37 comments on “Just how long should a good bio be?

  1. Short and sweet comment but…I hate #2. Tedious in the extreme. Why doesn’t Ms Grasonova tell us her ‘O’ level results while she’s at it? On the other hand, I really like #3 because I’m nosy and this makes me interested in her and what she might bring to the conference UNTIL the last sentence…which is just too much information, thank you.

    • Hi Laura,

      yes, you’ve hit on my slight doubt. I don’t want to know EVERYTHING, but a bit of extra stuff – who they are – seems good?

      As for ‘too much info’….. yes I find that kind of stuff a bit, well, too much. But others don’t..


  2. I’d go for something between 1 and 3. I like the brevity and conciseness of 1, but also like when there’s a little bit more personal about the presenter. (But 3 is a bit excessive in this area, and I’m not really keen on that last sentence. It sounds a bit…bleak, I think). 2 is way too long and tedious. (Though I would like to read “How to mentor terrified teachers”)

    • Hi Andy,

      yes, I quite liked the ‘mentoring’ title too! Maybe I’ll come up with a MS myself!!

      Seriously (see my comment to Laura)I DO like a bit of personal info about speakers, but I don’t quite know what or how much I like.


  3. Have been frantically searching for my bio data that I sent to TESOL Arabia to make sure it isn’t one of these, thinly disguised! 😉

    I think the length of the bio data sometimes relates to one’s feeling of accomplishment or status within the profession. As you are beginning to move around and give more talks etc you want to make sure your accomplishments (books, degrees) are clear. They give you more weight, more “face value” for being there. But if you know that most of the audience knows who you are then perhaps one can dispense with it. Nick Hornby did a great short story like this for the Observer: it was a series of author blurbs on the back of the book. They get shorter and shorter with the author’s accomplishments and then taper off to almost nothing.

    I remember seeing, for example, a bio of Michael Swan that simply said “Michael Swan has given workshops to teachers in more than forty countries.” The rest, one assumes, you just know.

    So if ever you see my bio read simply:

    Lindsay Clandfield lives in Spain.

    You’ll know I’ve made it! 🙂

    • Hi Lindsay,

      I promise it wasn’t you!!

      (TESOL Arabia, I mean)

      But my silly 3 examples are fairly typical sub-genres.

      I am in two minds about the Mike Swan bio you quote. Yes lots of people in ELT know who he is, but many young teachers might not and would, perhaps, feel short-changed?

      I would certainly never have the nerve to write something like that! But then I’m not MS!!


      • Hi Jeremy and all,

        I’d agree with you (Jeremy) on bio length relating to reputation. Not everyone knows who everybody in ELT is, or what their particular focus is. Also, I think it depends on the kind of event it is – an internationally renowned event with speakers and delegates from all over the world or a more low-key local event for teachers in country X.

        Personally, I’d like a bit of humour, something about their interests outside ELT and/or interesting comment like Andy mentioned below. Makes them more human/real to the young teacher or piques the interest.


  4. Actually, the more I think about it the more I think my bio should read the following:

    Lindsay Clandfield is a man, not a woman. He is from Canada, not the United States.

    • Jeremy,

      I agree with Lindsay that it probably relates to feelings of accomplishments. However, I also believe it depends on how well-known you are for that particular context. I make my bio fit the context of the situation when writing a guest post, doing a workshop, or conference. I try to include information related to my experience in the related subject matter. I usually look for other places to reach that person, their Twitter account, website, or blog. This would inspire me to visit their website for background research on their topic. I think if the books relate to the subject matter, then that is helpful as well. With many new faces at the huge conferences I think it is very helpful to know background information about the speaker. I like to know which country they are from, because in ELT many of the speakers tend to teach in places they are not originally from.


      I think you know you’ve made it when your bio reads, Lindsay Clandfield- if you don’t know by now, just Google me! 😉

      • Hi Shelly,

        you remind me, I am pleased to say, that in our new ‘PLN’ days, that kind of info (about twitter ID and blogs etc) should be part of a bio – but I have not include them before.

        As for being well-known…well however well-know people THINK they are, at a conference there will always be some people who haven’t a clue, have never heard about you before, and they DO deserve something, I think.

