How to Write an Obituary

Help with writing an obituary - what to include and how to write it

Last updated: 1 February 2017

Obituaries are similar in content to eulogies, speeches given at funerals, except they appear in print and often adhere to a certain style of writing.

Broadsheet newspapers such as The New York Times or Washington Post publish full-page obituaries for those deemed to have contributed significantly to society. These are mini-biographies of the person’s life and are written by journalists.

Local newspapers also publish obituaries, or local death notices. These may feature news of the death and a line or two about the person who has passed away, along with practical details such as the time and location of the funeral.

These paid death notices are a bit like classified advertisements and prices will vary according to the newspaper. While some families contact the newspaper office directly to publish a personal notice, many funerals homes will write and submit a funeral notice on your behalf. This may be included in their service fee, or among the additional services they provide for you to consider.

Death notices also appear online, while online obituaries are an increasingly popular way to leave written tributes in memory, post photos and light ‘candles’ for their loved ones.

Length

Consider where the death notice, funeral announcement or obituary will be published when you are planning the wording. If you are writing a death notice for the paper, be mindful that local newspapers will often charge by the word, so set yourself a word limit. It is also important to remember that newspapers have deadlines. Make sure that you confirm when your obituary or death notice has to be submitted by.

Online obituaries have fewer space restrictions, so you could even consider including significant life moments, or lines from favorite verses, as well as details about the funeral in the obituary. Funeral Zone’s online obituaries do not have a word limit, so you can write in as much detail as you see fit.

Research

Figuring out how to write an obituary and where to begin it, can feel daunting. Before you start, it might be a good idea to speak to family members and close friends of the person who has passed away. There may be things that they wish the public to be made aware of, such as any notable achievements – while they may, or may not, want the details of the funeral and wake to be announced in the obituary.

For some, it is a chance for the family to tell the public about their loved one’s life and achievements. When your are composing an obituary, other people may wish to share anecdotes or stories, that you had not been aware of. It is also a good time to reflect on your time with your loved one, as this will help when you come to write things down.

Getting started

If the obituary is limited in length, you will want to focus on key information. However, if you have the space to discuss your loved one’s life in more detail, you may want to plan out some ideas.

There are various techniques that may help you generate ideas for the obituary. Here are just a few:

  • Mood board: a type of collage that can include pictures, text and materials. Examples include photos of your loved one, key words or ideas, or other objects that remind you of them. By physically arranging memories and ideas in this way, you will have a visual prompt when you come to write the obituary.
  • Timeline: obituaries often make reference to certain dates, such as births, marriages, graduations or moving house, so a timeline can help organize information in an easy-to-read way. This will also help with the structure of the obituary and give you prompts as to what to write next.
  • Keywords: try writing a list of words that you would use to describe your loved one. Write as many words as you can. These will be useful prompts when writing.

Content

The most important information to include in an obituary is:

  • Name
  • Age
  • Place and date of birth
  • Place and date of death

You may also want to include the cause or suspected cause of death. Make sure that you ask the family’s permission though, as they may not want this information to be shared.

You can also include other information that is relevant such as:

  • Where and when they were born
  • Close family members
  • Marriages
  • Nicknames
  • Any military service
  • Education
  • Favorite poems, songs or quotes
  • Sporting achievements
  • Anything they have contributed to the community
  • Clubs/society memberships

Sometimes people also choose to include a poem or short verse to accompany an obituary. This can be a poem that had significance to your loved one, or it may be a poem about bereavement and remembrance.

Cost

The cost of obituary notices in local newspapers range from around $100 and up, depending on how many words are included and the pricing policy of the specific paper in question. For exact pricing, contact your preferred newspaper, or speak to your funeral director, who may be able to help.

Funeral Zone’s online obituaries are free of charge. Ask your funeral home for more information on how to post an obituary on Funeral Zone.

Examples

The first line of a short obituary might say:

John ‘Jackie’ Jones, 55, of Central Town, died at home on the 14th July 2013 of a suspected heart attack.

This is largely factual and gives readers the key information first. You could then add more information, such as mentions of close family, as well as more descriptive words:

The beloved husband and father is survived by his wife, Sarah, 49, and his son Ethan, 10.

You can include as many family members and close friends as you want. Usually, an obituary will also mention funeral or memorial service information. This would include a time, date and any other relevant information:

The funeral service will be held at St. Peter's Church, Church Street at 12pm on Sunday 20th July. All welcome. Please make any charitable donations to the American Heart Association.

A slightly longer obituary would include more information about the person’s life.

For example:

John ‘Jackie’ Jones, 55, of Central Town, passed away at home on the 14th July 2013 of a suspected heart attack. The beloved husband and father is survived by his wife, Sarah, 49, and his son Ethan, 10.

John attended Smith Town University where he majored in engineering and played starting quarterback in the college football team. He went on to become construction manager at Greenville & Sons Construction.

An avid football fan, he supported Central Town Geysers from a young age. His real passion in life, however, was his family. He would often visit his sister Ashley and her husband Ken at their home in Mid Town. It is here where he would spend time with his nieces, Grace, 14, and Taylor, 15.

The funeral service will be held at St. Peter's Church, Church Street at 12pm on Sunday 20th July. All welcome. Please make any charitable donations to the American Heart Association.