Difference Between Biography and Auto-Biography

Edited by Diffzy | Updated on: April 30, 2023


Difference Between Biography and Auto-Biography

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Remember that there is often real confusion between an autobiography and a biography. There is a lot of similarity between both of these book types, and this is why there is a real need for someone, anyone, to put down the difference in layman's terms.

A Biography is usually written by anyone, whereas an Autobiography seems to have the person in question featured in the text. A Biography is sometimes candidly called a life sketch; An autobiography is also called a story of the person's life course, but in this case, it is recounted by that very person, who also happens to be the writer.

For an article that shows the differences between both, you might find it odd that a list of their similarities is given in this article. However, by doing so, it will help to articulate the reason for the confusion between either of the two terms.

  • Usually, the genre for both a Biography and an Autobiography is 'non-fiction'. Now that we know that both topics have the same genre, it is easy to get confused.
  •  Both autobiographies and biographies have a similar structure (timeline of the person's life) and have a similar purpose as well, i.e., to tell the story of a person's life.
  • Both types of books will craft a story based on similar features like descriptions of the said person's characteristics and what they were like as people. Essentially, both autobiographies and biographies give us a perception of the person's life.
  • Both stories will be written in chronological order as both will be the story of the same person.
  • Both stories will usually be written about Great Figures in History, Political Life, Achievers, etc.

Hence one can understand from the given similarities why it is so easy for most people to be confused between what a Biography is and an Autobiography is.

Biography vs. Autobiography

'A self that goes on changing is a self that goes on living': so too with the biography of that self. And just as lives don't stay still, so life-writing can't be fixed and finalized. Our ideas are shifting about what can be said, our knowledge of human character is changing. The biographer has to pioneer, going 'ahead of the rest of us, like the miner's canary, testing the atmosphere, detecting falsity, unreality, and the presence of obsolete conventions'. So, 'There are some stories which have to be retold by each generation'. 

Consider the above excerpt from the book 'Virginia Woolf' written by Hermione Lee. It is a biography (not an autobiography), and a work of non-fiction. You might have been confused at first, as to what sort of book this excerpt was taken from. Read the rest of the article for more tips on what Biographies are, what Autobiographies are, and how they differ.

While a biography is nothing but an account of someone's life written by someone else, An autobiography is the story of someone's life experiences as written by that same person.

As strange as it seems, the difference lies in the authorship! An autobiography is sometimes called a self-biography. A biography, on the other hand, is a detailed description of someone else's life.

Difference Between a Biography and an Autobiography in Tabular Form

Parameters of Comparison Biography Autobiography
Definition Biography is a book written on an influential individual by an author. Autobiography is a book written on an influential person by himself or herself.
Author A researcher. The self.
Royalty fee The person who is the subject is liable to receive the royalty fee. No royalty fee is paid.
Narration Third-person narration. First-person narration.
Content External research plus the person’s life journey. Personal memories and opinions.
Information A secondary source of information. The primary source of information.
Story The story could be of the person or an aspect related to the person. The story is about a person.
Introduction Includes why the book is written on this person. The introduction is about a person’s personal basic details.

What is Biography?

The Cambridge English Dictionary defines the word Biography as the story of the life of a person written by someone else, or the area of literature relating to books that describe such stories. An example of a sentence using the word Biography is : The biography is woven from the many accounts which exist of things she did.

Usually, a Biography is different in the sense that it not only tells a story but also

  • Remember that it serves as a record of a person's actions.
  • Takes trouble to recreate the life of the individual about whom the story is being told for the audience, i.e., the readers.
  • A biography goes so far as to explore the events that happened in another person's life, covering topics such as their childhood, family situation, and other related events.
  • Biographies generally are written about prominent persons, i.e., political figures, athletes, social workers, educationists, and other dynamic individuals who could be considered movers and shakers in society.
  • The person in question, the hero/heroine of the book, almost always has to be a positive role model, someone people would like to emulate, owing to some of their noteworthy positive qualities.
  • Biographies are almost always written in formal language...
  • Dates and times are usually included to give the reader a feel of the story, and these are also usually included in their proper chronological order.
  • A biography usually includes interesting pictures.
  • A written biography is considered a part of the contribution to mainstream literature.
  • It is a known fact that famous biographies are often made into movies (that are commonly called Biopics). 

Is that information enough? You must be aching for more! The word Biography, as it were, has its origins in the Greek terms 'Bios' and 'Graphia'. While 'Bios' means Life, 'Graphia' means writing...

A biography is said to be a real account of someone's life. Most of the time, Biographies are said to recount stories of famous and influential people, as well as the so-called ordinary people, who have done extraordinary things.

