarify who the person is. If you're writing about yourself, that's easy. If you're writing a biographical sketch, it can be trickier. If you want to start with the person as a child, such as telling an anecdote about the childhood of Abraham Lincoln, you can surprise your reader by explaining whom you're talking about at the end of the anecdote.
    • Convey a sense of the person's character. If you want to show how honest or trustworthy the person is, make sure to tell the perfect story to illustrate these qualities.
    • Show what makes this person unique. Use specific details and engaging language to demonstrate what makes the person you're writing about different from everyone else.
  2. Provide relevant information in the body. Once you've hooked your reader, you need to provide the right concrete details to give a sense not only of the person's character, but also of the arc of his life and his achievements and passions. Here are some things to consider:
    • Be honest. Don't embellish for the sake of impressing your reader. Your goal should be to tell things as they really are.
    • Be creative. Don't tell a story your readers have heard before. Find a new way to provide the same information, or a way to provide information your readers may not be used to hearing.
    • If you're writing a biographical sketch of yourself, provide the relevant information about the positions you've held, the type of work you did, and the things you accomplished and hope to achieve. You can limit personal information in this sketch, since your employers will be focused on your work experience.
    • If you're writing a sketch of a historical figure, explain where he was born and where he died, what his passions were, what he achieved, and how he shaped society. You can also mention any relevant personal information about the figure.
    • Remember to describe all the things the person did in chronological order, so your readers are oriented.
  3. Finish strong. After you've hooked your readers and provided sufficient information about the person you're writing about, you should finish with clarity and confidence. You can wrap up your ideas in just a sentence or two. Here's how to do it:
    • If you're writing a sketch about yourself, you can end with personal information. Simply state where you live, what you do, and whom you live with.
    • If you're writing about a historical figure, leave your readers to think about the impact that this person has had on society.

Revise the Biographical Sketch

  1. Revise the work. Once you've written the biographical sketch, you need to revise it to make sure that it's the appropriate length, that it meets your objectives, and that it flows smoothly. Spending time on revising the sketch can help you convey your message and emphasize the right qualities of yourself or a historical figure. Here's what you can do:
    • Read your work over twice. The first time, don't mark it up, but make mental notes of any places that sound funny. The second time, read it with a pen and mark any places that should be expanded or eliminated, or phrases that just don't sound right. Work to improve those places.
    • Read your work aloud. This can help you see that it flows smoothly and that your readers will have a strong sense of the person you are writing about.
    • Make sure the sketch meets your objectives. Remind yourself of the qualities or personal experience that you wanted to emphasize about the person you were writing about. Does the sketch focus on these qualities, or does it leave the reader with a different impression of the person?
    • Make sure it meets the appropriate length. You may feel that every sentence is absolutely crucial, but your readers or potential employers won't be impressed if you try their patience by going over the word limit.
    • Set the sketch aside for a few days. When you return to it, you will feel less attached to every word and will be able to see what works and what doesn't.
  2. Edit the work. Once you feel that you've improved your biographical sketch and that it won't require any more major changes, it'll be time to improve the sketch on a sentence level. Editing will require you to pick the sketch apart sentence by sentence, to improve your writing for clarity, precision, and conciseness. Here's what to do:
    • Trim down long and awkward sentences for a better flow.
    • Replace boring words with more descriptive ones. Find a more interesting way to say "good" or "nice."
    • Delete anything that isn't interesting or off-topic.
    • Address all grammatical and punctuation errors.
  3. Ask for an outside opinion. Once you feel confident about your revision and edits of your biographical sketch, you should seek an outside opinion before you share it with the world. If you want to try to publish your biographical sketch of a historical figure, you should know if it sounds as convincing as you think it does. If you want to take your personal biographical sketch to the job market, you should know if it makes you look like a promising candidate. Here are some people to ask for help:
    • Ask a trusted friend who is a careful reader if the sketch is lively, informative, and has a smooth flow.
    • Ask an expert in the field. If you're writing a biographical sketch, ask a historian or professor, and if you're writing a personal sketch, send it to a person who works in your field (but not a person who may consider you as an employee.)
    • Ask a person who has written many biographical sketches and knows what makes them work.
    • Ask a friend who is an expert writer or grammarian.


  • Read other biographical sketches before you begin your own. This will give you a better sense of the craft.
  • If you're writing a biographical sketch about yourself, you should try not to go over the word limit by more than a few words. Otherwise, your potential employers will think you don't know how to follow directions or be concise.

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