Jared P.
Jared P.

Autobiography vs. Memoir - Similarities, Differences, & Tips

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Published on: Jan 6, 2023

Last updated on: Jan 5, 2023

Autobiography vs. Memoir

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What do you think of when someone says "autobiography?" Most people typically envision a person who is famous and has lived an interesting life.

What about the term memoir? Most think about a personal recollection or story that is often told with nostalgia.

So what's the difference between these two terms?

Do you want to write a memoir? Or do you want to write an autobiography? It can be hard to decide which one is right for your story.

Let's talk about the difference between the two and what each one entails.

What Is an Autobiography?

According to the autobiography definition, an autobiography is a first-person account of a writer’s life. The unique subject matter of the story is the unique characteristic of an autobiography. An autobiography contains accounts from people who rose to fame or power during their lifetime, including celebrities, politicians, etc.

Since autobiographies are more fact-based they represent a more formal form of writing. Autobiographical stories often feature straightforward language and chronological narration, which means you can learn lots of details about what happened in an engaging way.

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Some of the most impactful and highly popular autobiographies are written by people who have experienced great change throughout their lives. Some examples of these are:

  • The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin written by Benjamin Franklin
  • The Story of My Life by Helen Keller

What Is a Memoir?

According to the memoir definition, a memoir is a story from someone's life. The word memoir has been derived from a French word that means memory.

People might read it because they find the theme interesting, not because they are intrigued by the person who wrote it.

Memoirs focus on personal experience and emotional truth and can be different from autobiographies - for example, memoirs do not need to be accurate or chronological.

Memoirs are one of the best types to read. They take you back in time and make it seem like your experience was just as intense. Here are a few popularly written memoirs:

  • A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers
  • The Liars’ Club by Mary Karr

Similarities Between an Autobiography and a Memoir

Every individual has a life that is worth telling. A person’s life story can be told both in the form of a memoir and an autobiography as well.

There are some similarities between the two writings, which are further described below.

  • First-Person Perspective

    Just like in life, there are many similarities between memoirs and autobiography. Both tell the story from an author's point of view using a first-person perspective.

  • Tell the Life Stories

    People write autobiographies and memoirs to share their life’s true story. Both types of writing demonstrate the author's experience with other people, telling it from their perspective for readers can understand what happened on that day or year just as if they were there themselves!

  • Revolve Only Around the Author

    Both autobiographies and memoirs are focused on a single main character - the author himself. It covers the life of the author, describing their experiences and narrations.

  • Non-Fiction Literary Genre

    Autobiography and memoirs share many things in common. They are both nonfiction literature. Both genres aim to give the reader an understanding of one's life while presenting it with emotion & detail.

  • Describe the Person Experiencing the Events

    Autobiographies and memoirs are similar in that they both present facts as the person experiencing them.

Though autobiographies and memoirs represent a similar genre of writing, their scopes and purposes do vary from each other. Read on to know how they differ.

Differences Between an Autobiography and a Memoir

You’ve probably heard the phrase “memoirs and autobiographies.” However, they are not quite the same thing. Here are some of the major differences between memoirs and autobiographies.

  • Autobiography Covers the Author’s Entire Life, and Memoir Only Covers a Part of it

    Autobiography is usually an account of all or most of a person's life. The person must be willing to share anything that happened in their life. Memoir is about one part of the person's life, but not all parts.

    Autobiographers try to narrate their original life stories. Memoirists will pick a specific theme and a life event accordingly while omitting the rest of the information or experiences.

    Thus, as compared to memoirs, autobiographers are more comprehensive.

    Example: The Autobiography of Malcolm X is about Malcolm X's life experiences. Abandon Me: A Memoir by Melissa Febos is about Melissa Febos' relationships with her father and with a lover.

  • Autobiography is of a Famous Person; A Memoir can be of Anyone

    In an autobiography, the author tells their life story. They are usually famous or important. A memoirist is any person, even if they are not famous.

    In an autobiography, the author is an important figure whose account of his life matters. This is because he was somebody that accomplished so much and had such influence on others throughout the world.

    Example: Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela's autobiography

    A memoir is not an account of a popular person. Instead, it tells the experience of someone who was once ordinary. Their experiences are especially eventful but don't stand out because they are not well-known or became popular later in life.

    Example: Mary Karr's The Liar’s Club, a memoir in which she relates her experiences growing up with the Southern Baptist faith.

  • Autobiographies are Read to Learn About the Life of a Famous Person; a Memoir is read to know about a life event or story

    People read autobiographies because they are interested in the life of a person. On the other hand, memoirs are more about a certain subject or story. Some people like to read memoirs because of the writer's voice or style.

    Example: The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin is a book about an important person who shaped U.S. history. It is interesting and well-written, but the main reason people read it is to learn about this historical figure.

    Readers might read Roxane Gay's Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body for many reasons. They might want to know about her weight, food, and body image. Or they may have read one of her essays online and wanted to read more books by her. Sometimes people just want to find out more about the author as a significant figure in the history or culture.