        As for Lindsay,there’s a song..’If you don’t know me by now…’


  5. Funny post Jeremy thanks. I actually quite like a less hyped up version of number 3 but with some of number 2. I like to know where that person is from, where they live (not always the same), what they are doing in ELT (I mean area of focus), whether they teach/train/write (hopefully all three).

    If they’ve written books and articles etc I think its important that people be allowed to say this as it is an achievement (though sometimes I dislike it when I see things like “X has published in a number of international journals like the Lancet” – that was one I saw that seemed a bit boastful, the Lancet being the absolute bees knees of medical journals and methinks if you had actually published there you wouldn’t say “like the” as there is only one, however snobby!).

    And I do like to know something about their outside ELT interests too as I think it important (like your own info on music which for me as a fellow muso is a point of connection). These days I always put my twitter and blog details so that says a lot about what I want people to know about me! A year ago I would have just put my email 🙂 Bio data definitely changes according to context, but I still (where word limit allows) put details of the campaign I set up in Greece (Birth Choices) in my ELT bio as I think its of interest to know something about the whole person. Our work defines us, but it is not who we are completely after all.

    My own bio data was recently cut by an editor (word limit?) and I felt quite bereft at seeing what was left as it wouldn’t have been what I chose to highlight. A bio is definitely linked to identity and how we want the world to see us, so perhaps the clue is in thinking of your audience, providing a rounded account of yourself, and being proud of achievements without becoming full of it?

  6. Hi Jeremy
    I tend to think that shorter is better especially if it’s customized to the context and you can highlight things that are most relevant. I agree with Lindsay that it’s often to do with security/insecurity about where you are in the profession and, as Sara’s comment illustrates, modesty vs trumpet-blowing comes into to it too.

    • Hi Carol,

      thanks for coming along!

      I’m sure you are right that ‘customizing’ is important – and sometimes strict word limits kind of do that for you.But I still haven’t quite worked out how much people want to know. Your books? Well some of them, obviously, but not all. Your current and earlier places of work? Any ‘other life’ info.

      I wonder whether it may have something to do with culture? Are frosty Europeans different from more warm-blooded Americans etc?


  7. Hi Sara,

    Yes, I agree completely that saying WHO you are does matter. Now (and this proves your point, I think) I am interested to know about ‘birth’ choices, and I agree that mentioning blogs etc makes sense.

    The main thing is to avoid sounding ‘up yourself’ isn’t it? Or is that just a British kind of reserve?


    • And then there’s a fine line between sounding “up yourself” and “desperate for approval”. Number 2 for example, to me comes across as the latter more than the former.

  8. A certain person of our mutual acquaintance always finishes his bio with the line “…lives with his monkey and camel in Ramsgate, Kent”. This certainly gets people talking and he always gets asked about it (revealing that people do read bios, and perhaps including something offbeat can spark interest?)

  9. That’s almost too much information, revealing, as it does, a certain predilection for furry animals and blow-up toys!!

    But yes, actually, you are right. It does get people ‘talking’ and the bio is therefore memorable and that may be the point?

  10. That particular bio data belongs to someone who used to be my Master’s tutor and as I recall he/she also brought a furry toy monkey with them to all sessions. Again, it was a conversation starter, and I confess, even as a serious and critical type of student, I missed it when the monkey wasn’t there and worried about what it meant when once it was forgotten and not in the sessions 🙂

    • Sadly, Sara, I have to report that Bert (the Monkey) was kidnapped during an aborted trip to Bangladesh (which I believe Jeremy is very familiar with), and has never been seen since.

      (Luggage got lost en route, and by the time it got back to its owner, Bert was no longer inside. Though everything else was, oddly)

      • Ah yes, the trip to Bangladesh! Always fun to fly into a military crackdown and not be allowed to leave the hotel! One of my more memorable trips! Deserted streets. Soldiers everywhere…

  11. I’ve never really attached importance to bio-data, but it’s clear from the comments that many people do. I’m usually more interested in the topic of the workshop. The only thing that caught my eye above was the C because it lists her academic interests. I might go, “Oh, interested in dictionary techniques, me too. Maybe we can have a chat or she’ll incorporate that into her workshop.”

