College Autobiography Term Paper

An autobiographical research paper is a text that blends the writer's own experience with scholarly research in order to present an idea, point, or argument about a particular topic.  Autobiographical research papers aren't common assignments outside of a student's English composition course; however, they're a common form of writing that's frequently found in popular magazines and journals.  Therefore, students may be more familiar with autobiographical research writing than they may think.

An autobiographical research paper is very different from a standard project that seeks to present a claim about a specific topic through the use of external sources.  In an autobiographical research paper, the majority of the text deals with the writer's own experience.  Research is used only to support the author's opinions or clarify his/her experience.  For example, an autobiographical research paper may be about a student's experience with discrimination.  Because the project is an autobiographical research paper rather than a standard research paper, much of this paper will discuss events and experiences that happened directly to the student, and recount those events from the point-of-view of the student.  In other words, the autobiographical research paper will use the first-person voice ("I" and "me").  This is another characteristic of autobiographical papers that sets them apart from standard research papers: in most standard research paper writing, the use of the first-person voice is discouraged or even forbidden.

The research element of autobiographical research papers is used as support for the student's claims and as validation for his/her recounted experiences.  For instance, if the student were a Latina writing about discrimination against Latinos in the workplace, he/she wouldn't only mention his/her personal experience, but indicate how his/her experience compares to other Latinos by pointing to research studies citing statistics of discrimination against Latinos in the workplace.  In this way, the writer's own experience becomes not only a personal expression of his/her individual life, but one instance among many illustrating a trend of discrimination.  

The type of research used in autobiographical research papers will likely depend on the topic.  For instance, in an autobiographical research paper about traveling in Tibet, a student wouldn't incorporate statistical data, but scholarly studies that examine Tibetan cultural practices.  Regardless of what type of research is included, however, it should be used to supplement the writer's own personal experience—not speak for it.

Biography Book Reports

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 aren't fans of reading biographies, especially those that are assigned as part of academic reading rather than elective reading, biography book reports aren't 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's the individual about whom the biography has been completed.  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's 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/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 haven't changed much at all.

Autobiographical Essays

At some point in his/her college career, a student will likely be required to complete an autobiographical essay.  In fact, most college admissions applications require the prospective student to complete an autobiographical essay (otherwise known as a "personal statement").

Students often find writing autobiographical essays difficult for multiple reasons.  First, many learners have a hard time talking about themselves.  Second, students often have difficulty with finding a topic for their document.  Third, students often misinterpret the purpose of completing a biographical paper.

To make the process easier for students and to ensure that they don't receive autobiography essays that are vary so greatly that they're difficult to read, clear instructions are provided.  Many universities give specific guidelines for length, format, and topic.  So, although the subject is the student him/herself, the topic might include something such as "The most important moment of your life," or "What is your dream career?"  

Still, many learners fall short of submitting a riveting autobiography essay.  Instead, they submit a piece which fails to differentiate them from the multitude of other students who have been given the same assignment.

The point behind autobiographical essays is to give students the opportunity to present their own unique sense of themselves.  For this reason, a student should select a topic that hasn't been overdone.  One's experience on the student council, winning the district semi-finals, or that last family vacation aren't what college admissions counselors want to read.  They want to know what makes each student unique.  What makes each one different from the thousands of other students who apply to that same school each year?  

It is important that an autobiographical essay steer away from a rote dictation of the student's life or activities.  Such essays are not only dull, they do not—in any way—differentiate the student from the masses.  The report should also be easy and entertaining to read.  It should have personality and it should reflect the personality of the writer.  Students don't do themselves justice by writing in a way that they aren't comfortable with.  Such writing is obvious to the reader.

The best autobiographical essays are a clear snapshot of a part of the writer's life.  Whether that snapshot is a one-time event or a brief synopsis of a series of events, the reader should be able to visualize the events.  They should come to life and animate the writer him/herself for the reader.

Biography Term Papers

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 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 that a student may write because they will likely require him/her to present his/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/she will discuss and what his/her opinion is on it.  For instance, a main argument for a biography term paper on Martin Luther King, Jr. completed 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/her approach to achieving equal rights and his/her 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 approach to civil rights were a result of both his upbringing and the influence of his civil rights predecessors.  

