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This guide will show you how to find autobiographical and biographical information for writing autobiographical/biographical essays and memoirs.


Autobiography, Biography and Memoirs

What is an autobiography?

The Oxford English Dictionary defines autobiography as 

"An account of a person's life given by himself or herself, especially one published in book form. Also: the process of writing such an account; these considered as a
literary genre". 

An autobiographical essay is a short account of some aspect of the writer's life. It may include a brief description of the writer's experiences,hobbies,interests and some memorable events. Another term for an autobiographical essay is narrative essay. Since the autobiographical form is a first hand account of a person's life presented in its original form without interpretation or commentary from other writers, it is considered a primary source.

For additional information on this literary genre refer to Purdue's Online Writing Lab:

What is a Biography?

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a biography is defined as 

"The process of recording the events and circumstances of another person's life, esp. for publication (latterly in any of various written, recorded, or visual media); the documenting of individual life histories (and, later, other forms of thematic historical narrative), considered as a genre of writing or social history".

Since a biography is an account of a person's life written by someone else, it is considered to be a secondary source.

What is a Memoir?

The OED defines memoir as  "autobiographical observations; reminiscences".

Autobiographies and memoirs are similar in that they both are written in the first person and both are personal and talk about the author's life. The difference is while autobiographies detail in chronological sequence the author's life from birth to death, memoirs are concerened with emotional truths and focus on random aspects of the author's life such as feelings or attitudes that stand out because they have had such an impact on the person's life. The line between autobiographies and memoirs is fuzzy that they are often used interchangeably.

Books on Autobiography as a Literary Form

Here are some books that are available in our library:

Encyclopedia of life writing [electronic resource] : autobiographical and biographical forms 

Encyclopedia of life writing : autobiographical and biographical forms 

Encyclopedia of women's autobiography

Encyclopedia of women's autobiography

The Culture of autobiography : constructions of self-representation

Legacy : a step-by-step guide to writing personal history

Liberating scholarly writing : the power of personal narrative

Memory & narrative : the weave of life-writing

The situation and the story : the art of personal narrative

Works on paper : the craft of biography and autobiography

Writing to grow : keeping a personal-professional journal

Writing with passion : life stories, multiple genres

Books on Memoir Writing

These books are not available at SCSU but you can request them from Central and Western: Refer to the CONSULS tutorial under the "Finding Books" tab to learn how to request books from another CSU library.

Writing The Memoir (CCSU, WCSU)

Writing The Memoir : From Truth To Art; (CCSU)