Consider the following excerpt from the book 'Storyteller: The Authorized Biography of Roald Dahl'

 'I wanted desperately to make a film. Any film. So I took my chance. It was an obvious suggestion—a portrait of the most famous and successful living children's writer. The motivation however behind my plan was largely opportunistic. At that point, I had read none of Dahl's children's fiction other than Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. On the other hand, as a thirteen-year-old, I had read most of his adult short stories, feasting on them with concentrated relish from behind a school desk during math lessons.' 

A good example of a biography that you would probably be interested in reading: is 'Where I am now' by Mara Wilson, in which the child prodigy actress who starred in the Hit 90's movie 'Matilda' tells her life story.

What is an Autobiography?

The Cambridge English Dictionary defines the word Biography as the story of the life of a person written by that person, or the area of literature relating to books that describe such stories. A good example of a sentence using the word Biography is : The book was a mixture of family history and autobiography.

An autobiography, much like a Biography is also considered to be great literature. The word Autobiography, has Greek roots, Auto (which is Greek for self) after which come the words Bio (life) and graphein (writing).

When the story in question is narrated by the person whose experiences it is, we call it an autobiography. He probably wants people to see his side of the story, to understand his anecdotes and experiences from his point of view, and thus give the reader a peek into what life is like as seen by the writer.

The similar characteristics of a biography and an autobiography do not need to be repeated. Just like in the list given in the previous paragraph, the features of an autobiography are given below:

  • serves as a record for a person's actions
  • recreates the said person's life story in a realistic manner for the reader
  • retells the events of a person's life
  • tells the entire tale in a chronological fashion
  • includes interesting graphics
  • almost always is written by a well-known individual
  • almost always a positive role model

Usually, a person who writes an Autobiography is called an Autobiographer. An autobiography can be written by anyone, and usually would be a very vivid account of their own personal experiences.

Trivia: Did you know that an Autobiography can be fictional as well? Consider reading some excellent fictional autobiographies that might be available on the internet. It is indeed an account of the person's experiences, but they do not necessarily have to be bound by facts.

A noteworthy example of an Autobiography that you would probably be interested in reading: Tina Turner: My Love Story (official autobiography), which tells the story of Tina Turner a well-known American pop culture icon, from the 1980's. She is famed to have sung unforgettable numbers like 'What's love got to do with it?'

The following excerpt is taken from her book aptly titled 'Tina Turner: My Love Story (Official Autobiography)'

"Throughout my life, there have been lots of times when you might have asked me, 'How did you get out of that one?' I did dangerous things. But in the eleventh hour, something always told me to run, how to survive. No matter what happened to me, I came through it every time. I decided well, maybe thats the way things are supposed to roll. Maybe Im here for a reason, and that reason is to share my story with you."

Difference Between a Biography and an Autobiography in Points

  • While an autobiography is the story of a person's life as he narrates it, it his own point of view. A biography, on the other hand, is a commentary on the life of someone else.
  • An autobiographer is usually the best source for information, regarding the achievements and other events in his own life, rather than another writer who attempts to write his biography (that is obviously because it is in fact, written by someone else.)
  • A biography could possibly be biased for/against the person and his ethos, an autobiography on the other hand is likely to portray the most positive aspects of a person's life experiences
  • A biography may or may not require authorization, whereas an Autobiography doesn't require authorization.
  • The purpose of a Biography is to inform the readers about the said person and his life, whereas the purpose of an Autobiography is for the writer (usually him/herself) to tell their life story, achievements etc.
  • The language used in an autobiography is narrative, using words like I, me, etc., and is usually written in first person. The language used in a Biography is third person.
  • There is no such thing as a fictional biography. There is however the concept of fictional autobiographies - For example, 'The autobiography of a Treehouse'.


We can understand the common confusion that autobiographies and biographies are often thought of in the same context. Both titles tell the story of someone's life, they have similar characteristics, i.e., they are both usually non-fiction genre books, they tell the time line of a person's life in detail (dates included), include detailed imagery, and are both considered as significant contributions to literature.

However, there is a subtle difference that this write-up hopes to make known here: While an autobiography is generally the account of a person's life experiences as written by himself, a biography is different in the sense that, it is written by another person, about another person. Hopefully, the above-given text is simply enough to understand, in layman's terms.

Included here is an excerpt from an autobiography mentioned in the write-up given above. Hopefully, it will inspire you to buy either of these books, and get into the wonderful habit of reading inspiring literary works!


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"Difference Between Biography and Auto-Biography." Diffzy.com, 2024. Sun. 21 Apr. 2024. <https://www.diffzy.com/article/difference-between-biography-and-auto-biography-1187>.

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