Biography reports shouldn't rely on one or two sources for their research, but should investigate multiple sources on the individual on which the paper is about—even sources that don't 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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Lesson Plan

The Year I Was Born: An Autobiographical Research Project


Grades9 – 12
Lesson Plan TypeStandard Lesson
Estimated TimeFive 50-minute sessions
Lesson Author




In this autobiography with a twist, students conduct interviews of friends and family members, as well as online and library research to find details on what was going on internationally, nationally, locally, in sports, music, arts, commercial, TV, and publishing during the year that they were born. After they've gathered their research, they discuss how they will organize their information, typically in chronological order, and then create a rough outline. In small groups, students share and get feedback on their research and outlines. They then refine their outline into a paper that they publish as a newspaper or booklet using an online publishing tool.

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  • Printing Press: Use this online tool to create a newspaper, brochure, booklet, or flyer. Students choose a layout, add content, and then print out their work.

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This mini-research paper draws on Daniels and Bizar's idea of integrative units, combining research into a specific historical time and research into students' family lives with the English study of understanding voice and point of view in a writing assignment. Carol Booth Olson believes authentic research "stems from a student's intense need to know about a topic that has immediate relevance for him or her." In this instance, the topic the student is researching is his or her place in the world at the time of his or her birth.

Further Reading

Daniels, Harvey and Marilyn Bizar. 1998. Methods That Matter. York, Maine: Stenhouse.


Olson, C.B. (2003). The reading/writing connection: Strategies for teaching and learning in the secondary classroom. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.


Shafer, Gregory. "Re-envisioning Research." English Journal 89.1 (September 1999): 45-50.

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Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.



Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.



Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and nonprint texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.



Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.



Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).


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Resources & Preparation


Grades   K – 12  |  Student Interactive  |  Writing & Publishing Prose

Printing Press

The interactive Printing Press is designed to assist students in creating newspapers, brochures, and flyers.


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  1. Make copies or overhead transparencies of all handouts students will need: Year I Was Born Research Project, Links to Websites handout, Sample Paper, Research Form, Self-Reflection questions, and Research Paper Rubric. Alternatively, arrange to project the handouts using an LCD Projector.
  2. Arrange for Internet access for students, so they can complete the online research and publish their work.
  3. Test the Printing Press on your computers to familiarize yourself with the tools and ensure that you have the Flash plug-in installed. You can download the plug-in from the technical support page.

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Instructional Plan


Students will:

  • conduct research, using a variety of resources including personal interviews, primary documents, and online research.
  • evaluate resources to find those best for the project.
  • demonstrate an understanding of point of view by adopting the voice of a family member or another adult.
  • write an autobiographical research paper.

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Session One

  1. Hand out the Year I Was Born Research Project and the Research Paper Rubric.
  2. Share the details of the activity with the handouts then share the sample paper.
  3. If you desire, share additional examples online.
  4. Discuss the  strategies that students will use, brainstorming sample interview questions and ways that students can use library and online resources.
  5. Help students choose their storyteller by providing a variety of options and examples.
  6. Students should interview others about the first year of their life. Many students will be able to interview their family about their birth and first year of life as well as look through family photographs, their baby books, and so forth. It is inevitable, however, that you will have one or more students who will not have this kind of family information due to divorce, being adopted later in life, being a ward of the state, or in the case of one of my students, a house fire. Make exceptions for these students and talk about the exceptions in class to be sure that all students are included, suggesting they interview anyone who might know some of their history, or skip the interview part entirely and have them do their project using just their research. Students can also write from a fictional point of view, for example, taking the persona of a reporter writing a special report about the year with their birth taking a prominent place. If they have no older siblings, the story can be told from the perspective of a household pet that was in the family before them.
  7. If desirable, change the assignment to a slightly different focus, to fit more of your students' experiences. For instance, students might research and write about "The Year I Was Adopted," "My First Year of School," or "The Year We Moved." You may wish to provide some guidelines, such as the event explored should have happened at least 5 years ago.

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Sessions Two and Three

  1. Arrange for library and online research time, where students can consult periodicals such as Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News and World Report for the month and year they were born.
  2. Remind students that their research might include commercials, slogans, births, deaths, sports news, movies, books, plays, music, financial, national news, international news, religious events, music, TV shows, and local news.
  3. Have students search for their birth date on the Internet. Many of these sites give information for their birth date throughout history. To narrow to the year they were born, choose only those events that occurred in their birth year.
  4. Pass out the Links to Websites handout and the Research Form for students to use during their research.
  5. Remind students to record all of their information from their interviews and research on the Research Form, including the information needed to prepare a Works Cited page.
  6. Point students to their class textbook or the Landmarks Citation Machine Website for information on MLA format.
  7. While students work, monitor their progress, offering feedback and assistance as needed.

NOTE: While the goal of this lesson is not to explicitly teach research strategies, you may wish to have students include in-text citations in their written projects, in addition to a Works Cited page.  This could be used as an extension or an addition for students who are more advanced and require a challenge.

