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The Format to Write an Autobiography

written by: Mary Rajotte • edited by: Donna Cosmato • updated: 8/2/2012

Autobiographies are about more than simply listing a series of events that occur over the period of a lifetime. Using this detailed autobiographies format, you can capture the history of your life and share what it felt like to have those experiences.

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    The Format

    penandink Just as every person is unique and will have different experiences to share, so too will the content vary between autobiographies.

    However, by utilizing a basic layout for your autobiography, one can still explore their history while presenting their memories in a format that will allow your stories to shine.

    Listed below are some topics to cover:

    1. Birth
    2. Heritage
    3. Education
    4. Career
    5. Community & Leisure
    6. Life Lessons
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    Birth: How You Got Here

    The earliest events in your life can be the most influential to your adult life. Whether you begin your autobiography from the moment you were born, or start with a significant moment in your life that has shaped who you are today, recalling your childhood experiences can jumpstart your power to recall events and provide deeper insight as you explore your roots.

    Information to include:

    • Your full name
    • Your date of birth
    • Place of birth
    • Mother’s maiden name
    • Mother’s birthdate
    • Mother’s place of birth
    • Father's name
    • Father's birthdate
    • Father's place of birth
    • Sibling(s) names
    • Siblings(s) birth dates

    Questions to Ask Yourself:

    1. What was your neighborhood like? Did you grow up in the suburbs? In a rural area? In a large city?
    2. What do you remember most about your neighbors?
    3. What memorable childhood events happened during this time?
    4. What was your home life like?
    5. Who were your childhood friends?
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    Heritage: You Are Who You Come From

    Your ancestors and their experiences can have a great impact on who you are and how you were brought up.

    Exploring your nationality, your family’s culture, and their religious and spiritual beliefs can provide insight into who you are and what your goals are in life.

    Information to Include:

    • Paternal grandfather’s name
    • Paternal grandfather's date and location of birth
    • Paternal grandfather's nationality
    • Paternal grandfather's languages spoken
    • Paternal grandmother's name
    • Paternal grandmother's date and location of birth
    • Paternal grandmother's nationality
    • Paternal grandmother's languages spoken

    Questions to Ask Yourself:

    1. Describe any religious or cultural traditions your family followed when you were growing up.
    2. How did these traditions influence you?
    3. Do you still follow those traditions today?
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    Education: As Easy as 1-2-3

    The friendships and experiences you have at school can shape the person you become and have a lasting impact throughout your life.

    When thinking about your school days, try recovering any accomplishments, memorable events or influential people who came into your life during these times.

    Information to Include:

    • Names and locations of your grammar school(s)
    • Names and locations of your high school(s)
    • Names and locations of your post-secondary school(s)/college(s)/university
    • Areas of interest or expertise
    • Accomplishments, awards, and honors

    Questions to Ask Yourself:

    1. Who were your classmates?
    2. What circles did you run in? Were you a jock? An arts student? A science enthusiast? How does this reflect your interests today?
    3. Which teachers or coaches left an impact on you?
    4. Who did you look up to as a mentor? What did you learn from him or her?
    5. What extracurricular activities did you take part in?
    6. What music, fads, and fashion do you remember from these days? Which ones did you adopt?

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    Careers & Occupations: Working 9 to 5

    Starting a career is a momentous occasion and can change one’s life in many ways. Experiences in the workplace not only shape who you are but they can affect other aspects of your life.

    Information to Include:

    • Company name and position at your first job
    • Other jobs you had
    • Jobs you would like to try

    Questions to Ask Yourself

    1. What did you want to be when you grew up?
    2. Did your wish ever come true?
    3. What was your first job? What other jobs did you hold?
    4. Did you leave or quit any jobs?
    5. Were you ever fired or promoted?
    6. Did you have any work experiences at your job that changed your life? What were they?
    7. Did you ever receive any notable awards or recognition at any of your jobs?

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    Community and Leisure: How You Spend Your Off Time

    Archery competition Community organizations and leisure activities can provide enriching experiences which help you to grow and change.

    Whether you spend your time doing hobbies or sports with your family or friends, the way you spend your free time can show much about your personality and character.

    Information to Include

    • Hobbies you enjoy
    • Sports you play
    • Names of clubs or associations you belong to
    • Trips you have taken

    Questions to Ask Yourself

    1. Did you take family trips or vacations as a child?
    2. What do you like to do in your spare time?
    3. How did you become interested in these activities?
    4. Do you belong to any church?
    5. Do you volunteer for any organizations or belong to any clubs?
    6. Did you have any family pets growing up? Do you own pets now?
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    Lessons and Wisdom: What You Learned and What You Can Teach

    Whether you are 15 or 50, the experiences you have had in your life helped you to learn and grow. Passing that wisdom on to others through your personal memoirs can help them to learn the same lesson and to create a bond of shared experiences.

    • List the most memorable, joyous times in your life.
    • List any sad or tragic times you have faced.
    • List any times you feel you were wrong or made a mistake.
    • Describe a time in your life when you felt proud of yourself.

    Questions to Ask Yourself

    1. What lessons did these memorable moments teach you?
    2. What people were influential to you in these moments?
    3. How have you grown as a person?
    4. What is the biggest change you have seen in yourself?
    5. What is the biggest lesson you have learned so far in your life?

    Using an autobiography format is a good way to stay on track as you write out your life story. A structured format ensures that all the vital details are included.

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    References

    • Christensen, Deb. “How to Write a Personal Biography”, http://www.marketing-ideas.org/personal-biography-example.php
    • Gilbert, Tom. "Doing It Yourself Doesn't Mean Doing It Alone", http://www.your-life-your-story.com/autobiography.html
    • Author unknown. "How To Capture Great Life Stories", http://www.greatlifestories.com/howto.html

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