Memoirs and Autobiographies: Grasp the Difference

If you are an aspiring writer or a student who faces tons of academic writing in college, the chances are that you will have to deal with many different writing genres on your path. Some of them are rather easy to understand and master, whereas others might be quite confusing.

Some of the writing genres that cause the most confusion among students, writers, and other people are memoirs and autobiographies. These two genres are so similar that people often get them confused. And this makes sense. After all, they both are written in the first person and used to tell the author’s story.

But are they the same?

Although these two genres are quite similar, a few crucial features make them very different. In this article, a professional research paper writer from EssayService, a graduate paper writing services for students, gets memoirs and autobiographies explained to help you grasp the difference.

What Is a Memoir?

The word memoir comes from the French language (mémoire) and translates as memory. According to the general definition, the term “memoir” is used to describe a piece of writing in which the author recalls specific stories, emotions, and experiences from their own life. As a rule, such writing pieces are very intimate, emotional, and even somewhat subjective. But at the same time, they are fact-checked.

Memoir as a Literary Genre

Memoirs originate from ancient times. One of the notable early works in this genre is the Commentarii de Bello Gallico (Commentaries on the Gallic Wars), written by Julius Caesar. Historically, this genre of literature was defined as a subcategory of autobiography or biography. However, as the genre was shaping further, it acquired a different form and a narrower focus, which is why it can’t be called the same as autobiography these days.

Today, a memoir in literature is defined as a nonfiction genre of writing in which authors remember things from significant periods in their lives. Respectively, a memoir doesn’t cover the entire life path of the author. Instead, it can focus on a specific adventure, childhood, etc.

Apart from literature, memoirs are also widely used in education. Students of higher education facilities can be assigned to write memoir essays that have all the same features as full-fledged memoirs but are shorter. Writing such papers is hard and time-consuming due to the flexible nature of this genre, which is why many students prefer to use paper writing services to get help with such tasks. If you need such a service, too, check this EssayService review first to figure out what a good service looks like.

Specific Features of Memoirs

Compared to other literary genres, memoirs are very flexible. Memoirs can come in a single piece or be represented through a series of personal essays. There also isn’t one right way to structure them. Typically, such works allow writers to experiment with the structure, types of narrative, tenses, and other literary devices.

At the same time, there are a few must-have features. Namely, every memoir should:

  • Be written in the first person;
  • Have a specific theme;
  • Feature storytelling elements (i.e., plot, setting, etc.);
  • Tell about something from the author’s life;
  • Be honest;
  • Provide supporting details that relate to the time period the author describes.

What Is an Autobiography?

The word autobiography came from three Greek words – Auto (self), Bio (life), and Graph (write). So, in a nutshell, it means writing about your life. The term “autobiography” is used to describe a nonfiction piece of writing that provides an account of the author’s life. As a rule, unlike a memoir, in autobiographies, authors don’t focus on a specific event or period but cover their entire life. All the events described in such pieces are factual and presented in chronological order.

Autobiography as a Literary Genre

Just like memoirs, autobiographies date back thousands of years. There are plenty of ancient works that relate to this genre. In literature, it is a nonfiction genre in which the author shares a retrospective narrative of their life in chronological order. Typically, autobiographies are written to provide context for one’s life and personal development. Thus, they are often written by people who are famous for something, including change-makers, authors, celebrities, politicians, etc. Since such pieces are fact-checked and chronological, they are widely used by historians.

Also, just like memoirs, autobiographies are widely used in education. So, if you are a student, you might face this genre of writing in college.

Specific Features of Autobiographies

Unlike memoirs, autobiographies aren’t that flexible. Such pieces must follow traditional storytelling principles and be incredibly well-structured to help the reader follow along.

As for the structure, traditionally, autobiographies are chronological. This structure consists of three core elements:

  • Foundation (childhood, family, school, etc.);
  • Adversity (significant moments and experiences that lead to changes or achievements);
  • Conclusion (lessons learned through adversity).

However, today, autobiographies can also follow a different, more attention-grabbing structure called “the hero’s journey,” which looks like this:

  • Adversity;
  • Foundation;
  • Conclusion.

The Bottom Line

Knowing the definitions and key features of each genre, we can see a few key similarities between memoirs and autobiographies. They both are nonfiction genres that cover events from the author’s life and are written in the first person.

At the same time, we can see how different they are. Autobiographies span most of the author’s life, whereas memoirs only cover a certain period of life or specific themes. Also, autobiographies are more factual, whereas memoirs are more emotion-driven. Lastly, autobiographies are typically chronological, while memoirs can have different structures and timelines.


Founder and Editor, Clare Deane, shares her passion for all the amazing things happening in Liverpool. With a love of the local Liverpool music scene, dining out a couple of times a week and immersing herself in to all things arts and culture she's in a pretty good place to create some Liverpool Noise.

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