At some point in your professional life, you’ve probably been asked to write a bio. When you protest, you’re told “It’s simple. Just a few facts. Really, we don’t need much.” Ack.
It’s not all that simple. How do you know what facts to include and what to leave out? What will your audience find interesting? And what the heck do you do if hate to talk about yourself?
Write your own bio
- Find out what the bio will be used for and understand readers’ expectations. There are probably length limitations; it’s best to know before you start to write. No point in writing 500 words when 50 will do, or in embarrassing yourself by handing over something much shorter than expected.
- Who are you writing for? Your bio needs to be written so that it meets your audience’s expectations. Bankers, accountants, and lawyers? Keep it formal and fact-based. Moms and dads? Less formal is fine—they want to feel they know you, so including a personal detail or two is good.
- Where will they read it? Is this for social media, a presentation you’re giving, or for a website? On a mobile device, in print, or on a laptop? Length will also be an issue here. You want crisp and tight, especially for social media. Longer is OK for a handout or a website when there are fewer restrictions on space. But don’t ramble on! You still want to keep it crisp.
- Line up your facts. What is it your audience will most likely want to know about you? How much of your professional life/career will they want to know? Would they care what your hobbies are? Academics will want to know your complete CV (space allowing). Parents and colleagues will care more about your more recent experience. Include your degrees; include certifications and awards if they’re relevant or demonstrate something important about you. Add hobbies if you’re comfortable sharing personal details. Some folks aren’t—and some audiences don’t care.
- A bio isn’t a resume. Summarize your facts in paragraphs, using complete sentences and correct punctuation. Start with your present situation and write in reverse chronological order. Next most recent situation or job, the one before that, then the one before that. You don’t need your whole history; the past 10 years is plenty. You get the picture.
- Let a bit of your personality shine through. This is you you’re talking about after all. Balance your audience’s expectations with who you are. A stand-up comedian or improv artist would likely show their sense of humor. A doctor might prefer to show her human side, or perhaps mention a research project she’s particularly proud of. If you have a hobby you’re excited about, mention it. For example, I love to cook and knit. It’s something that I’m willing to share with my audience and it helps them get to know me better.
- Review review review. Send your draft to others and ask for their input. Review first for factual accuracy. Then review for flow—does the bio make sense? Next tackle grammar and punctuation. (Don’t rely on spell/grammar checkers!!!) Finally, give it a good copy edit. Have others do this for you if you can—another pair of eyes (or two) will catch things you’ll miss.
- Submit and ask for feedback. Some folks won’t care; others will want to rewrite your entire bio. Be sure you control the final product.
- if you get stuck, use the grandmother trick. How would you explain what you’ve done to your grandmother?
- Watch out for humor, especially if you tend toward the ironic or snarky. What’s funny or edgy delivered in person might seem cold and callous on paper.
- Read your bio out loud and see how it sounds. More and more people are relying on the spoken word from their devices. Make sure your bio flows when you read it aloud.
- When copyediting, read your bio backward. Errors will pop out more clearly.
- Don’t let great be the enemy of good. There is such a thing as too much review where you’ll reach the point of diminishing returns. Time to let your baby go.
- If you are asked frequently for your bio and you feel like you’ve got to rewrite it every time, stop. Do you really need a custom bio for each event? If you do (and you may), create a master bio and select what content you want from that. Stop reinventing the wheel.