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Session Four

  1. After students have completed their research, discuss organization of the paper.

  2. If desired, use the Sample Paper to outline the order that details are included in. Typically, these stories are told in chronological order.

  3. To begin the organization of their papers, ask students to arrange their completed Research Forms in chronological order.

  4. Using the ordered forms, ask students to create a rough outline for their stories.

  5. Divide students into small groups, and ask them to share the basic details of their research and their outlines with each other.

  6. Share three questions to guide group feedback on each outline:

    • What is the most surprising thing about the writer's research and outline?

    • What did you like the most about the writer's plan?

    • What question do you have about the research and outline?
  7. At the end of the session, remind students of the specific requirements of the assignment, pointing to the Rubric for more information.

  8. Ask students to use the feedback, their research, and their outlines to write their papers for homework. Ideally, students should complete the work in a word processor and bring the file on a disk to the next session.

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Session Five

  1. Answer any questions that students have after writing their papers.

  2. Demonstrate the Printing Press, showing students the formats available and pointing out those best for the assignment (probably the first newspaper layout or one of the booklet layouts). Alternatively, a newspaper, brochure, or booklet can be created in Microsoft Publisher or a word processor, instead of using the Printing Press.

  3. Demonstrate how to copy the document from the word processor file and paste it into format template. If copy and paste doesn't work, students can type their mini research paper directly into the template.

  4. Remind students to include a Works Cited page at the end of their document.

  5. Copy and paste your photograph into the template.

  6. Print out document.

  7. If desired, students can add photos or other images to the booklets or newspapers.

  8. If time allows, students can share their stories in small groups or with the full class before submitting them.

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  • Using the Self-Reflection questions, ask students to think about the steps they took as they worked on this assignment—what they had problems with, how they worked out their problems, and how they feel about their final project.

  • Use the Research Paper Rubric to evaluate students’ work on the paper itself.

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Related Resources


Grades   K – 12  |  Student Interactive  |  Writing & Publishing Prose

Printing Press

The interactive Printing Press is designed to assist students in creating newspapers, brochures, and flyers.


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Grades   2 – 12  |  Calendar Activity  |  February 16

The Chinese New Year starts today.

Today is the first day of the New Year on the Chinese lunar calendar.


Grades   7 – 12  |  Calendar Activity  |  April 24

On this day in 1800, Congress approved the purchase of books to start the Library of Congress.

Students practice and refine research skills by visiting the Library of Congress website and conducting a research project.


Grades   3 – 12  |  Calendar Activity  |  October 7

Sherman Alexie was born in 1966.

Students imagine they have been asked to participate in a museum exhibit, take photos/videos of a significant location, and write or record reflections. Students can also create an exhibit from something they have read.


Grades   3 – 12  |  Calendar Activity  |  January 28

The Space Shuttle Challenger exploded in 1986.

Students interview a parent or another adult about the Challenger and hypothesize about differences. Students can also write about the Columbia disaster in 2003.


Grades   7 – 12  |  Calendar Activity  |  May 22

Mister Rogers' Neighborhood premiered in 1967.

After thinking about TV shows, books, and movies from their childhood, students write about what they remember and revisit how they feel about it at an older age.


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Grades   8 – 12  |  Professional Library  |  Journal

Re-envisioning Research

Describes a research paper in the author's high school English classroom which connected to the lives and interests of students, who delved into community problems with as much rigor (and using many types of research as traditional essays exploring arcane philosophical questions). Describes creating a context for exploration, and students' final projects.


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Grades   9 – 12  |  Activity & Project

The Year I Was Born: An Autobiography Project

Invite teens to tap relatives, family friends, and community members so they can create biographies of their own births or other significant life events!


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I've done this project with my students for the past two years. Although the lesson is geared towards high school students, I do this project with my 7th graders. I do alter the assignment some by requiring the students to create a PowerPoint presentation about the year they were born along with writing the narrative. In requiring my students to write the narrative and create a PowerPoint, I am able to teach my students proper writing skills as well as necessary computer skills.


Pam Rumancik

October 03, 2012

I used the basics of this assignment for one using 21st century skills. My assignment was a multi-media one where students collaborated using Google presentation. They had to incorporate a podcast, primary documents, video and audio clips. They had to follow MLA format with parenthetical citations and a Works Cited slide. In addition, students reflected on the project in a blog format. Without references to sources, as stated in another comment, equals plagiarism. A Works Cited page means nothing if there are no works cited within the document/project.


I am trying this lesson plan. Sounds good. I was wondering about internal citations. The samples didn't include any but there is supposed to be a Works Cited page.



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