Think of an obituary as not only a death announcement for the public to read, but as a way to share with society the attributes of a person who lived and loved here on earth. What better way to get the news across to the public than your local paper. Keep in mind that some newspapers have a word limit on the length of the announcement. Usually this is done in increments of inches. There are papers that will give you the first three inches for free and then charge you a fee for anything that goes over that length.
How to Write an Obituary Step-by-Step
As you sit down to write the piece, take your time. Ask family members for help with dates or names, should you be unclear about any of them. You do not want to insert incorrect or error-filled information.
Step One: Familiarize Yourself with Local Obituaries
Gather a few recent copies of your local newspaper, and peruse them to learn how the obituaries are written stylistically.
Step Two: Contact the Funeral Home
If you are having a funeral home handle the arrangements, it is likely the director will write the obituary, which is then processed and distributed to local newspapers for publication. However, if you want or need to write an obituary for an out-of-state newspaper, memorial website or funeral program, you will need to know what information to include. The funeral director can also help with this. The funeral director may also be able to you if there are any fees associated with writing up the obituary as well as a specific length.
Step Three: Determine Newspaper Guidelines
The funeral director may be able to supply you with this information. However, if you can't get the information from the funeral home, you can also contact the newspaper. Ask for the following information:
- Deadlines for submitting obituaries to run the next day
- Any writing or editing guidelines
- Photo guidelines
- How to submit (email, online, in person, etc.)
Step Four: Gather Information
When a loved one close to you has passed away, it is important to gather as much personal information about her as necessary. This makes the actual creation of an obituary a bit easier. To gather information:
- Get a copy of the person's resume or curriculum vitae to gather information on his or her professional life and accomplishments.
- Talk to family members, friends and colleagues as you collect personal information.
- Verify spelling of relative's names and towns where the deceased lived.
- It is always better to have more information then you will need than not enough.
Step Five: Decide Which Information to Include
Most obituaries include the following information about the deceased:
- Full name
- Date and place of death
- City and state of residence
- Name of spouse or partner and children
- Memorial information such as name, place, and times of viewing, memorial service, and burial
If funds and space allow, you may also wish to include the following information:
- Hometown or places the deceased lived during their lifetime
- Other surviving relatives
- Names of parents or siblings
- Hobbies, profession, or significant activities
- A favorite quote or poem
- Accomplishments such as degrees, awards, or personal and professional accomplishments
- Where and how to make memorial donations
Step Six: Write the Obituary
Using the above information, write the obituary following the newspaper's guidelines.
- If you're at a loss after viewing several of the existing obituaries in the newspaper, you can use an obituary template.
- Type and print a copy of the obituary, and keep a hard copy saved on your computer.
- Double space between lines for easy reading.
- Don't use a fancy font or colored ink. Simpler is better in this case.
Step Seven: Proofread
It is very easy to miss your own mistakes. Having another set of eyes on the copy will help prevent any unforeseen errors.
- If possible, have another family member or close friend proof the obituary for you.
- Double check the spelling of all names and professional affiliations.
- Read the obituary aloud to check for flow.
Step Eight: Choose a Photograph
If you would like to include a photograph of the deceased person, make sure you select one that is not only flattering, but also lets the person's true personality shine through. Again, double check with the publication or funeral home director about photograph size recommendations.
Step Nine: Submit
Submit the obituary and photograph as outlined in the publication's guidelines. You'll need to do it in a timely manner so people reading the newspaper will have the information they need about funeral services and memorials. Typically, you will need to submit an obituary by the publication's afternoon deadline time for it to run in the next printing of the paper.
There is so much to do when a loved one dies that it is easy to get overwhelmed. Keep the following tips in mind:
- Normally, you will only have a day or two to gather information and write the obituary. Don't delay in doing this task.
- If you find yourself overwhelmed, request help from other family members or friends.
- Once the obituary is published, you can keep a copy in a scrapbook along with other photos, awards and information about the deceased person's life.
- Some like to include a poem or a verse or two to show sentiment.
- While there are standard obituaries that are more factual than sentimental, you can choose to share some emotion within the piece.
Remember that an obituary, like a funeral, is for the living. You want to portray the deceased in a good light for those who continue to live with his memory. De mortuis nihil nisi bonum is Latin for speak kindly of the dead. This is always a good practice to follow as you ponder on how to create an obituary.
A Tribute in Print
Whether using a simple obituary or writing a more comprehensive review of the person's life, an obituary serves as a printed tribute to someone who has died. Using the above steps, you can create an informative and respectful tribute.