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Obituary Writing Guide

An obituary documents the life of the deceased, informs the public of death and gives information about funeral and memorial arrangements. The goal is to pay respect and honor to those who have died, while notifying the public of his or her death. This article will give useful tips to help you get started writing an obituary.

There are two types of obituaries, short and concise or longer and more detailed. Short and concise obituaries are often used as death announcements and can be submitted to local newspapers. It’s usually a simple paragraph or two that gives basic information about the deceased and funeral plans. The shortest type of obituary will contain the deceased’s full name, place of residence, date of birth, date of death, plans for funeral or memorial services, wake and burial. If you are tasked to submit an obituary to the newspaper and are using a funeral home, start there first. Funeral directors usually can help with paperwork, and may submit the obituary on your behalf. Some funeral homes may even include the cost of a standard newspaper obituary in their administrative fees. If you are submitting the obituary on your own, get sample obituaries and information from your local newspaper. This will give you a good idea of the style of obituary that the newspapers uses. This may also help you determine of how much you will want to write, and give you an estimated word count or newspaper column inch sizes. Word count is important, since newspapers will charge based on how many words, or how many inches your obituary uses.

The longer obituary gives a more complete account of the life of deceased. It often has a very personal tone, and helps the reader or listener understand the personality of the deceased. Longer obituaries are sometimes included in funeral programs and printed keepsakes. They may also be read at the funeral or memorial service. Longer obituaries will generally include:

  • Full Name
  • Date of birth, place of birth
  • Date of death, place of death
  • Circumstances of death (This section is optional, and may be general or specific)
  • Plans for the viewing (if applicable)
  • Name of high school or college from which he/she attended or graduated
  • Military service and decorations
  • Religious affiliation, such as church or synagogue
  • Jobs held/Career Information- including retirement
  • Names and relations of family members, both surviving and pre-deceased, to include parents, siblings, spouse, children, stepchildren, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren
  • Awards/Recognitions received
  • Organizations to which the deceased belonged (volunteer work, fraternal organizations, veterans’ groups, religious orders)

A picture may or may not be included with the obituary. Some families choose a recent picture while others use a picture from an earlier time in the deceased’s life when he or she was younger, perhaps from high school, marriage, or the military.

There are many resources available to assist you with writing the perfect obituary. The Internet has a wealth of information, tips, templates and samples to help get you started. Your funeral director or celebrant may also have resources and samples. Personal documents such as birth certificates, resumes and military paperwork of the deceased many also be helpful with helping you get all the details of the deceased’s life.



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