This document is not current, and is kept only for archival purposes. Please refer to Everything2 Help for all up-do-date help documents.Whatever your field of interest here in Everything2, be it computers, games, art, science or music, there is one common thread which runs in common with every other area of interest: people. Whatever has been written, designed, discovered or invented, someone did it.
It is because of this, and our interest in the people who have shaped (and are still shaping) our world, that we write about them. Writing about a particular person is writing a biography.
So when writing about someone, what do you need to write about? Well, obviously if you are writing about a musician, you will tell us about their music; about an artist, their art. Whilst this may be satisfactory to you, there are clearly other things to consider, things which other people may want to know about. For example, what made this person do what they did? What was their social background like, what sort of childhood, who influenced them and who did they influence? This adds colour to the writeup.
- The Basics. First and foremost, have you got the name right? It is easy to look for someone in the database, fail to find them and dive in to node, only to find later that you had mispelled their name, and that they were already noded. Do your homework.
So, what if they are known by a number of names? How should you title the node? Here, the common-sense approach is to node them by the name by which they are best known – consider how people are going to search for this person!. Frederick Alphonse Bloggs may be his full name, but if he is better known as Fred Bloggs, then that is how you should title the node. If you are in any doubt, carry out a Google search for all name variations, as detailed below. Titles may also cause problems; "Sir Colin So-and-so" will still be found if you node him under Colin So-and-so. Keep it simple.
- Research. So now you are sure you have the right name, ask yourself what you know of them already. Now ask what someone else might want to know.
Having done that, begin your research. There are many sources of information, from encyclopædias, and your local library to the internet. Whilst researching, say Fred Bloggs, a Google search for "Fred Bloggs" biography can turn up a number of sites with a wide variety of information, and biography.com may provide you with a basic framework.
- What's needed? Now begin to ask yourself what you should include. Significant dates might include birth and death, and significant events in that person's life. Where they were born, and to whom, any famous ancestors, their schooling – all play a part in their course of life. Who did they meet, what did they experience? What were social and political conditions like as they grew up? All these things influence each of us and certainly moulded the person you are writing about, and they will give your readers a solid background.
- The Little Things There are many things which go to make us who we are, whether famous or not. What about those little quirks and foibles which make us unique?
Einstein, for instance, kept several suits of clothes, all identical. He said that this saved him the trouble of expending thought on "what to wear today". This snippet of information, whilst apparently trivial, adds to our understanding of the man, his character and nature.
Quotes, both about and by the individual also add some spice, as well as offering some little insight and often providing a little touch of humour.
- Be warned that your sources may disagree. Sometimes, the facts are not immediately clear - dates, especially in distant times were not always recorded accurately. Places and events may vary from one account to another. In some cases, you may meet highly subjective and opinionated accounts, which seemingly contradict one another. Occasionally you may need to develop more than one line of thought in your writeup, or make clear that there are divergences. Two phrases will serve to illustrate this: "One man's freedom fighter is another man's terrorist", and "history was written by the winners". Be aware of this, and advise your readers that there are alternative views of this life.
- How long? This is a thorny issue for some people, as tremendous length does not necessarily equate to quality. Most people would rather read a well-written 500-word piece than a 5000-word dry, if encyclopædic entry, and there is no harm in a nice, short writeup provided it covers the major points in the subject's life. The concept of a lede article is well-known – many E1 writeups still stand as examples of good introductory writing.
- Putting it all together. Now you are ready to begin. Decide how you are going to present the information. There are many ways of doing this – the most simple and common being a straightforward timeline approach, moving from birth to death. Other methods are often used in conjunction with this, perhaps focusing on aspects of the life under consideration, including upbringing and education, fields of interest, influences and so on. There are no rules, just suggestions. Read some biographies here and you will see that there is more than one way of spreading this particular bit of butter.
Begin at the beginning – introduce the character, tell your readers very simply what they are famous for. There is nothing worse than having to read two or three paragraphs before finding out just what they actually did! A fictional example to illustrate:
Amanda Herriotte, Australian desert ice sculptor. 1938 - 1977Here is a brief introduction, which may tell the casual reader all they need to know. This can then be followed by the finer detail. Balancing the introduction against the remainder of the information can be tricky. Usually, a carefully-crafted paragraph or two at the beginning will suffice, but often this will be enough to draw your reader onto the main body, the real meat of the biography.
"Designs in ice, cool concepts from a hot artist" - Pabla PicassaWithout any doubt, Amanda created a unique artform in the most hostile environment, both physical and artistic. She is remembered for many things, not just her sculpture, but also her influence on the ecological movements of the 1960s.
Now you can begin to develop your theme in earnest. Having decided on the order of events and how you will present them, give heed to how your readers will actually read it. However long the biography is, key areas may be made to stand out with carefully-chosen subheadings. These serve a number of purposes – if they are bold headings, they help the reader to quickly move to an area of particular interest. In addition they provide white space, visual cues and resting places for the eye (this is a good thing in any event, as reading on a computer monitor is more difficult for most people than reading on paper).
- Ending it all. Once you have finished the main body of the writeup, a good conclusion will add the final touch. It is tempting to simply finish with a bibliography, discography or other -ography, but these are frequently too dry and lengthy. Are they necessary at all? Perhaps so, but if you do have such a list, remember to format and hardlink it (if it is very lengthy, consider using the <small> tag).
Finishing with their death can be quite sudden – a quick summary will help the reader to draw conclusions. You might include some personal notes on their effect on you, society or their field of interest. Again, a well-chosen quote can do a lot to help your reader to put them into context.
Finally, do not forget to credit your sources – a short list of your major resources will demonstrate that you have done your homework.
Finally... remember that copy and paste is a sure-fire way of attracting negative attention. Do not fall into the trap of thinking that you can simply paste a chunk of text into a writeup, format it and leave it at that. Quotes should be clearly marked as such, placed in quotation marks, and possibly even in <em>phasis to help it stand out. If you are quoting a long passage, <blockquote> will create an indented paragraph which again, adds to the clarity and the reader's understanding.
Lastly, do not forget that this is an excercise in providing good reading and excellent factual information, as well as providing enjoyment for yourself and your readers.
Contributed by wertperch