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Writing an Autobiography

Module by: Anne Pinchera. E-mail the author

Summary: You will be looking at some concepts used in writing an autobiography and the purpose it serves. You will be going over the information you will be asked to include in your writing. With proper reflection, this activity will result in the creation of critical reflective autobiography

The Autobiography


In this segment, you will be looking at some concepts in writing an autobiography and review information you want to include in your writing. With proper reflection and organization, this activity will result in the creation a critically reflective piece you can use for a multitude of purposes. Say, for example, you want to create a different kind of resume highlighting skills developed over time; or an evaluation of learning for career change, or just to see how you have changed over time. The autobiography is not something that should be difficult to write. Who knows more about you than you?

Instructors find one of the most difficult tasks in a writing intensive course is simply to get students familiar with writing. A successful exercise often used is to have students write something about them. Readings about the way adults learn also show that one of the more productive exercises is writing an autobiography. Before beginning, there are some aspects of the autobiography requiring explanation.

Why Write an Autobiography In the First Place

Walk into any bookstore and look at prevailing titles on sale. Every book display highlights someone’s autobiography. However, why do they write about themselves, especially if the circumstances are not positive? A person will write about their family or about themselves to hand down historical events and timelines, to record information for future generations, but most of all, writing about the family or about oneself assists both the writer and the reader to become familiar with events and conditions surrounding resulting actions. Creating the feeling of familiarity and understanding, preserving family history, or serving as a form of repentance; are primary reasons for writing an autobiography.

Of course, you know who you are, or do you? Writing a critically reflective autobiography asks you to take a critical look at yourself and really become familiar with who and what you are. The intention here is not in a negative sense, but one of the first things you must do as an adult learner in order to be successful. This means really acknowledging your feelings and emotions on a variety of topics such as school, learning in general, your job, and your future. Through reflection, you think critically about yourself in order to understand who you are, what you want to do, and where you want to go in a career direction.


Contrary to what most people think, you do not just sit down with paper, pen in hand, and begin writing. You must first develop a focus or theme for the topic. The writing must be organized and follow a logical timeline. In addition, the writing must be relevant, and directed toward a specific purpose. For example, the autobiography is for an introduction to an audience. In this case, you are an adult looking to develop a very interesting résumé. The job description also wants an autobiography. Now you have a general direction or topics, which would most likely include:

  1. Your Academic History - is about you in the world of academics. Focus on what you felt and how you believe education has influenced what you have done. You are once again in the world of academics. What do you think school is going to do for you? Is this what you always wanted? Is the goal one you set for yourself? This section should reflect of your perceptions and what brought you to this point
  2. Work History - is about your professional life. You have a work history and it includes something you have taken away from every job you had. This section should present what you are doing and trying to achieve. If you are changing careers, talk about why and what led you to this decision
  3. Motivation - as you begin your writing, think about what has been the motivating factor in what you have done, and what you want to achieve. Motivation is the power that drives us. Motivation is the power that keeps us going. Just wanting to have a degree because everyone else has one is not enough, but wanting the degree because it will get you the brass ring, well, that is another matter!
  4. Where Are You? In almost every job interview, someone asks the question, “Where you see yourself 5 or 10 years from now?” Ask yourself that question. Where is that motivational power pushing you? Be realistic in your assessment. Even though you are writing this for a course, or required submission, you are also writing this for you. It is you taking a picture of yourself and getting in touch with you.

Now, even before you begin to write, you have something to consider. Start with a note pad and begin a sheet for each of the above topics: School, Work, Motivation, and Where Am I. Brainstorm notes and keep them aside until you are ready to begin writing. You will think of something you might want to include. Insure you remember to include it be writing it. Do not rely on your memory. You can always edit the list afterward.

The Focus

Autobiographies always start with a theme. It is the reason you are writing your autobiography. The example in the last segment focused on resume development. Although your autobiography for any critically reflective writing class will be relatively short, you are going to have to focus on specific items in your thoughts and your writing.

A good autobiography focuses on three important issues:

  • Who you are
  • The meaning of life from your perspective
  • What you envision for the future

For this module, you will focus on these three items but with a slightly different twist. You will only need a paragraph or two introducing yourself. You are not writing a detailed account of your life, but an overview to give the reader an idea of how you see the world around you. The following exercise should serve as a guide for you.

Exercise 1: Exercise in Reflection

For this exercise, you will write as much as it takes to answer the question. Some responses may be very simple, while others may take more time. Right now, the format does not matter since you will use this as the foundation for your work. Now, answer the following questions:

  • Your name
  • Educational experience
  • Experience with online classes and the traditional class
  • What kind of work you do
  • A bit about you and your family
  • What you expect to accomplish


Look at the questions. You can clearly see the focus is not on growing up, but on your learning and experiences in learning. Instead of looking at the meaning of life, you are going to be looking at your learning experiences. Many educators believe your outlook on education comes from experiences in K - 12 classes. Encouraging teachers, especially in the early grades, often lay the foundation for perceptions of education as well as how we view the educational process.

Writing Your Critically Reflective Autobiography

Higher education wants writing to follow a certain standard. Regardless of the style, the common element is written double-spaced and in standard font. It should consist of 5 - 8 pages without a cover page. You will probably not have to include references since you are writing about your own reflections. Your paper should include the following sections:

  • Cover page - Include
    • The topic
    • Your name
    • Course identification
    • Instructor name
    • Date
  • Introduction - Introduce yourself to the audience. A paragraph or two should be sufficient to cover the following:
    • Your name
    • Educational experience
    • Experience with online classes
    • What kind of work you do
    • A bit about you and your family
    • What you expect to accomplish
  • Educational Overview - You had a great deal to reflect on already, but if you still require some additional thoughts there are:
    • Learning to think critically
    • Reflections on experiences in learning
    • Your philosophy on education
    • How your education prepared you for the workforce
  • Work History - Again you have developed a great deal of material for this section, but some additional thoughts are:
    • Classifying jobs by type
    • What drew you to the jobs you had
    • Training you may have needed to get the job
    • Support from family and friends
    • Educational support
    • What job gave you the most satisfaction
    • What talents you have for specific jobs
    • What experiences prepared you for what lay ahead
    • What barriers you encountered

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