How To Write An Obituary: 7 Steps to Follow

Here, we’ll explain everything you need to know about how to write an obituary, from giving the date of death to sharing memorial service details.

Writing an obituary is a lovely way to honor a person’s life, whether you’re writing about a grandparent, an immediate family member, or if you’ve been hired to write biographical information about a stranger who has passed away. However, it can be tricky to figure out what to include in an obituary and what to leave out.

While there are some generally accepted social conventions when writing an obit or death notice, there’s no right or wrong way to share the important events, names of surviving family members, and details about a person’s celebration of life. Injecting personality into an obituary template can help great-grandchildren and immediate family members remember their loved ones with a smile.

Here, we’ll go over what you need to know if you’ve been tasked with writing an obituary to be published in a local newspaper, in a bulletin for a funeral service, or in another publication that allows people to remember their loved one with fondness.

What You’ll Need

Collecting some information when you’re getting ready to write an obituary is essential. You’ll want to be sure that you have the person’s full name, information about the funeral home that will be taking care of arrangements, contact information for the person’s family members, and a contact at your local newspaper to let you know how and when to submit the obituary, the person’s life story, and more.

You may also want a tape recorder handy or the recorder function on your phone readily available. It can be easier to record conversations with the person’s family instead of jotting notes for later reference. It can be tough to have all of these pieces in place before the process of writing the obituary begins, and it makes sense that some of them will fall into place along the way as you talk with family members and close friends and learn more about the person’s life.

Step 1: Talk With Family Members

How to write an obituary?
You’ll also want to talk with family members about whether the person who passed away was religious

One of the first steps to writing an obituary is to reach out to the person’s family members to get more information about them. This can help you get a head start on step two without digging deep into a courthouse or other records to get basic information about the person. It’s a good idea to ask open-ended questions to give people a platform to share stories about their loved ones.

Remember, it’s essential to act with a high level of sensitivity and listen to the person telling the story, even if you know it’s not going to be a good fit for an obituary. Talking about their loved one can be an important part of the healing process, and you never know when you might stumble across a piece of information that could help inform their obituary. You’ll also want to talk with family members about whether the person who passed away was religious. This information can help determine how you’d like to start the obituary.

Step 2: Gather The Basics

Next, you’ll need to put together the person’s basic information, including their date of birth, place of birth, date of death, place of death, place of residence upon death, and spouse information. You’ll want to talk to the family about what details they would like included in this portion of the obituary. Most people do not want the time of death or the cause included in an obituary, but this can vary from family to family. For example, if the deceased died from cancer and spent time working to support other people with cancer, they may find it significant to include the cause of death in the obituary.

Step 3: List Surviving Family

After you give the basics, you’ll want to list surviving relatives. This allows people who knew the family to reach out and send cards expressing their condolences. Typically, the blood relative is listed first, followed by their spouse in parentheses, for example, “Tim (Holly) Smith.” The family can help you decide how far out you want to list relatives. Some list as far as nieces and nephews, while others include cousins and second cousins. Family size and the amount of space available for the obituary can help you decide how far out it makes sense to list surviving family members.

Step 4: Share details

Now, you’ll want to pull on the information you got from surviving family members to write a paragraph or two detailing the person’s career and hobbies. You can touch on past workplaces, military service, and volunteerism. If the person was involved in other activities (for example, playing in a softball league), feel free to mention this here.

Step 5: Celebrate Their Life

At the end of the obit, you’ll want to share details on the person’s viewing and funeral service and how people can contribute to the person’s memory. For example, before their passing, some people say that they’d prefer donations to a charity instead of flowers.

Step 6: Proofread For Mistakes

Obituaries are often (understandably) written in a time crunch, making simple mistakes easy. If you can, take a day away from the obituary after writing to go back and proofread. It’s also wise to have someone who does not know the deceased take a look at the obituary, as they’ll be able to provide a more objective view than someone who is going through the grieving process.

Step 7: Publish The Obituary

Share the obituary with the funeral home, local paper, the person’s workplace (if they were still working at their time of death), and any other publication outlets that will inform those close to the deceased of the person’s passing.

Examples of Thoughtful Obituaries

Here’s an example of how to set up the list of a person’s surviving family members: Samuel lived a long, happy life and died peacefully in his sleep at the Centerville Hospice Center after a short battle with lung cancer. Three children survive him, Rose (Michael) Porter, Mary (Doug) Winters, and Sammy (Dorothy) McDonald. He was a beloved Papa to 14 grandchildren and recently became a great-grandfather when little Charlotte McDonald was born in February to his oldest grandson and wife.

 If it fits with the deceased person’s personality, it adds fun to include some humor in the obituary: Rob was a stylish yet, practical man. He dressed in the fashion of a Rat Pack member and amassed quite a collection of Fedoras, yet could often be found wearing the latest couture V-neck from The Fruit of the Loom. He was an expert on flag etiquette, played the piano and guitar, and could recite almost every line from any episode of Perry Mason or Bonanza. After so many visits to the Taco Bell with his granddaughter “Shorty,” Rob developed quite a passion for their tacos. He was also a connoisseur of breakfast joints and a fanatical detailer of his automobiles.

Here’s an example of how to include information about a person’s life in an obituary: Kansas worked alongside his father and, most times, with brothers at the Lawrence farmstead for the remainder of his life. He became an invaluable asset in farm and ranch endeavours, from the garden to the melon patch, haying, and cattle. Kansas’ favorite pastime was the frequent excursions to work the family properties and tend cattle in remote Wabaunsee county. He was an avid maker of tomato juice and enjoyed canning produce from his garden.

FAQs About How to Write an Obituary

What is the typical format of an obituary?

Typically, an obituary lists the person’s name, date of death, spouse, surviving family members, facts about their life, career, and military service, and ends with information about their funeral service. While this is the standard format, there is no hard and fast rule about how an obituary needs to be formatted, and it’s ok to change the format if it feels appropriate for your writing.

What is the difference between an obituary and a eulogy?

An obituary is a written piece detailing a person’s life, while a eulogy is a speech made during a funeral to celebrate a person’s life. Both provide an excellent opportunity to share facts about a person’s life with those who will miss them.

What is the most important aspect of an obituary?

This depends on who you ask. Some people feel that the person’s life story is most important, while others focus on the details, such as the person’s date of death or the explanation of their celebration of life arrangements.

Looking for more? Check out our answer to “Is Journalism A Good Career?”

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