Answered By: Priscilla Coulter
Last Updated: Aug 25, 2021     Views: 4688

If you're looking for biographical information about a well-known public or historical figure, whether they were/are a scientist, author, politician, etc. -- there's a good chance you'll find a book or book chapter about them in our library.   Just search for them by name:

But, sometimes finding biographical information is tricky. Here are our tips:

When searching for a person by name:

  • You may need to place quotation marks around it, especially if the last name is very common (example:  "Douglas Adams"). This tells the database or search engine to find it exactly as you type it.  Be sure you have the correct spelling. 

  • If you know of pseudonyms, aliases, stage or pen names, try those as well.  Example:  Mark Twain was Samuel Clemens' pen name.

  • If you know the person's middle name or initial, try searching with and without it.

  • Remember that the name most used may be a shortened version of the given name (Doug for Douglas, for example).

  • If applicable, try including military rank or other titles with the name in your search.

If searching for a name doesn't bring results, then try searching for the person's profession, along with the word "biography".  A few examples:

  • biography AND scientists

  • biography AND philosophers

  • biography AND musicians

  • biography AND presidents

Once you find a book of biographies about U.S. Presidents (for example), you can look inside it for a chapter, or at least a few paragraphs, about your favorite.

If the person that you are researching is not as widely-known, or is still living, biographical information can be more difficult to find.  Here are a few things you can try:

  • If the person has received a major award or prize for their work, check the awarding institution's website (Nobel or Pulitzer, to name just a couple).  They will likely name each award recipient, with at least a few lines about their life and work.

  • Search for articles about the person in newspapers and magazines.  Both cover current events and popular culture, so are likely to publish articles about up-and-coming politicians, artists, entertainers, etc.  And, most of these articles will give at least a little bit of biographical information.

  • If you know what university this person attended, you can check the school's website for alumni biographies.  Many schools are proud to "show and tell" their successful graduates (see an example from Duke University).

  • If you don't know much about the person at all yet, check a site like Biography Channel or History Channel  for some background information.  Even if you aren't allowed to cite websites like this, they can give you some clues about how or where to search for more authoritative sources (any awards, schools they attended, important work, professional organizations, etc.).

  • Try your local library.  Public libraries often subscribe to biography-specific resources, like online databases and encyclopedias.  WorldCat is a good place to search for libraries near you.

And, of course, you can always ask an APUS librarian for help!

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