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Wikipedia:Manual of Style (biographies)

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This Manual of Style has the simple purpose of making things look alike - it is a style guide. The following rules don't claim to be the last word. One way is often as good as another, but if everyone does it the same way, the Wikipedia will be easier to read and easier to use, not to mention easier to write and easier to edit.

New contributors are reminded that clear, informative and unbiased writing is always more important than presentation and formatting. Writers are NOT expected or required to follow all or any these rules: the joy of wiki editing is that perfection is not required. Copy-editing wikipedians will be referring to these pages when weeding, and pages will be gradually made to conform with this guide.

see also: Wikipedia:WikiProject Biography

Table of contents

Biography Standards

Biographical articles should start with the name and dates. Full dates are preferable to years only, but in any case they should always be links. For people who are dead, just use a dash between the birth and death dates:

  • Karel Capek (1890 - 1938)
    • '''Karel Capek''' ([[1890]] - [[1938]])
  • Carl Sandburg (January 6, 1878 - July 22, 1967)
    • '''Carl Sandburg''' ([[January 6]], [[1878]] - [[July 22]], [[1967]])
or alternatively,

For those still alive, it's clearer and less morbid[?] to use the word "born", rather than leaving a hungry space for the death date:

  • Li Ao (born 1935)
    • '''Li Ao''' (born [[1935]])
  • Seamus Heaney (born April 13, 1939)
    • '''Seamus Heaney''' (born [[April 13]], [[1939]])
or alternatively,
  • Seamus Heaney (born 13 April 1939)
    • '''Seamus Heaney''' (born [[13 April]] [[1939]])


For people who are best known by a pseudonym, the birth name should usually appear first in the article, followed closely by the pseudonym. Follow this practice even if the article itself is titled with the pseudonym:

  • Louis Bert Lindley, Jr. (June 29, 1929 - December 8, 1983), better known by the stage name Slim Pickens
    • '''Louis Bert Lindley, Jr.''' ([[June 29]], [[1929]] - [[December 8]], [[1983]]), better known by the [[stage name]] '''Slim Pickens'''
  • E. B. White, born Elwyn Brooks White (July 11, 1899 - October 1, 1985), was an American essayist, author, and noted prose stylist.
    • '''E. B. White''', born '''Elwyn Brooks White''' ([[July 11]], [[1899]] - [[October 1]], [[1985]]), was an [[United States|American]] [[essay]]ist, [[author]], and noted prose stylist.

Honorific prefixes

Honorific prefixes should be used in the article text where appropriate, but not included in the entry title. For example:

Sir Elton John
Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu; Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa
St John the Apostle; St Francis of Assisi; St Stephen
Mahatma Mohandas Gandhi
Dr. Albert Schweitzer, MD; Dr. Timothy Leary, PhD
President George Washington; President Bill Clinton
Reverend Al Sharpton

Exceptions to this rule include cases where titles or honorifics have been transformed into universally known names, as with Genghis Khan, Gautama Buddha, Jesus Christ and Mother Teresa. Even the articles on Joseph Stalin and Vladimir Lenin follow the general rule above.

Historical rulers

People who have ruled (for example, as pope or monarch) will get two sets of dates; also their birth name is often not their ruling name. See Pope Pius III for a tentative suggestion of how to present this cleanly in an article opening. (it has the advantage that the first portion is identical to the first portion for non-rulers)

Oriental names

Currently there is no clear standard regarding the name order for Japanese name or other languages that do not follow European conventions. Please discuss on the talk page.

DW has proposed the following (please comment on the talk page):

NAME: year dates, occupation.


Prose depiction of persons life and accomplishments, ending with a statement of his or her death and place of interment.

DW wants to remind you to break your prose up into paragraphs according to the natural divisions so that it becomes more readable.

I would like to propose following the prose narrative biography with appropriate refence sections.

An entry formatted according to this proposal might look like this:

John Smith (Octember 13[?], 1856 - December 45[?], 2002), was a Freedonian composer, novelist, freedom fighter and politician.

