Biography vs autobiography: Similarities, differences, examples

Biography vs autobiography — two genres that share similarities yet have distinct differences in their approach to portraying the lives of individuals. A biography is a written account of a person’s life, highlighting key events, experiences and achievements. It typically provides a chronological narrative, offering insights into the individual’s character, contributions and the context of their life. In contrast, an autobiography is a written account of a person’s own life written by that individual. Unlike a biography, an autobiography is a first-hand narrative where the subject reflects on their own experiences, memories and perspectives.

Biography: Key characteristics

Overall, biographies aim to provide readers with an informative and engaging portrait of a person’s life, contributing to a better understanding of historical figures, influential personalities or individuals who have significantly impacted society.

The key characteristics of a biography as a genre include:

  • Chronological account: Biographies typically present a chronological narrative of the subject’s life, organising events and experiences in the order in which they occurred.
  • Factual information: Biographies aim to provide accurate and factual information about the subject, supported by thorough research and verification of details.
  • Objective perspective: While biographers strive for objectivity, the interpretation of events can vary. However, the goal is to present a balanced and fair portrayal of the subject.
  • Contextualisation: Biographies often place the subject’s life within the broader historical, cultural or social context, helping readers understand the influences that shaped the individual.
  • Insight into character: A good biography delves into the subject’s character, motivations and personality, offering readers a deeper understanding of the individual beyond mere facts.
  • In-depth research: Biographers conduct extensive research, relying on personal documents, interviews, letters and historical records to compile a comprehensive account.
  • Authenticity: Biographies strive to convey the authentic voice and essence of the subject, capturing their uniqueness and the complexity of their life.
  • Critical evaluation: Some biographies include critical analysis and interpretation, discussing the impact of the subject’s actions and contributions on their time and subsequent generations.

10 bestselling biographies worth reading

  • Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges explores Turing’s contributions to computer science and his tragic life.
  • Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance offers insights into the entrepreneur’s ambitious ventures.
  • Frida by Hayden Herrera unravels the tumultuous life of the iconic Mexican artist Frida Kahlo.
  • Hamilton by Ron Chernow delves into the life of America’s Founding Father.
  • Malcolm X by Manning Marable offers a new perspective on the influential civil rights leader.
  • Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson is a comprehensive biography of Apple co-founder, providing insights into his leadership and innovations.
  • The Lost City of Z by David Grann conveys explorer Percy Fawcett’s quest for a mythical ancient city in the Amazon.
  • The Queen: A Life in Brief by Robert Lacey chronicles the reign of Queen Elizabeth II and the changing dynamics of the British monarchy.
  • The Revenant by Michael Punke is the true story of frontiersman Hugh Glass, who survived a grizzly bear attack in the American wilderness during the 1820s.
  • Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand is based on the incredible true story of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic athlete turned World War II bombardier who survived Japanese prison camps.
"Alan Turing: The Enigma" by Andrew Hodges illustrates the biography vs autobiography similarities and differences.
"Frida" by Hayden Herrera illustrates the biography vs autobiography similarities and differences.

Autobiography: Key characteristics

Autobiographies provide readers with a first-hand account of an individual’s life, allowing for a unique and personal exploration of the author’s experiences, challenges and triumphs.

The key characteristics of autobiography as a genre include:

  • First-person perspective: Autobiographies are written in the first person, with the author recounting their own experiences, thoughts and emotions, offering a direct and personal account of their life.
  • Subjective interpretation: Autobiographies reflect the author’s subjective viewpoint, providing insights into their perceptions, feelings and reflections on various life events.
  • Intimate and personal: Autobiographies often delve into personal details, emotions and private moments, creating a more intimate connection between the author and the reader.
  • Reflective tone: Authors of autobiographies often engage in self-reflection, analysing the significance of their experiences and the lessons learned throughout their life journey.
  • Emphasis on personal growth: Autobiographies frequently explore the author’s personal development, highlighting moments of growth, change and self-discovery throughout their life.
  • Selective memory: Authors may emphasise specific events, memories or themes in their life, shaping the narrative according to their perspective and priorities.
  • Narrative structure: Autobiographies may follow a chronological order, but some authors opt for a thematic or episodic structure, organising the narrative around key themes or significant life events.
  • Purposeful storytelling: Autobiographers often have a purpose or message they wish to convey: to inspire, educate or share a unique perspective. The storytelling is often purposeful and shaped by the author’s intentions.
  • Authentic voice: Autobiographies aim to capture the author’s authentic voice, allowing readers to connect with the narrator on a personal level and gain a deeper understanding of their individuality.
  • Integrity and truthfulness: While autobiographies are subjective, readers expect honesty and truthfulness from the author, even if the narrative is shaped by personal interpretation.

