How to write a good bio

Many good people write bad bios for themselves. We want you to sound as awesome as you are so please take our advice. These five simple rules make writing bios take less time, less effort and make everyone happy to learn something about you.

1. The more impressive you are, the shorter your bio can be.

For example, compare this:

Bob Smith won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry, twice. He’s currently the head of Amazingness at Wonderment University.

With this:

Bob Smith spent 2001-2004 developing yard waste in Atlantic City, NJ. Then the better part of the 90’s working on psoriasis in Libya. For kicks, he studied in 2002-2008 licensing regulations for circus clowns in West Palm Beach, FL. Garnered a second place industry award while merchandising mouse yogurt in Las Vegas, NV. Had some great experience consulting about near-UFO experiences among visitors to  Ocean City, NJ. Spent two years licensing cannibalism for farmers, and recycling Pez dispensers.

Everyone wants your bio to be shorter. The shorter it is, the more people who will read it. No one is impressed by a long series of unimpressive things. If you have a great one sentence bio, people will be curious enough to find out more. On the other hand, if you have a bad and long bio they are certain never to want to learn anything about you.

2. Write for the real audience

If you are asked for a bio because you are speaking somewhere, perhaps Ignite Seattle, shape your bio to best fit what you are speaking about. Your bio will be read by people at that event to help them understand what you’ll be talking about.

For example, if you are speaking on fly fishing, don’t do this:

Sally Shmeckes is a software developer and designer who has written code in every language known to mankind.  She works mostly as a hired gun for startups in trouble, who need a superhero to help turn trainwreck projects around. She studied 3-D Film Theory and Anti-Nuclear Architecture at the University of Ridiculousness, and has 3 children if you count her husband.

Do something like this instead:

Sally Schemkes is a veteran software developer and designer. Her Dad taught her to fly fish before she could walk and she has fished every day since he died. She’s on twitter at @sallyschemkes56.

3. Invert your pyramid

Put the important facts first. The fancy term for this is the Inverted Pyramid. Assume with each word in your bio that fewer and fewer people will keep reading.

This is good:

Bono is the lead singer for the rock band U2. He is an advocate for many important political and social causes. His real name is Paul Hewson. He owns many interesting pairs of glasses.

Not this:

Bono likes the color red, especially on Tuesdays. He loves to drink whiskey (on all days). He learned to drink whisky from his childhood friend Zippo, when they went to school together at Mount Temple Comprehensive School. His real name is Paul Hewson, He is best known as the lead singer for the band U2.

4. Be clever only if you’re certain it’s actually clever

From the Department of Made up Facts:

  • Percent of people who think they are clever: 64%
  • Percept of people who are actually clever: 6%

If you think you are clever, and write what you think is a clever bio, get feedback on it from someone you know who is actually clever. If they approve, you have our blessing. One good joke in a bio is more than enough.

5. Watch the slashes Jack

A sad trend born of Twitter are bios where people self describe themselves by a dozen different traits. This makes you look like someone who sucks at everything. It’s fine to be a Jack of All Trades, but to insist on telling everyone you’re a Jack of All trades mostly makes you Jack of Many Annoyances. Our species has small brains: we need you to tell us the one or two of your trades that will be most relevant to us, or to what you will be talking about.

Instead of:

Nina Nana is a designer/juggler/smuggler/hellraiser/accountant/anti-ninja/metallurgist/snake charmer

Since this is a bio and not metadata listing for SEO purposes, have some courageous clarity:

Nina Nana is a designer who has mastered juggling, smuggling and many glorious pursuits of diverse ingenuity.

That’s all. Happy bio writing!

[Note: The second example from #1 is a revised creation of the auto bio generator.]

Author: Scott Berkun

Author and Speaker, known for fine books including The Myths of Innovation, Making things Happen, The Year Without Pants and Confessions of a Public Speaker.

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