Which Type of Writing Is Most Similar to an Autobiography?

Written by ArticleReword Updated at Sep 16, 2023 Reading time: 5

Which Type of Writing Is Most Similar to an Autobiography?

Of the many forms of writing, autobiography bears the closest resemblance to memoir. Both autobiography and memoir are nonfiction accounts of a person's life written from that person's perspective. However, there are some key differences. Autobiography tends to cover the subject's entire life until the time of writing, while memoir typically focuses on a specific period or theme. 

Autobiography strives to be a complete, accurate record of the author's experiences, whereas memoir has more leeway for artistic interpretation and reflection. Both genres provide insightful first-person narratives, but only autobiography aims to document a full lifespan. So, while autobiography and memoir overlap significantly, autobiography paints in broader strokes to compile a more comprehensive record of an individual.


blank paper and pen
What is a Memoir?

A memoir is a first-person narrative that focuses on particular moments or events in an individual's life. Memoirs do not necessarily encompass a person's entire life story. Rather, memoirists choose specific experiences that profoundly impacted their lives and spend time reflecting on the meaning of those experiences.


Memoirs often center on overcoming adversity, processing trauma, or coming of age. They derive their power from their ability to provide deep insight into an individual's inner world and highlight our universal human experiences.

How Memoirs Differ from Autobiographies

While memoirs share similarities with autobiographies, there are some key differences between the two genres:

Scope: Memoirs are narrower, focusing only on certain events or periods of a person's life. Autobiographies aim to tell a person's life story from birth to the present.

Autobiography vs memoir
Reflection: Memoirs emphasize reflection, emotional truth, and the meaning behind experiences. Autobiographies focus on laying out the facts and events of a person's life in a more straightforward, chronological order.

Style: Memoirs often employ more literary techniques such as character development, plot arcs, theme, and vivid sensory details to convey the essence of an experience. Autobiographies typically have a more reportorial writing style.

Accuracy: Memoirists sometimes take liberties with memory and small factual details to serve the broader emotional truth of their experiences. Autobiographies aim to be as accurate and fact-checked as possible.

Purpose: The purpose of memoirs is often more soul-searching - to make sense of impactful life events. Autobiographies have the broader purpose of documenting life in full.


So, in summary, memoirs sacrifice comprehensive scope and strict accuracy of facts for deeper reflection, literary merit, and emotional resonance - all qualities that make them similar to autobiographies, even with key differences.


Personal Essays

Personal essays are another form of writing that has strong similarities with autobiographies. Personal essays are short prose pieces focusing on a specific theme, experience, or reflection from the author's life.

Key Qualities of the Personal Essay Genre

Some defining features of the personal essay include:

  • First-person perspective - Personal essays always employ an intimate first-person narration style. This emphasizes the author's subjective point of view, emotions, and inner life.
  • Focus on an experience - personal essays zoom in on one specific experience, relationship, place, or moment rather than try to capture a whole life story. The experience explored is usually something meaningful or revelatory about the author's life.
  • Reflection and insight - personal essays emphasize reflection, rumination, and thinking inwardly. The focus is on gleaning insight, meaning, and life lessons from the described experience.
  • Concise and impactful - personal essays are short, ranging from a couple of paragraphs to a couple of pages. Their power lies in their brevity and the juxtaposition of vivid snapshots of an experience with thoughtful reflection.
  • Universal themes - the reflection in personal essays dwells on themes touching broader human experiences and emotions we can all relate to. This allows readers to connect deeply to the author's inner world.


So, focusing intensely on select experiences, profound reflection, and universal human themes, personal essays allow authors to capture the essence of their lives like autobiographies do throughout a full book. The shorter scope makes personal essays an autobiographical microcosm.


Biographies share similarities with autobiographies since they aim to capture the experiences that shaped a person's life and legacy. However, there are key differences:

How Biographies Differ from Autobiographies

  • Perspective - A biography is written by someone other than the subject themselves. This means the author has an outside perspective, though they may rely heavily on firsthand research and accounts from the subject and those close to them. The perspective of an autobiography comes directly from inside the subject's mind and memories.
  • Bias - An autobiography naturally includes the subject's biases, beliefs, emotions, and interpretations of their life. A biography should maintain objectivity and journalistic principles in researching and retelling the subject's story.
  • Scope - Biographies, like autobiographies, cover the trajectory of a subject's entire life. Some biographies zero in on just one period or aspect, but most aim for a comprehensive scope.
  • Purpose - Autobiographies allow individuals to share their unique stories on their terms. Biographies unearth the key facts and impact of someone's life on the public record.
  • Style - Biographies typically adopt a documentary style, with more journalistic writing than personal reflection. The prose of an autobiography naturally takes on a more intimate, novelistic style.


So, while biographies and autobiographies aim to capture a life, the outside perspective of a biography sets it apart from the intimate self-reflection of an autobiography written by the subject themselves.

When Are Biographies Most Similar to Autobiographies?

Biographies end up most similar to autobiographies when:

  • The subject communicates extensively with the biographer, sharing memories, emotions, and interpretations of experiences that wouldn't be available to an outside biographer.
  • The biographer builds the narrative primarily around the subject's accounts, staying true to their firsthand perspective rather than imposing outside interpretations.
  • The biographer employs more novelistic and reflective writing techniques to imagine themselves within the subject's mindset and convey their inner experiences.


So, biographies that rely heavily on firsthand interviews and accounts from the subject themselves end up mirroring autobiographies in capturing the subject's psychological experiences, voice, and perspective from the inside out. The intimate access transforms the biography into an autobiography once removed.


While no other genre fully replicates the comprehensive first-person perspective of an autobiography, memoirs, and personal essays come closest in capturing pivotal life experiences with reflection and emotional honesty. Biographies can also mirror autobiographies when the author can access extensive firsthand accounts that allow them to reconstruct the subject's inner world. But ultimately, autobiographies offer a uniquely intimate look at a life story only the person themselves can fully convey. Their one-of-a-kind perspective is what defines the autobiography genre.


How does a memoir differ from an autobiography?


The key differences are that autobiographies aim to document a person's entire life while memoirs focus on select experiences; memoirs emphasize reflection over comprehensive facts; and memoirs take more literary license, while autobiographies value accuracy.

Do biographies count as autobiographies?

Biographies don't count as autobiographies because they are written by someone other than the subject. However, biographies that rely heavily on firsthand accounts of the subject can end up mirroring autobiographies in style and perspective.

Can autobiographies be fictional?

Autobiographies are always non-fiction works grounded in true life experiences. However, autobiographical novels and fictional memoirs loosely based on the author's life blend autobiographical elements with fiction.

Are diaries considered autobiographies?

Diaries are not considered autobiographies because they are written in the moment rather than reflecting on an entire life. However, diaries can provide raw material and insight for later crafting an autobiography.

What is more factual - a memoir or autobiography?

Autobiographies aim to be as historically accurate and fact-checked as possible, while memoirs take more literary license to serve broader emotional truth. So, autobiographies are considered more strictly factual.


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