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How do I Write an Obituary?

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  • Written By: A Kaminsky
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 10 November 2016
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An obituary is a brief description of a deceased person’s life, and usually, the arrangements for that person’s burial or other memorial services. An obituary is usually published in a newspaper to allow family and friends to know the person has died.

Most newspapers charge to list an obituary, but some do not. If the newspaper does not charge a fee, then the person submitting the obituary needs to make sure it fits the newspaper’s length limits and includes only the information the paper will print. If the obituary is paid, then the writer is free to list as much information as he or she wishes, keeping in mind that newspapers may charge by the word, the line, or per column inch.

An obituary is more than just a notice of death. The dates, names and other information it contains could be valuable to someone researching family or community history. The obituary should then contain pertinent and personal information.

Anyone writing an obituary should first make sure all dates are correct insofar as they can be confirmed. The birth, marriage and death dates, graduation year, etc., should all be double-checked for accuracy. Families are grieving at this time and need to make sure they have the right information. The second thing to check is the spelling of names. Misspelled names can cause untold hurt feelings, and these should always be confirmed.

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A person should write down some facts about the deceased loved one, such as where he went to high school, community activities, hobbies and interests. These can be woven into an obituary that is personal and meaningful to family and friends.

The first paragraph of an obituary should always include the loved one’s date and place of death, including the year, and where funeral services will be held. Requests for memorial donations can be right after this paragraph, or they can come at the end of the obituary.

The next paragraph should include birth date and place, parents’ names, information about education and employment. Any other personal information may be included in the next paragraph. The final paragraph should contain names of survivors and pallbearers, if desired.

The main thing to check when writing an obituary is accuracy. When information is accurate, it is easier on everyone in the family.

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Discuss this Article

irontoenail
Post 3

@Ana1234 - There are some really lovely obituaries out there. There are also those ones that they write for celebrities, some of which apparently are pre-written so that they are ready to go when the person dies which is a little bit scary.

One of the writing exercises they gave us in high school was to write our own obituary, which is a little bit morbid but did give us some food for thought.

Ana1234
Post 2

@MrsPramm - I ended up having to write an obituary for my father about four times because he had lived in so many places and we were hoping quite a few people would want to come to the memorial. It was lovely, in the end because a lot of people did come and told stories about him.

But it's interesting how different the obituary might be if it's written in a different place. They each mentioned different jobs and different people because that's how the people of that place knew my father. It had never occurred to me before that obituary records might tell a story like that.

MrsPramm
Post 1

If you're the one who has been picked to write an obituary for the family, make absolutely sure that everyone agrees with it before you send it to the paper. I'm supposed to be the writer of the family so they always seem to turn to me when someone passes away. But often they still want to be able to have a say over what gets printed.

And in my family there have been so many divorces and remarriages and things like that, it's impossible to write something that isn't going to step on someone's toes. So you've got to be careful and try to get as much approval as possible. I still have one person not speaking to me because I mentioned both the ex-wives when writing an obituary for her father.

You should also try to keep it simple. Look up an obituary template, if you have to, and use that.

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