How to Write a Short Formal Autobiography

by Christina Hamlett; Updated September 26, 2017
Sometimes the hardest person to write about is the one you know best: you.

A short formal autobiography is an opportunity to give readers a capsule summary of who you are and what you have accomplished. Written in the first person, these write-ups are most commonly used in business profiles, faculty introductions, author press kits, grant applications and college admissions essays. Unlike a full-length book about your life, a short formal autobiography rarely exceeds one typed page and -- depending on the publication -- is sometimes accompanied by a professional headshot photo.

Step 1

Identify the objective of your autobiography and its target demographic. For example, an academic profile or content for a grant application will place greater emphasis on educational credentials and career experience than a novelist's autobiography in a press kit, which likely focuses more on family, travel and publishing credits. An autobiography for a corporate publication will spotlight accomplishments and promotions pertinent to that specific company and downplay your life outside of work.

Step 2

Make a list of personal facts about yourself such as when and where you were born, where you went to school, who your mentors were, what events shaped your career decisions and whether you are married and have children. If there were particular hardships in your life, notable ancestors in your family tree or interesting sports and hobbies that captured your attention, make a note of these as well. Summarize these elements in a single paragraph. If your autobiography is written chronologically, this paragraph is placed first. If your autobiography is penned for a business publication, it is usually placed last.

Step 3

Describe your educational credentials and course of study, special skills and licenses acquired, and a short overview of some of the significant positions you have held. In a separate paragraph, reference any awards you have achieved, offices that you have held, travels that have broadened your opinions, volunteer activities that have enriched your life and memberships in local and national organizations.

Step 4

Conclude your autobiography with a brief discussion of what you are doing now and what your goals are for the future. This paragraph may also include a favorite quote or a philosophical observation about what you have learned thus far on your life's journey.

Step 5

Invite someone who isn't familiar with your life story to read your first draft and make recommendations as to whether more detail or smoother transitions are needed.


  • "The Book of Myself A Do-It-Yourself Autobiography In 201 Questions"; David Marshall, Carl Marshall; 2007
  • "Writing Your Life: An Easy-to-Follow Guide to Writing an Autobiography"; Mary Borg, Joyce Mihran Turley; 1998
  • "How to Write Your Own Life Story: The Classic Guide for the Nonprofessional Writer"; Lois Daniel; 1997

About the Author

Ghostwriter and film consultant Christina Hamlett has written professionally since 1970. Her credits include many books, plays, optioned features, articles and interviews. Publishers include HarperCollins, Michael Wiese Productions, "PLAYS," "Writer's Digest" and "The Writer." She holds a B.A. in communications (emphasis on audience analysis and message design) from California State University, Sacramento. She also travels extensively and is a gourmet chef.

Photo Credits

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