10 bestselling autobiographies worth reading 

  • Being Henry by Henry Winkler shares the disheartening truth of Happy DaysArrested Development and Barry star’s childhood, the difficulties living with dyslexia and the pressures of a role that takes on a life of its own.
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou explores the poet’s early life, struggles and triumphs.
  • Is This Ok? by Harriet Gibsone is a funny and honest account of trying to find a connection in the Internet age.
  • Kitchen Confidential by Anthony exposes the wild tales of the culinary industry: from his lowly position as a dishwasher to cooking at some of the finest restaurants in the world, Bourdain tells it all.
  • Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela is an inspiring journey from anti-apartheid activist to South Africa’s first black president.
  • My Life So Far by Jane Fonda chronicles the actor’s life in Hollywood, activism and personal growth.
  • Open by Andre Agassi reveals his triumphs, struggles and the personal costs of success in professional sports.
  • Spare by Prince Harry exposes the experiences of the royal life in the public eye, including trauma and mental health struggles.
  • The Happiest Man on Earth by Eddie Jaku is a lesson in how happiness can be found in the darkest of times, such as the author’s survival at the hands of the Nazis.
  • The Story of My Experiments with Truth by Mahatma Gandhi reflects on his life, principles and role in India’s struggle for independence. 
"I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" by Maya Angelou illustrates the biography vs autobiography similarities and differences.
"The Happiest Man on Earth" by Eddie Jaku illustrates the biography vs autobiography similarities and differences.

Biography vs autobiography: Similarities

Biography vs autobiography share several similarities, given that they both belong to the non-fiction genre and provide insights into the lives of individuals. Here are the main similarities:

  • Non-fiction nature: Both biographies and autobiographies are forms of non-fiction literature, presenting factual information about real people and events.
  • Focus on individual lives: The central theme of both genres is a specific person’s life. They aim to explore and document the subject’s experiences, achievements, challenges and personal growth.
  • Narrative structure: Biographies and autobiographies typically follow a narrative structure, organising events coherently and meaningfully. The storytelling can be chronological or structured thematically.
  • Character exploration: Both genres delve into the individual’s character, personality and motivations, providing readers with a more comprehensive understanding of the subject.
  • Historical and cultural context: Biographies and autobiographies often place the individual’s life within a broader historical, cultural or social context. This context helps readers comprehend the influences that shaped the person and the significance of their contributions.
  • Authenticity and truthfulness: Readers expect authenticity and truthfulness in both biographies and autobiographies. While the author’s perspective may influence the interpretation of events, there is an underlying expectation of factual accuracy.
  • Reflection on life events: Like memoirs, both genres may involve reflection on significant life events, personal growth and the impact of various experiences on the individual.
  • In-depth research: Authors of biographies and autobiographies often conduct extensive research to gather information from various sources, ensuring a comprehensive and well-informed portrayal of the subject’s life.

Despite these similarities, a key distinction is the writing perspective. A biography is typically written by someone other than the subject, offering an external viewpoint. On the other hand, an autobiography is self-written, providing a first-hand account of the author’s life.

Biography vs autobiography: Differences

The differences between biography vs autobiography highlight the distinct characteristics and approaches of biography and autobiography as literary genres:


  • Biography is written by an external author who researches and compiles information about the subject.
  • Autobiography is written by the subject of the narrative, providing a first-hand account.


  • Biography presents an external, third-person perspective on the subject’s life.
  • Autobiography offers a first-person perspective, allowing the author to share personal thoughts and experiences directly.

