How To Write an Obituary

The form that an obituary takes is usually mandated by the newspaper that will run it. Whenever possible, inquire about their standard form in order to write one that will not be heavily edited. There are, however, some items that are standard in most obituaries.

  1. Get the name of the deceased person correct. A good percentage of obituaries have the name spelled incorrectly. This is usually because the information is provided by the funeral home that may have incorrect records or may have taken the name down over the phone and not understood how the names were spelled. If possible, contact a family member to have them confirm the full name and its spelling.

  2. List the age of the deceased. This information is usually correct even if gotten through the funeral home. If you are unsure of the age, calling family or friends of the deceased is an option. The age should be listed directly after the name and in numeral form, not written out as words.
  3. Cause of death information is usually not included in an obituary, but the place of death is commonly listed. The place might be a hospital, a nursing home or at a residence. If the deceased passed away in a hospital or nursing home, list its name. If the newspaper that will be printing the obituary lists a cause of death, it still does not have to be terribly specific. You might simply say "of cancer" without specifying a specific type, or you might simply say that the death was due to a longtime illness. If the death was of a very private nature, such as a drug overdose or some other means that would embarrass the family, it is best to list no cause of death at all.
  4. List a few personal achievements, including educational level obtained. If the deceased grew up in the same town where the obituary will run, list the names of the schools attended so that former classmates will be informed. Other personal achievements will vary, but usually include any military service, awards won, and jobs held.
  5. List some family information. This will be a list of names and relations of the family left behind. This follows a fairly standard format of "leaves behind a father, Bob Smith, two brothers, Bill Smith and Will Smith, and one son, Joe Smith." There may be friends who want to be listed in the obituary. If non-relations want to be included, it is best to get a family member's permission first.
  6. List the funeral and wake information. This should be mindful of the religious preference of the deceased and what type of service will be performed. A funeral is fairly standard, even if the deceased was cremated. But before the funeral, there may be a wake, a rosary, a viewing or some other type of gathering. The funeral home conducting the funeral will most likely know which type of service the family will be holding. In the event of a gathering at a residence instead of a funeral home, the family's permission should be sought before listing the details.

An obituary is not the most pleasant thing to write, but if done correctly, it is a positive piece that celebrates the life of the deceased and informs the community of his passing. Just make sure that all the information is correct or expect to have many angry relatives that certainly don't need more aggravation at this time.


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