How to Write an Obituary
Practical tips for memorializing a life with words.
Writing an obituary can be a daunting task. Perhaps you’re writing your own obituary in anticipation of your own death, or maybe it’s for loved one who has recently passed away. In either case, it can be difficult to get capture the essence of a life in a few paragraphs. Here’s a guide to help you get started.
1. Gather Information
First, gather information to include in the obituary. Most obituaries include the person’s:
- name, age, and city of residence
- date of death and city of death
- date of birth and city of birth
More detailed obituaries include s range of information about the person’s life. How much detail you include may depend on where you plan to publish the obituary (see below). For example, consider including:
- names of surviving family members
- names of predeceased family members
- military service
- community memberships
- awards or achievements
- interests and hobbies
It is also common to include information about any plans for a memorial or funeral service, such as:
- date and location of service
- whether flowers should be sent
- where donations could be sent in lieu of flowers
No matter what factual information you use, consider adding personal details – for example, unique quotes, oft-told stories, descriptions about how the person made a difference in the community, or illustrations of the person’s sense of humor.
2. Decide Where to Publish the Obituary
Next, decide where to publish the obituary. Do this before you spend a lot of time writing the obituary because the publication may limit the number of words you can use, or it may require a particular format.
Traditionally, obituaries were published in newspapers in the town where the person lived, died, or would be known by the community. You might also consider publishing the obituary in the newspapers or magazines of the person’s schools, employers, or other institutions that would be interested in the news of the person’s passing.
Many families also publish obituaries on the internet. Often a traditional newspaper will publish the printed version of an obituary for you, through Legacy.com. Or the funeral home you work with may provide online obituaries. However, you can always publish an online memorial yourself. For example at Legacy.com you can create a “memorial” page (different from the obituary pages), that gives you almost unlimited space for words and pictures about your loved one. See http://memorialwebsites.legacy.com/ to get started.
Although many people still want to make a traditional announcement through a printed newspaper, there are advantages to also publishing the obituary online. Online obituaries reach many more people, and because those who read the obituary can leave comments for the family to read, online obituaries can also be an additional source of comfort for the family.
3. Write the Obituary
After you’ve gathered information and decided where to publish the obituary, it’s time to write it. First, find out if the publication has any format requirements or word limitations. You may have to pay extra for longer obituaries or for photographs. Then take a look the publication’s current obituaries, to get a feel for how they flow. Finally, find a quiet time to sit down and put the words together. When you’re done, give a draft to a trusted person to for editing. The publication will likely edit for typos, but it won’t edit for content. So make sure a couple of people read it to make sure it includes all of the desired information.
4. Select Photos
Finally, if the publication accepts photos, decide which pictures you’d like to include. If you will be publishing just one photo, consider a head shot that clearly shows the person’s face. While most obituaries include a relatively recent photo of the person, others use a photo of the person in their younger years. Consider what photo the deceased person would want published, but ultimately choose a photo that will allow the most people to recognize the person’s face. If you have only a printed version of the photo, you may need to scan it to send a digital copy to the publisher.