Writing An Analytical Bibliography - What's The Catch?

How to Write An Analytical Bibliography

Biographies are a common option for essays and term papers, and they can be quite easy to write. A straightforward biography is just a timeline of someone's life, and writing one is a simple matter of collecting information and arranging it in chronological order.

There's another kind of biography, though, and it can seem a bit trickier. This is the analytical biography. As well as an account of the person's life it also has to give analysis of various aspects of it. This means a bit more research. It's not anything to worry about though, because with some planning you can produce a great essay.

The key to a good analytical biography is understanding cause and effect in two directions; how was the person you're writing about affected by events around them, and how did they affect those events? This isn't actually all that hard if you follow a few simple tips.

First, do some general research on the period when your subject lived. Find out the major events in these areas:

  • Economics. Events like the Great Depression of the 1920s and 30s had a major influence on people's lives.
  • International relations. It's obvious that wars are important here, but also look at changes in alliances and issues like colonialism.
  • Social issues. Major social issues are very relevant. Slavery, for example, motivated many people in the 19th century USA.

Now look at the subject's early life. Was their family rich or poor? Did they suffer from wars or imperialism? Were they members of an oppressed minority, or of the political elite? What effect do you think this part of their life had on their views and later actions?

The hardest part of the essay is working out what effect your subject had on their surroundings. If you've been tasked to write a biography of someone it's likely they were influential, but you have to work out what that influence was. Perhaps they fall into one of these categories:

  • Politics - National leaders and other politicians have obvious effects. They pass new laws, declare wars, sign treaties and fight elections. All of these should be looked at.
  • Military - Generals fall into this category, but so do more junior soldiers who carried out notable acts.
  • Reformer - Throughout history people like Emmeline Pankhurst and Martin Luther King have campaigned for issues that mattered to them. Usually they fade away into obscurity; sometimes they change the whole society they live in. What did your subject work for and what did they achieve?

Writing a good analytical biography is just a matter of looking at what your subject did and how it affected others, and vice versa. The really good news is that not only is it not difficult, it's also usually very interesting.