How to Write an Obituary

An obituary is a published article announcing a recent death which typically appears in a newspaper, newspaper’s website, or both. The article contains biographical information about the deceased as well as funeral specifics. Though the articles are usually succinct in form, some family members opt to print ones that are much more elaborate and lengthy than your basic obituary. These can be quite beautiful tributes to the recently departed; however, they are not financially feasible for most families. As such, we will focus on how to write a basic obituary.

1) First, you need to figure out which newspaper you would like to use and find out if they have any obituary policies. A few typical ones that you need to look out for are listed below:

  • Does the newspaper print obituaries for non famous people? Many major newspapers only print obituaries of famous people; however, they usually will post all of the others on-line if their obituary policy prevents them from printing them in the paper.
  • Is there a certain obituary style that the newspaper requires? Many newspapers like for their obituaries to appear uniform as it makes for a better presentation. If this is the case, take note of what they want stylistically.
  • What are the prices? Most newspapers will have a set price per column inch or word. Find out what that price is and determine your budget. From there you should be able to figure out the approximate length that you want for the obituary. If you have a large budget and want to write a lengthy obituary, then ask the newspaper if there are any length restrictions.
  • Find out the deadline. This is very important as you often only have one or two days before the funeral or memorial service for the obituary to be printed. However, if you find yourself in a time crunch and do miss the deadline, call the newspaper and ask if they will make an exception. Though you shouldn’t count on this happening, some newspapers will make an exception for obituaries.

2) Second, you need to gather any pertinent information for the obituary. Possible facts that you might need for the obituary: full name of the deceased; age of the deceased; date of birth; birthplace; where they were living when they passed away; name of significant other (even if they are deceased); details of the funeral service, wake, memorial service, or visitation; parents names and residences (if they are deceased, write “daughter of the late Randall Atmire”); the names and residences of any children and grandchildren; other family members (this is completely optional, just know that to keep family issues at bay, include all or none of these people); activities; employment; any accomplishments; where the deceased went to school and any degrees that they received; date of marriage; personality traits; how the recently departed died (this is not included most of the time and is completely up to the family); where the deceased passed away (for example: Marty passed away at home surrounded by family members); and where contributions can be made (most people will want to send their condolences via flowers or donations, it is best to let them know there those contributions will be most appreciated). Not all of these are required, some of the information is completely optional. Read the obituary sample below for what a very basic obituary looks like. It is up to the family and the budget if any additional information is added onto the basic obituary. If there are any facts that you are not aware of, pick up the phone and call someone who does. You want the obituary to be factual, as there will be many people reading it who will be able to tell if there are any mistakes.

3) Sample obituary (this is written in the most common style for obituaries):

Dorris Gelston passed away Tuesday evening while at home, surrounded by loving family members. She was 97.Dorris was born to the late Marley and Misty Moore on May 18, 1916 in Lexington, Kentucky.  She graduated as the valedictorian of her class at Lexington High in 1934. Dorris married Donald Gelston in 1929 and afterwards moved into their first house together, down the street from her parents.  Dorris worked as a phone operator for a few years before moving on to full time volunteer work.  She was an active member of the Methodist Church of Lexington, The Aids Prevention Foundation, Save the Children, and was the proud president of her book club.  Dorris was a devoted wife and mother and was delighted to spend her later years dedicated to her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  Dorris is survived by her husband Donald; four children: Dave Gelston, Sarah Blalock, Jeffrey Gelston, and Aimee Gelston; as well as 11 grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to The Aids Prevention Foundation.  The funeral will take place at 11am Saturday at The Lexington Funeral Home.  There will be a private burial afterwards.

4) Finally, after writing the obituary, have either a family member or close friend proof read it for any errors. This includes spelling, grammatical, and factual errors. If there are any questions as to the accuracy of something, take the time to find out the answer. You don’t want a mistake printed in the newspaper for everyone to read. After the editing and proofreading has taken place, you need to get the obituary to the newspaper. There are several ways of doing this: by email, fax, or CD. The best way of doing it is via email or CD. If you fax it in, then someone at the newspaper has to re-type it and that leaves room for human error. You want to take away as much human error as possible. Once you upload it, check over it once again. Nothing bad will ever come of you checking things several times. Additionally, if the recently departed spent a significant amount of time in another location or there is a place where they have lots of friends and family, you might want to submit the obituary to an additional newspaper or newspapers in that area.

5) Check out the obituary in the printed paper or online the day that it’s published. Many families like to keep a copy of the obituary so that they can remember it, some even like to frame it.

Writing an obituary for a loved one can be a painful process, but it’s an important one. It is an honor for you to be chosen to write the obituary, so take this task to heart and celebrate you loved one’s life.