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A biography is a detailed description of a person's life. An autobiography is a biography in which the author writes about his or her own life. Many biographies focus on one person. Some are collective biographies which have information about multiple people. Some collective biographies are subject specific, like a book or series about famous scientists or one about actors. 

When do I use a biography?

Use a biography when you need the following:

  • quick facts about an individual
  • in-depth information about an individual
  • information about an individual's role in a specific event (Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War) 

Where do I find a biography?

Look for a biography online or in the reference or nonfiction sections of your library. Often the books have a call number of 921, 920 (collective), B or Bio, or the number associated with what the individual is noted for (athletes in 796 or mathematicians in 510). Use your library's online catalog to find the call number by using the person's name in a subject search. Or, enter the topic you are interested in, like athletes or mathematicians, and add biography as a keyword.  

How is a biography organized?

Biographies can be arranged in a variety of ways. Some cover a person's entire life, and others focus on a single aspect. In the case of collective biographies, a chapter or section will often focus on one individual.

How do I use a print biography?

Think about what information you need. Use the table of contents in the front to see how the book is arranged, and use the index in the back to locate the specific pieces of information you need. In a collective biography, the index will list names of individuals and also related topics and events.

The index is in alphabetical order by main headings (usually in bold print) and subheadings (usually indented).

Example: From the index of this collective biography 
about famous athletes, you can see subjects like rollerblading, 
individuals like Pete Rose, and events like the Rose Bowl.

This biography is a multi-volume set. The first number
for an entry indicates the volume number of the book.
The number after the colon indicates the page numbers 
where the information is located.

For example, to read about the Rose Bowl, find volume 3
and turn to page 1206.





How do I use an online biography?

Your public or school library might have eBook biographies about the person you are studying. Check the online catalog or databases. Also, there are websites dedicated to biographical information, like and Browse by topics or use the search features available on the website, eBook, or database. You can also use the find function to find specific words on a page. Use Control + F (or Command + F for Macs) to open a search box. Or, use a search engine like Google to search the Internet for information about your subject.