  • Autobiographies Have a Chronological Order; a Memoir Doesn’t

    An autobiography is a story about yourself. It should start when you were a child and tell your story up until the present time, or when you are writing it.

    Example: Olaudah Equiano's The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano does this and tells his life from childhood to adulthood.

    Memoirs can be much more creative with time and order. The authors can be less strict in how they use time.

    Example: Mailhot's memoir, Heart Berries, switches back and forth in time and has a different order than the events. The book ends with major events in her life but not necessarily which event happened first

  • Autobiographies Mention Facts, Memoirs Emphasize on Experiences

    Autobiographies are factually correct stories about people's lives. They can be different from memoirs, which focus on the person's experience.

    Autobiography is about facts and how the writer fits into history. The stakes are higher for an autobiographer because he or she made history or witnessed historically important events.

    Example: Frederick Douglass wrote an autobiography called "Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.” It is important because he was an orator, statesman, and abolitionist. He has a high historical stature, thus the autobiography needs to be factually accurate.

    Darin Strauss's Half a Life - A Memoir is about a car crash in which he hit and killed a classmate. But it is not about the historical context of his life. It is about how he felt afterward.

All in all, an autobiography is a story of someone's life. It covers everything they did in their life. A memoir is a story about a specific event in someone's life.

Autobiography vs. Memoir Comparison Chart

Writing about your own real lifeWriting about a specific time or event
Written in the first-person point of viewWritten in the first-person point of view
Subjective narrationSubjective narration
Presents facts about the life accountPresents experiences and emotions about the event being discussed
Explains the motives behind the actionsExplains the emotions behind the actions
Written in the later parts of lifeCan be written at any point in life
Written according to a chronological orderWritten without any order
Written about a famous personCan be famous or ordinary

How to Opt for an Autobiography or Memoir?

You can ask yourself the following questions to choose if your story needs to be written in the form of an autobiography or a memoir:

  • Which is more important in my story, the facts or the emotions? If you are writing a story about specific dates and facts, then an autobiography would be best. But if you want to write about how something feels, then a memoir might be better.
  • Is it my goal to write about all of my life or just one part? If you want to write about your whole life, you might want to do it like a timeline. But if you only want to talk about one thing, then it would be more like short stories. So, for stories with a timeline, an autobiography is better, and vice versa.

Can an Autobiography be a Memoir?

Of course, there is a fine line between an autobiography and a memoir. However, the two genres that are often considered the opposite ends of a spectrum have been blended together for centuries.

This can be done because they share so many similarities while still maintaining their own identity in writing styles or subject matter.

Now that you know the difference between an autobiography and a memoir and know which one you want to write, you can make use of some tips for writing each of them.

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Tips for Writing an Autobiography

Here are some essential tips for creating an impactful autobiography:

  • Make it a Catchy Read:Think of a way to make people want to read your book. If you are a well-known person, that could be an attention grabber on its own. If you are not, don't worry.

    You can have other hooks that might interest people about your life story. Do you work in an unpopular setting? What about a product? Or if you used to be part of an organization?

    These things will help people want to read your autobiography.

  • Do your research: You will need to do very careful research to make sure that your facts and written information are accurate so no one can challenge them. Look at old journals, the internet, and talk with friends for information on your memories.
  • Maintain the Order:It is important to maintain a chronological order throughout the autobiography. This is because the life story has to progress according to the life stages.

Tips for Writing a Memoir

The following tips will help you write a stellar memoir:

  • Write According to a Theme:Memoirs are all about emotional truth. A memoir is written by picking a specific theme from one’s life that they think is worth talking about. Lots of different themes can be used in memoirs, such as family life or struggles with illness. You need to care deeply about the subject you want to talk about for it to be compelling.
  • Emphasize Emotions: Memoirs are about feeling. You should not write a lot of facts in a memoir. It is better to remember how you felt while the event happened and write that instead. This will help your memoir be more interesting for readers.
  • Don’t Forget the Message: People don’t read memoirs because they are interested in the experience rather because they want to know what happened due to it. So, mostly a memoir conveys a strong message through a life event. Ensure to highlight the message throughout or at least in conclusion.

We hope that this article has helped you learn the difference between an autobiography and a memoir, as well as how to distinguish which one may be right for your project.

You can use the tips mentioned to write each one to begin writing your project.

However, if you’re looking for help writing either of these types of projects, FreeEssayWriter.net is here to assist!

We have a highly qualified professional essay writer who can provide expert writing and proofreading services to you at any hour of the day.

Jared P.


Jared P. (Literature, Education)

Jared P. is a renowned author and writing service provider with over fifteen years of experience in the publishing industry. He has a Ph.D. degree in English Literature and has spent his entire career helping students achieve their academic goals by providing expert writing assistance.

Jared P. is a renowned author and writing service provider with over fifteen years of experience in the publishing industry. He has a Ph.D. degree in English Literature and has spent his entire career helping students achieve their academic goals by providing expert writing assistance.

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