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COM 115 Fundamentals of Public Speaking: Person/Biographical Information

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Tips for Finding Biographical Information

A search for biographical information is usually for a person who has achieved a measure of distinction during his or her lifetime. However, most people leave little recorded information,  except perhaps an obituary, a will, a few letters and photographs, personal financial records, and sometimes a diary, journal, etc. Basic information about very well-known individuals can often be found by consulting a general encyclopedia, such as the Encyclopedia Britannica. Before you start a search, it helps to know some basic facts about the person.

  • What is the correct spelling of the individual's full name?
    • Does the person use a middle name or initials, instead of the first name?
    • For women, is there both a married name and a maiden name?
    • For writers, is there a pen name or pseudonym?
    • For performers, is there a stage name?
    • Is the person known by a nickname or alias?
  • Is the person alive or dead?
    • Birth and death dates may be helpful in the case of individuals whose first and last names are common (e.g., James Smith). 
    • What is the person's nationality or place of residence?
    • What is the person's profession, occupation, or position?
    • Titles of works published or performed?
    • Does the person have a famous relative or spouse?
    • Any memberships in associations or organizations?
    • Other connections with established institutions?

Sources for Biographical Information include:

Primary Sources: An information source is considered primary if it is a work written, created, or generated by the person whose life is the subject of the search. Primary sources include:

  • Letters, notes, and other messages written by or to the person during his/her lifetime
  • Memoranda, directives, and reports written by the person, usually in a professional or occupational capacity
  • Diaries, journals, memoirs, commonplace books, and other autobiographical materials written by the person
  • Photographs or moving pictures taken of the person during his or her lifetime
  • Creative works written, composed, or performed by the person during his or her lifetime
  • Interviews and oral histories recorded during the person's lifetime
  • Inscriptions, notes, and marginalia written in books and on other documents
  • Legal and administrative records pertaining to the person's life
  • Newspaper reports of events that occurred in the person's life and during the time in which he or she lived
  • Diaries and memoirs written by those who knew the person

Secondary Sources:An information source is considered secondary if it is a work written by others about the person's life and times or about his/her works. Secondary sources include:

  • Obituaries written and published at the time of death
  • Essays published in biographical and general reference works
  • Articles about the person's life published in periodicals (newspapers, magazines, and journals)
  • Documentary films and videorecordings about the person's life
  • Book-length biographies and histories
  • Reviews and criticism of the person's creative works
  • Bibliographies of sources about the person's life and works


To find books about a particular person, go to SWAN (located on the library’s Web page), and do a subject search for your topic.  A subject search will result in a list of books focusing on your topic.  To search, type your topic in last-name, first-name order.  Here’s an example:

 Type the SUBJECT you want, then press or click Submit Search

Reference Books