Biography Book Report: Tips from 2 Authors

Biography Book Report: Tips from 2 Authors

Beginning in elementary school, students learn to write simple book reports, discussing things like setting, characters, and good vs. evil in fictional stories.  As students progress through each academic level, writing a book report often becomes less about sharing one's favorite story and more about critically analyzing an assigned reading or non-fiction book.  One of the most challenging non-fiction assignments is the biography book report.

Biography book reports are, as the name implies, surveys of biographical books.  Because many learners are not fans of reading biographies, especially those that are assigned as part of academic reading rather than elective reading, biography book reports are not favored assignments.

A biography book report requires analysis of not only the author and the person who is the focus of the book, but also literary elements such as setting, characters, tone, symbolism, etc.  In a biography book report, the main character is obvious; it is the individual about whom the biography has been written.  Other important characters are those individuals who have existed as major players in that person's life.  

Since a biography chronicles the events of the subject's life, or a portion of that life, the setting may change throughout the course of the book.  In biography projects that detail a short time during a person's life, or that concentrate on a certain event, the setting becomes easier to determine.  Still, it is acceptable to indicate how the setting changes during the course of the biography.  Unlike a third-grade book report, a biography book report assignment assumes that students are capable of identifying multiple settings at their current academic stage.

The content, or events, contained within a biography are also far more detailed than they were when the assigned reading was Goodnight Moon.  In college, biography book reports might be on such readings as Mein Kampf or Stalin: The Glasnost Revelations.  These readings are far more challenging.  However, even though the writing and interpretation of the material that a college student presents in his or her biography book report are expected to be far more mature than that which was expected in elementary or even high school, the basics of how to write a biography book report have not changed much at all.

Viewpoint of Author #2

A biography term paper is a lengthy text that presents research on a particular individual.  A term paper is typically around ten pages, and is intended to present a student's comprehensive understanding of the course material of the class for which the project is being composed.  Therefore, biography reports should always present the individual subject in context of the topic of the course.  For instance, if the biography term paper were about Martin Luther King, Jr., and it were for a race relations course, the biography would likely focus on King's experiences and achievements regarding his civil rights work.  If, however, the class were on prominent 20th century religious leaders, the focus of the biography would likely shift to King's religious teachings and messages.  Of course, both biography term papers would include information regarding both King's role as a civil rights leader and King's role as a Baptist minister; however, the subject of the course will determine the overall focus of the biography itself.

Biography term papers are different from other types of biographical sketches or texts a student may write because they will likely require the student to present his or her opinion or interpretation of some aspect of the individual on which the biography term paper is being written.  This means that it will not simply be an overview of the person's life such as one that may be found in an encyclopedia; rather, it will address a specific aspect of that person's life and analyze and interpret it.  The writer should therefore present a clear thesis statement identifying what particular aspect of the individual's life he or she will discuss and what his or her opinion is on it.  For instance, a main argument for a biography term paper on Martin Luther King, Jr. written for a race relations class may be as follows: "Dr. King's upbringing and the influence of civil rights leaders that went before him formed both his approach to achieving equal rights and his style of leadership."  This thesis presents a very specific aspect of King's life, and also presents the writer's opinion, which is that King's leadership style and his approach to civil rights were a result of both his upbringing and the influence of his civil rights predecessors.  

Biography reports should not rely on one or two sources for their research, but should investigate multiple sources on the individual on which the article is about—even sources that do not present that individually favorably.  In this way, the report will be able to present a multi-dimensional view of both the individual and the writer's opinion about that individual.

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