John Smith was born to Isabel Smith and Abigail Tinker in a log cabin in Sherwood, Mississippi[?]. After his parents were eaten by hamsters when he was seven years old, young John went to live with his maiden aunt, Griselda Hanseleater, a collector of industrial marbles. He entered Exeter Academy when he was thirteen, and graduated wen he was only forty-seven. He then attended Harvard.

It was during his college years that he met the love of his life, A Steinway Grand Piano, which he married in a private ceremony on the Isle of Man December 6, 1962. The couple quickly produced three sonatas and a concerto. Unfortunately John took the part of the orchestra and their marriage ended abruptly in discord.

John Smith died of a broken heart in 2002 and was interred in a piano case in Sacred Heart Cemetery, Dublin, California.

Musical Compositions

  • Three Sonatas and a Broken Heart by John Smith, Opus #1 (KLK23).



Additional input with respect to opening line only:

Perfect example of how not to do a biography: Juan Gris

I intend to write a full article on this subject because I believe it to be of extreme importance. However, for now, I will say the following:

First line: Avoid Information Overload.

  • The researcher who is the ultimate customer and sustainer of any encyclopedia does not want to be overwhelmed by text as they skip through articles. The first line therefore should tell the viewer only if they are at the right place. Hence do not overload with full dates, place of birth etc. The first line is a quick message line only that a researcher appreciates being short and accurate. Hence:

Now, you might say Impressionist Painter or some other one, maybe two word adjective. Hence:

It helps quick viewing by bolding the name and linking the year dates and occupation. The heading must be followed by a space so that the heading stands out, again for a quick view.

Then, if this is not the biography the searcher wanted, he/she clicks away, grateful that Wikipedia did not force them to waste time reading three or four lines for nothing. Then, the next line is the hook to keep them reading at Wikipedia. Immediately show the viewer that this article is factual and knowledgeable. Hence a full name, full date of birth, place of birth, maybe parents if relative.

Please recognize this is a site that the World visits and DO NOT say Born in Dallas or even born in Dallas, Texas. SAY: Born in Dallas, Texas, USA OR born in the United States in Dallas, Texas. Similarly, do not say born in Dallas, Texas, USA but moved to Lubbock at age 3. (A visitor to the site from China has no idea where Lubbock is. And, you have disrupted their thought process, making the article difficult and undesirable). SAY: moved to the city of Lubbock, Texas. You need not repeat USA or the city’s state after the first time. In the same vein, if doing an article on Europe, put in the city/state/country. (Example from Jacques Villon (changed to a poor heading):

SO, the Wikipedia Line TWO:

  • Born Jane Elizabeth Doe on December 12, 1870 in Baltimore, Maryland, USA, she attended etc. etc. (SHORT paragraphs: 4-5 lines as a standard, only 8-10 if essential and unavoidable. When done, look at the paragraphs to see if they are balanced on the page.

By having precise detail on the second line, the viewer, after quickly determining he has found the right page by the short, precise, factual (and colorful) first line, now gets a message on the second line that says: We (the article here at Wikipedia) know what we are talking about. You now have someone ready to read what is written rather than immediately giving up.

NEXT: I think, to avoid turning people away because of their impression when researching an article, that if that type of article (curse them) is a stub or a short, basically worthless piece of information, it should be labeled AT THE VERY TOP as:


See sample: H.L. Hunt

Think about this: If a total stranger who knows zip about Wikipedia is searching Jane Doe, finds it on Google (which everyone here seems to care about but I don’t) clicks on one of the Wikipedia pages that have little bits of inconsequential information, that person will dismiss the ENTIRE site as worthless and almost certainly never come back....DW

Here is an example of an article where it is brief (except dates) but looks amateurish because it has two short opening lines instead of one:

Honoré de Balzac (May 20, 1799-August 18, 1850), was a French novelist.

He was born in Tours, Indre-et-Loire, France in the rue de l'Armée Italienne.

He would become one of the etc. etc. etc.

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