How to Write a Biography
A biography gives basic factual information and tells the readers how a life was lived. For the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online (GAMEO) the style of writing should be direct, factual and succinct. For questions on style contact an editor or see GAMEO Style Sheet for Authors.
The length for a short biography should about 300 words, about half a page at 12 point type. A longer biography is about one full page in length or about 600 words.
Criteria for a Biography
There are several criteria that warrant the inclusion of an individual’s biography in GAMEO. They include the following:
- The individual played a prominent role in a Mennonite/Anabaptist denomination. People in this category include conference leaders and workers, missionaries, teachers in Christian educational institutions, and pastors and church workers who ministered in various congregations or who ministered in significant congregations. Brief biographies can be included for people who had a more limited ministry. To be considered for a biography, the individual must be deceased.
- The individual played a prominent role in a predominantly Mennonite/Anabaptist community and were members of a Mennonite/Anabaptist denomination. People in this category include those involved in business, public education, public service, societies, health care, agriculture, the arts, and literature. This category will include individuals who may have been members of a Mennonite/Anabaptist denomination but joined a different denomination later in life or left the church.*
- The individual played an important role or had a significant impact in the life of the Mennonite/Anabaptist church, but was not a Mennonite. This would include political leaders and government officials, leaders from other church denominations, scholars and academics, etc. The focus of the article would be on how his or her activities intersected with Mennonites/Anabaptists.
- Noteworthy individuals who were raised in a Mennonite/Anabaptist home or with a Mennonite/Anabaptist family background but who were not members of a Mennonite/Anabaptist denomination can be mentioned in articles dealing with family names, or articles such as those dealing with literature and politics, and will not have their own biography.
Elements to be considered for a biography
- Key role(s) in life or occupation(s) (maximum of three)
- Birth: date and place; include town or village, colony if appropriate, province/state, and country
- Parents: names of both including maiden name of mother; years of birth and death are optional
- Birth order and family structure
- Marriage: to whom, date and place including congregation; include parents of spouse, including maiden name of mother; years of birth and death are optional
- Number of Children
- Death: date and place; include this information for spouse as well
- Baptism: date, place, and congregation
- Places lived with dates of residency
- Education: include name(s) of school and degree(s) earned
- Congregational or Conference memberships, including changes
- Offices held, ordinations, awards
- Books or documents written
- Life's work
- Interesting anecdotes
- Concluding paragraph summarizing in a few sentences the person's essential characteristics and contributions
- Location of personal papers or family documents
- Published biographical or genealogical sources
Not all eighteen elements need to be in a biography but each element should be considered. These elements give the factual information about the person, but section 14 "Life's work" should comprise the main body of the biography. This element tells how the individual coped with daily living, met problems, worshiped, completed tasks, encountered people, and adapted to life's events. Comment should be made on the long term contributions or impact this person had on the church. Controversial aspects of a person's life should not be ignored, but dealt with in a factual and balanced manner.
Biographies should be accompanied by a photograph preferably a portrait taken at the prime of the person's life work. In the case of a pastoral leader, a portrait of the pastoral couple (if married) is best. All photographs should be credited and dated, and all people in the photograph must be identified by first and last names. If possible, the place the photograph was taken should be given.
Structure of the Biography
The family name should be used in every paragraph. The use of "they", or "he" should refer to only the previous sentence and the family name should be used frequently. See the attached example of John R. Dyck's biography. Note the use of "John R. Dyck" and "John and Paula Dyck" where appropriate.
The contribution to the person's life work by the spouse should not be overlooked.
The first paragraph contains basic factual information. First, is the person's full name. If the person was known by initials or nick name then add these in quotation marks: i.e. Jacob Johann "J.J." Thiessen. Then the other elements in the paragraph are in the order of: #1-7.
The following paragraphs should contain information from Elements 8-16 in the order that seems best.
Elements 17 and 18 should be is a separate section titled "Bibliography" and placed after the last paragraph.
If you have questions, please contact any member of the Encyclopedia's Editorial Board.
Dyck, John R. (1913-1988)
John R. Dyck: churchman and farmer; born 19 July 1913 in the Lysanderhoeh, Trakt Colony, Russia to Johannes J. and Renate (Mathies) Dyck. He was the fourth child in a family of three sons and six daughters. In 1941 he married Paula Regier. They had two daughters. John died 14 May 1988 in Rosthern, Saskatchewan.
In 1927 John moved to Canada with his parents and siblings, settling first in the Hanley district, Saskatchewan. John Dyck was baptized on 25 May 1931 at Sheldon Farm, Saskatchewan, by J. J. Klassen and in 1933 moved to Tiefengrund, Saskatchewan, 70 kilometers north of Saskatoon. It was there at the Tiefengrund GC church that he and Paula married.
After taking a decade to establish a financial base the Dycks spent most of the rest of their lives in voluntary service with John and Paula working together as a team. In 1947 they established the first General Conference bookstore in Canada at Rosthern, Sask. John also served as business manager and secretary of Rosthern Junior College for 17 years. In 1964 and 1965 he was one of three men who led in the building of the chapel at the Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminaries in Elkhart, Indiana.
Dyck's administrative skills were recognized by Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) when they asked the Dycks, to close out MCC work in Paraguay (1965-67), Korea (1969-71), and Jordan (1979-80). John and Paula Dyck also served under MCC in Calcutta (1974-75). From 1971 to 1973 they lived in Winnipeg, where John was instrumental in establishing the Mennonite Foundation for Western Canada. On returning to Winnipeg (1975-77) from Calcutta, they laid the groundwork for MCC Food Bank which soon expanded in 1983 to become the Canada-wide Food Bank in which MCC Canada worked in partnership with 12 other Canadian Christian churches. In the fiscal year ending 31 March 1988, the Foods Grain Bank shipped 84,296 metric tons of grain worth $25,756,945 to starving people around the world. Of this amount 15,161 tons, valued at $8,255,478 came from Mennonites.
When not abroad John was usually involved in conference committees and in fundraising activities for Swift Current Bible Institute, the General Conference Kingdom Commitments program, and others. Beginning in 1981 his determined refusal to pay that portion of his taxes which he considered war taxes he experienced considerable legal difficulty, and at times a lack of understanding among his own people. His active involvement in social concerns included a person-to-person prison ministry. John R. Dyck possessed the energy and abilities to be successful in many endeavors but chose a life of service to the church and to its members.
"John R. Dyck." Der Bote (15 Juni 1988): 6.
Rempel, J. G. Fünfzig Jahre Konferenzbestrebungen 1902-1952. Zweiter Teil. Konferenz der Mennoniten in Canada, 1954: 453.
[Note: This biography is 460 words long]