Objective vs subjective

  • Biographies aim for objectivity, presenting a balanced and factual account.
  • Autobiographies are inherently subjective, allowing the author’s interpretation and emotions to shape the narrative.

Point of view

  • Biographies are written from an outsider’s viewpoint, relying on research and interviews.
  • Autobiographies are written from the author’s own viewpoint, providing an intimate and personal narrative.


  • Biographies maintain an objective tone, avoiding personal bias or emotional involvement.
  • Autobiographies may exhibit a more emotional and personal tone, reflecting the author’s subjective experiences.

Research method

  • Biographers conduct external research, relying on various sources beyond the subject’s personal accounts.
  • Autobiographers draw on personal experiences, memories and reflections without relying on external research to the same extent.

Comprehensive coverage

  • Unlike memoirs, biographies often cover various aspects of the subject’s life, including personal, professional and public dimensions.
  • Autobiographies may focus on specific themes or periods, offering a more selective exploration of the author’s life.

Intended audience

  • Biographies cater to a broad audience interested in learning about significant individuals.
  • Autobiographies appeal to readers seeking a personal and intimate connection with the author’s life.

Narrative control

  • Biographers control the narrative and interpretation of the subject’s life.
  • Autobiographers have complete control over how their own life story is presented.

Biography vs autobiography: How can editing services prepare them for publication?

Editing services are crucial in preparing biographies and autobiographies for publication, ensuring the manuscript is well-structured and effectively communicates the author’s story. Here are different types of editing services and how they contribute to the publication process:

Developmental editing

  • Focus: Examining the overall structure and content.
  • Goal: Identifying areas that need improvement regarding organisation, clarity and coherence.
  • Result: Ensuring that the narrative flows logically, character development is robust, and key events are effectively portrayed.

Line editing

  • Focus: Polishing the manuscript line by line.
  • Goal: Addressing style, tone and language issues to improve overall writing quality.
  • Result: Enhancing the author’s writing style, making it more consistent and compelling.


  • Focus: Correcting grammar, punctuation and spelling errors.
  • Goal: Ensuring the manuscript adheres to language conventions and is free from technical errors.
  • Result: Ensuring the professional presentation of the text and minimising distractions caused by grammatical mistakes.


  • Focus: Verifying the accuracy of information presented in the manuscript.
  • Goal: Ensuring that names, dates, events and other details are correct and consistent.
  • Result: Guarantying the reliability of the information presented and maintaining the integrity of the narrative.


  • Focus: Reviewing the final version for typos and minor errors.
  • Goal: Providing a last check to catch any remaining mistakes before publication.
  • Result: Ensuring a polished and error-free manuscript for the final stages of production.


  • Focus: Ensuring the visual presentation of the text.
  • Goal: Formatting the manuscript for consistency and preparing it for publication.
  • Result: Creating a professional and visually appealing layout, optimising the reading experience.


  • Focus: Creating an index for easy reference.
  • Goal: Compiling an organised index of names, events and topics mentioned in the biography.
  • Result: Enhancing the usability of the biography as a reference tool.

Final thoughts

In conclusion, although biography vs autobiography offer unique perspectives on the lives of individuals, they differ in their approach and style. A biography provides an objective and informative account of a person’s life. On the other hand, an autobiography offers a subjective and personal exploration of the author’s experiences. In sum, biography vs autobiography — each genre has its strengths and limitations.

Moreover, professional editing services, including developmental, line, copyediting and proofreading, play a vital role in preparing these genres for publication. The editing process ensures coherence, readability and accuracy, allowing biographies and autobiographies to connect with readers effectively.

Contact me for a free sample edit of your manuscript (and remember to use my early bird discount). I am an experienced editor working with non-fiction, academic and business texts. I can help prepare your text for publication, from a big-picture analysis through bringing to the fore your authorial voice to ensuring the correctness and consistency of the language.

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I am an editor, indexer and a lifelong lover of literature with a PhD in literary history. I am an Intermediate Member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP), a student member of the Society of Indexers and a vetted partner of the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi).