Answered By: Jeffrey Orrico
Last Updated: Feb 13, 2017     Views: 5673

While each of these forms of writing illuminates the life, work, and worldview of an individual, they are differentiated by the degree of objectivity and factual content, as well stylistic approaches and perspectives.

Note: The below definitions are from the Oxford English Dictionary [electronic resource.] 

 

Autobiography, n. – 

Typically in book form, an autobiography is an account of a person’s life told by the himself or herself. An autobiography tends to be a more general history, while a memoir focuses on a specific piece of the author's life.    

Title

Autobiography : I wonder as I wander / edited with an introduction by Joseph McLaren.

Author

Hughes, Langston, 1902-1967.

 

Biography, n. –

A biography is a written account (although it may come in other forms such as recorded or visual media) of events and circumstances of another person’s life. Most commonly written about a historical or public figure, it profiles a person’s life or life’s work.

Title

Ella Fitzgerald : a biography of the first lady of jazz / Stuart Nicholson.

Author

Nicholson, Stuart.

 

Diary, n. – 

A daily record of personal matters, transactions or events affecting the writer personally or the result of the author’s observations. 

Title

The diary of a young girl : the definitive edition / Anne Frank ; edited by Otto H. Frank and Mirjam Pressler ; translated by Susan Massotty.

Author

Frank, Anne, 1929-1945.

 

Journal, adj. AND  n. – 

Often referring to a more detailed account than that of a diary, a journal contains events or matters of personal interest, kept for one’s own use. Either in the form of daily accounts or entries for when events occur. 

Title

The unabridged journals of Sylvia Plath, 1950-1962 / edited by Karen V. Kukil.

Author

PlathSylvia.

 

Memoir, n. – 

A record of events or history from the personal knowledge, experience, perspective or special source information of the author. Frequently include autobiographic reminiscences. Memoirs tend to cover in detail a specific aspect of an author's life, while an autobiography is a more general history. 

Title

A Vietcong memoir / Truong Nhu Tang, with David Chanoff and Doan Van Toai.

Author

Truong, Nhu Tang.

 

 

Narrative, n. – 

           Such an essay tells a story about a personal experience. This writing form is interested with language, character development, description, etc. to illustrate the story being conveyed and the purpose of narrating it. 

 Purdue Online Writing Lab

 

Expository, n. –

This is a genre of essay that requires the author to research an idea, make original observations and present an argument based on evidence in a clear and concise manner. 

Purdue Online Writing Lab

 

Oral history, n. – 

A story or collection of stories or past events that have been passed down by word of mouth. Sometimes including record oral histories, this form of history relies on compiling recollections from people who were told these histories or whom lived these stories.  

  Conducting Oral Histories with Veterans

 

In recent years, publishers have avoided classifying life stories as “autobiographies”, with the attendant expectation of editorial fact-checking.  By using  a classification such as  “memoir” or “personal essay” or “narrative”, a number of works later determined to be mostly or entirely fictional have been initially presented as nonfiction (e.g.  A Thousand Little Pieces by James Frey).  As when evaluating other research materials, it is important to consider whether the author is objective and complete in his or her writing.

In addition, only a biographer writing after the subject’s death is able to relate the events surrounding the death and the post-death consensus as to the individual’s significance.

Nonetheless, the personal narrative, even if subjective or incomplete, may add to one’s understanding of the individual’s values and viewpoint.

 

For briefer articles on individuals, try the biographies contained in print and online reference works, including:

 

Below are some library resources on interpreting the various forms of life writing.

 

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