What Is the Difference Between an Autobiography and a Memoir? (With Examples)

Last Updated on January 15, 2023 by Dr Sharon Baisil MD

Stories of a person’s life are told in both biographies and memoirs. These are typically found in a book, although they may also be seen in the form of a film or video documentary. The original meaning is used here.

It’s more straightforward to say than to distinguish between a biography and a memoir. They’re usually about a person’s life (typically a well-known celebrity or public figure), and they each tell the tale in their way. They have diverse goals and frequently cover different aspects of a person’s life. Nonetheless, you’ll be able to differentiate between these two kinds simply by understanding what separates them.

What is an autobiography?

A memoir is a self-written chronicle of a person’s life published as an autobiography. Well-known or renowned individuals often pen it to give the reader an inside look into their feelings and experiences. Autobiographies, which might be thematically, religiously, or written entirely for selfish reasons, may take various forms.

Since the author is associated with the events described in their autobiography, they are frequently quite intimate. They often describe how the events in their childhood or early life influenced them as a person, and they include personal thoughts, feelings, and opinions about the events. These writers employ adjectives, similes, and metaphors to characterize these occurrences.

The events in an autobiography are described using dates, times, people, and specific places. This contributes to a more accurate portrayal of the person’s life in writing. Writers generally conclude their autobiographies by expressing their goals and ambitions for the future. They think about how their past experiences have impacted them as they are now.

What is a biography?

The narrative of a person’s humanity is at the heart of every biography. The commitment to the facts known at the time is common across all biographies.

The narrative of a natural person’s life is referred to as a biography. It might be about anyone still alive, someone who lived in the past century, who is widely known worldwide, an unknown hero forgotten by history, or a unique group of people. From birth through death (or the present day of the author), life-changing experiences are typically given center stage in the facts of their life. To offer a well-rounded portrait of her topic, the author frequently alludes to the topic’s childhood, coming-of-age experiences, connections, failures, and triumphs.

Biographies need a lot of work. A conversation with the subject, in which they provide their interpretation of their life’s events, might be used as a source of information. Biographers seek out primary sources left behind by the person and, if feasible, interviews with acquaintances or relatives while writing about individuals who are no longer alive. Other experts who have studied the subject of historical biographers may also provide accounts.

What is a memoir?

A non-fictional, first-person narrative of occurrences and recollections from the author’s actual life is a memoir. Personal experience, closeness, and emotional truth are central to memoirs (French meaning “memory” or “reminisce”), which are written by authors who often play with memories and real life. As a consequence, conventional chronological or factual accuracy standards are not applied to memoirs.

The memoir focuses on the writer’s life in their own words and stories. It is a person’s account of everything that happens to them, both positive and negative, throughout their lifetime. memoir focuses more on emotions than chronology because it only describes certain events in someone’s life.

Two well-known memoirs are A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers and The Liars’ Club by Mary Karr.

Bonus Tip: The Hero’s Journey works so well for memoirs because it provides a compelling container for your story. Let’s face it – anyone’s personal story could go a hundred different ways. 

Why is a memoir not an autobiography?

In authors’ minds, memoirs and autobiographies are frequently confused on the same storeroom shelves. However, we would like to point out that they are not identical. On the other hand, an autobiography tends to span the writer’s entire life, providing a chronological order for each period in their life.

An autobiography can be found in Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom: It describes his life from birth to his release and the start of the end of apartheid through a series of complex negotiations. 

On the other hand, the timeline of a memoir is more selective. Authors may more deeply explore a critical period or a particular aspect of their lives, allowing their ideas and feelings to take center stage in the story, as the autobiography’s constraints are removed. Catch and Kill, a book by journalist Ronan Farrow about his search for the #MeToo movement, is one example of a book about the movement. William Finnegan’s Barbarian Days is another.

Final Words

Differentiating between biographies, autobiographies, and memoirs is an excellent way to explain someone’s life. How a subject presents his or her memoirs and autobiographies differs, although the same person writes both. A biography is a detailed and (typically) chronological story about the subject’s life, written by someone who relies on multiple sources to construct it.

They take into account some unintentional (or conscious) prejudice, even if they are “straight from the horse’s mouth,” as memoirs and autobiographies are. Biographies are often more objective since they need extensive research to write about another person’s life and accomplishments.

(Not to mention several excellent suggestions for new nonfiction books.) So now you know the differences between these three types of nonfiction books. Have a nice day!


 What are the similarities between a memoir and a biography?

Memoirs and biographies share many common elements, including the author’s personal experience and perspective on a particular subject. They are also often written with one goal in mind – to entertain or inform. Memoirs tend to be more intimate than biographies, and they may chronicle events from an emotional rather than factual standpoint. Finally, memoirs can sometimes focus on a single event, while biographies might span several years or decades.
All of these features make memoirs an exciting genre that could be perfect for you if you want to write about something that is close to your heart. And because they are usually shorter works, memoir submissions don’t require as much detail as some genres, such as biography or history writing. So get started!

Why do people write autobiographies instead of just telling their life stories in their own words as they would in a memoir?

Autobiographies are often written to share your life story with the world and perhaps help others learn from your experiences. On the other hand, memoirs tend to be non-fiction accounts of one’s life that focus primarily on personal stories and anecdotes. Autobiographers may want to emphasize their strengths, while memoirists may view writing a memoir as cathartic therapy. Ultimately, both genres can offer valuable insight into the author’s life journey.

Is it necessary to read both an autobiography and a memoir for comparison purposes?

While it is certainly not a requirement, reading an autobiography and a memoir can be very helpful for comparison purposes. Autobiographies often provide a more personal perspective on the subject matter, while memoirs oftentimes offer a unique insight into the writer’s life that wasn’t included in their autobiography.
Both types of books can also help you learn more about the author’s background and how it relates to their writing. Additionally, autobiographies may contain tips and advice exclusive to authors who have written autobiographical works (or vice versa). Whether you’re looking for further insights into your favorite author or simply want to broaden your literary knowledge base, reading an autobiography and a memoir can be highly beneficial.

Is there any real difference between writing about yourself in an autobiography and in a memoir?

There is a bit of a difference, but the main point is that both types of writing should be personal and engaging. An autobiography should focus on your life story from beginning to end, while memoirs typically focus on a specific time period in your life. Memoirs can also include stories about family, friends, and pets and your work experience.
When writing an autobiography or memoir-style book, keep the reader engaged by giving them exciting tidbits about yourself along the way. This may include telling funny anecdotes or sharing insights you learned during your journey.

What is the difference between a biography and a memoir?

A biography is a comprehensive and detailed account of a person’s life, while a memoir is autobiographical writing that focuses on personal experiences. Both are important literary works, but they differ in certain ways.
A biography can provide significant historical insight into the subject matter, while a memoir often revolves around the author’s experiences and feelings. Memoirs also tend to be more emotional than biographies because they reveal intimate details about one’s life.
Overall, both types of books are excellent resources for learning about history and gaining insights into the lives of famous people. Don’t hesitate to get started if you’re thinking about writing either type yourself!





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