A Guide to Writing an Obituary

Writing an obituary is an important responsibility, and can sometimes feel overwhelming. Obituaries must include certain basic information, but should still capture the spirit of the deceased and honor their life. Writing an obituary that is a worthy tribute can be challenging, but if you follow a few guidelines you can help ease the burden and create a memorable and meaningful tribute.

Take the time to do some preliminary research to avoid unnecessary backtracking or misunderstandings. Many publications have restrictions regarding obituaries. Length restrictions, for instance, will limit the inclusion of personal anecdotes. Certain style guidelines will influence the overall tone.

You can find a publication’s guidelines online or in the obituary section itself. A careful inspection of these guidelines is strongly recommended. A funeral director can be an invaluable resource while navigating these guidelines. Many funeral homes offer advice and assistance with the formalities associated with announcing a loved one’s passing, in addition to traditional cremation services.

The obituary itself should reflect the personality and life of the deceased, as well as include some basic information to help friends and relatives identify the person, including:

  • The name of the deceased, including middle name, maiden name, married name(s), and any nicknames.
  • The date of any important life milestones, such as date of birth, wedding(s), and death.
  • The names of close relatives, such as spouse(s) and children, predeceased or surviving.
  • The city or town where the deceased grew up and where they were living at the time of their passing.

If space and/or budget permits, additional details can be included, including but not limited to:

  • Educational background, e.g., schools attended and degrees earned.
  • Place of employment.
  • Military service.
  • Organizational affiliations and memberships.

With the exception of a small headshot, photos are not typically included as part of an obituary. But if space and budget permits, they can make a lovely and personal addition. Photos are a good way to memorialize special and loving moments in the deceased’s life.

Short, meaningful anecdotes are another wonderful way to personalize an obituary and highlight a loved one’s contributions and achievements. Stories can be funny, inspiring, or both, depending on the personality of the deceased and what he or she would have liked. These glimpses provide a great way to remember and honor a life richly lived.

Details regarding funeral or memorial services may be included if they are open to the public. If the funeral will be private, this information can be omitted. If service arrangements are incomplete, readers can be directed to contact the funeral home for further information. Lastly, any instructions for people wishing to express their condolences through flowers, a memorial contribution or personal messages can be included at the end.

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purl3agony profile image

purl3agony 20 months ago from USA

I hope not to need this information anytime soon, but this hub includes a great outline and structure for obituary, particularly if you've never written one before. I like your ideas on how to personalize an obit with anecdotes and remembrances. Thanks for sharing!


FlourishAnyway profile image

FlourishAnyway 20 months ago from USA

This is helpful information for those who must face this difficult task. I used to work for a local paper as a teen, and although mostly I'd cover features and weddings, I'd occasionally help out with obits. It's important to find the right words, as many people clip and keep copies.

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