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Preparing Academic Presentations: Bios

What is a bio?

It is a biographical summary highlighting your credentials and accomplishments.  Written in third person and using paragraph form, it is an opportunity to share specific information that should celebrate and describe your accomplishments.

Why should I write one?

There are many reasons to write a bio. Most often bios are used for publicity (programs, conference presentations, flyers, websites, newspaper/magazine advertisements, or applications). Your reader is likely going to be a potential employer, a competition judge, conference/symposium attendee, or the general public.

What to Include

Start by making a list of items for your bio. This is raw material you might consider including in your bio, so don't self-censor. Write it all down and worry about editing it later. Stick with the facts; be careful not to embellish, exaggerate or fabricate, because it might come back to haunt you. Be accurate and honest in how you present yourself.

Scholars Artists
  • Education information: schools attended, degrees received, well-known teachers.
  • Description of research interest(s)
  • Why you are interested in your research focus?
  • What distinguishes your work?
  • Publications
  • Quotes from reviews or reference letters
  • Awards, fellowships and grants
  • Teaching experience
  • What drives you personally; what is your mission?
  • What are the projects you've been most invested in?
  • Professional organization affiliations
  • Upcoming projects
  • Unusual hobbies
  • Unusual places you have lived
  • Competitions you've won
  • Awards, grants and scholarships
  • Notable solo, ensemble, and orchestral performances
  • Festivals
  • Education information: schools attended, degrees received, well-known teachers, coaches, master classes and conductors.
  • Where and with whom you've performed
  • Community and education work
  • Special repertoire or collections
  • Theatrical and opera roles you have performed
  • Premiers of new works you've performed
  • Compositions and commissions
  • Style of music, theatre or dance you perform/compose/choreograph/etc.
  • Recording projects (including repertoire, collaborators and label, if applicable)
  • What is important to you as an artist?
  • Quotes from reviews or reference letters
  • Professional organization affiliations
  • Publications
  • Upcoming projects
  • Unusual biographical anecdotes (e.g. how or why you decided to become a performer, dramatic or unusual story about your training)
  • Unusual hobbies

 

 

Length

How long should it be?

Various length bios may be requested.  Create different versions of your bio including a long version (full page), a medium version (200-250 words, 6-8 sentences) and a short version (100 words, 3-5 sentences).  Consider adding your web address so that interested parties will find more information about you, if applicable to the setting.  Bios submitted for the Performing Arts Library Colloquium series should be 100-150 words.

Getting Started

Over all your bio should be engaging. The goal is to give the reader your accomplishments, a sense of your work, and to get them excited about listening to you or seeing your work. Try to avoid the temptation to write a shopping list of your accomplishments.  Instead, craft a statement that reflects your image and personality.

  1. Choose an opener for your bio
    Select your most impressive credential and write a topic sentence. Remember, your education or hometown does not have to be the intro and not every experience has to be linked to a school experience.
  2. Group similar items together by topic
    After you have written a topic sentence, see what other items can be linked together. Then, draft paragraphs incorporating similar experiences.
  3. Write a draft
    Items should be logically linked with smooth transitions between paragraphs and you should try to avoid presenting information in chronological order. Try to avoid long lists of experiences; three is best and try not to list more than four similar items in a row. A bio will always be written in third person (first and last name, she/he and Ms./Mr., not "I"). Alternate the use of these in your paragraphs.
  4. Replace general/vague statements with specific examples
    Make sure all general statements in your bio are backed up by specifics. Avoid statements like “won a number of awards” or "is playing to rave review across the United States" unless you back them up with specifics like award names or press quotes from well-known critics across the country.  Resist all temptations to write sweeping, grandiose statements.
  5. Edit, be brutal
    Cut all unnecessary or irrelevant information and reword your text so it’s more concise: “it won an award” becomes “award-winning.” Edit passive language to be active language (see the verb list).
  6. Proofread
    The last step is to review and get feedback from others. Find and fix typos, run-on sentences, and grammatical errors before you send out or publish anything. Read it out loud, because your ear will catch many things that your eye will miss. Now show your bio to three people and ask them to proofread and edit.  Visit the Writing Commons (Main Library, 4th Floor) if you need a proof-reader or more help composing your bio.

Examples/Models

Where would I find examples of bios?

Resources Consulted: Books - Beeching, A. Beyond Talent: Creating a Successful Career in Music. Cutler, D. The Savvy Musician: Building a Career, Earning a Living, & Making a Difference. Web sites - Guide to Writing Effective Bios. Office of Career Services. Oberlin College & Conservatory. Writing a Bio. Career Services Office. University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.