    • Hi Nick,

      yes, I think that may be right. It IS nice to know what interests people – what their current research is all about. Gives you something to say to them/ask them etc.

      The bio thing hadn’t previously interested me, but now, after comments and reflection, I see them as a good new area for thought!


  12. I think these are my guidelines jeremy but everyone will have their own,won’t they?

    Guess it’s about getting the balance right between the professional and the personal, writing something which connects you with the context that you are going to be in, so I guess that usually means not always sending out the same biodate regardless of where you going to be, and writing something that YOU feel comfortable with rather than just subscribing to some template from somewhere else. And if you have done something,do something or have written something that you are proud of why not mention it without going over the top? I always like reading people’s twitter biodata and very much like sara hannam’s in Greece “Teaching English and wanting a different sort of world really” or miss dem’s in Australia “K-6 teacher-passionate about ICT & new ideas in education. Also new blogger, fine artist, & drum beater with an inclination to overindulge in chocolate.”

    • Hi Mark,

      yes, Sara. A star!

      But I think it IS as you say all about balance – and not ‘going over the top’.

      You have made me think carefully now aout the fact that I generally send out the same bio-data for everything. Maybe I should change that. Thanks!


  13. Mike Harrison :

    Hi Jeremy and all,

    I’d agree with you (Jeremy) on bio length relating to reputation. Not everyone knows who everybody in ELT is, or what their particular focus is. Also, I think it depends on the kind of event it is – an internationally renowned event with speakers and delegates from all over the world or a more low-key local event for teachers in country X.

    Personally, I’d like a bit of humour, something about their interests outside ELT and/or interesting comment like Andy mentioned below. Makes them more human/real to the young teacher or piques the interest.


    Hi Mike,

    thanks for this. I do think you are onto something when you talk about ‘piquing’ people’s interest. But it’s a dangerous narrow path, isn’t it. I mean people found the last sentence in my bio (c) difficult to stomach, so it has to be a bit lighter than that, I guess.


    • Oh yes, I think I’d like to see something quirky or interesting about the speaker I’m about to see, but nothing too personal in that way. As people have said above, a slightly irrelevant or irreverent generates interest and gives people something to talk/ask about. A person might be intimidated to go up to a presenter to ask a serious question; they might feel more comfortable asking about their living with a monkey.

      I’d also say I wouldn’t want to see someone’s GCSEs on their bio.


  14. Now then…right, have to submit a bio soon…but not going to send it here until I can make it like

    lclandfield :
    Actually, the more I think about it the more I think my bio should read the following:
    Lindsay Clandfield is a man, not a woman. He is from Canada, not the United States.

    • Well, Jamie, it is interesting to wonder what the most important 3 or things to say are!!

      Because it is not completely clear to me whether people prefer long or short bios – even after reading all these posts!


  15. First, a disclaimer: I’m not in the education field at all. I found your post while looking for information I could send to a client who needs to edit the bios sent to her. I’m actually a graphic designer and copyeditor, and as such, I’ve seen some pretty atrocious bios. Of course, I’ve also seen some very well-written ones, but that’s not very common!

    One issue that’s been mentioned is whether a bigger reputation should merit a longer, more tedious bio. Actually, I think that if you’re very successful and well known, you don’t need a mile-long bio, even if the reader is new to the field and doesn’t know who you are yet.

    For instance, if you’re a highly regarded author* who has had multiple books reach the NYT bestseller list, you teach creative writing at a well-respected university, and you’ve taught writing workshops and spoken at conferences across the country, do you really need to list each book, conference, and workshop?

    Wouldn’t it make more since to give the facts above, name the university, and give the names of the most recognizable books and workshops? You can throw in a bit of personality and still have a bio that short enough to keep the reader’s interest.

    And you’ve given anyone who doesn’t know who you are yet enough info to decide if you’re worth their time. Anyone who’s really interested can look you up online if they really want lots of details!

    *That would be Brandon Sanderson. Great author, great speaker, and a genuinely nice guy when you meet him.

  16. I actually went to a speech by Amelia Grasonova at a conference recently, but I’m now wondering whether it was really Jeremy Harmer in drag I was listening to?

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