How to Write an Obituary

Practical advice on writing an obituary, with obituary examples

Last updated: 16 March 2017

What is an obituary?

Obituaries are similar in content to eulogies, speeches given at funerals, except they appear in print and often adhere to a certain style of writing.

Broadsheet newspapers such as The Times, The Telegraph and The Guardian publish full-page obituaries for celebrities or important figures. These are mini-biographies of the person’s life.

National newspapers also publish obituary notices, or death notices, for members of the public, which feature a couple of lines about the person who has passed away, along with practical details such as the time and location of the funeral.

Obituary notices have also been traditionally popular in local newspapers. However, with many local papers now shifting from daily to weekly, demand has fallen.

More recently, online obituaries have proved increasingly popular as a new generation of people leave comments, post photos and light candles for their loved ones.

Writing an obituary

Length

When writing an obituary, it is useful to first have an idea of how long it will be, which often depends on which platform it will be published on. For example, local newspapers will often charge by the word, so you need to set yourself a word limit. Funeral Zone’s online obituaries do not have a word limit, so you can write in as much detail as you see fit.

It is also important to remember that newspapers have deadlines. Make sure that you confirm when your obituary or death notice has to be submitted by.

Research

Figuring out how to write an obituary and where to start can feel daunting. Before you begin, it is advisable to speak to family members and close friends of the person who has passed away. There may be things that they wish the public to be made aware of, such as any notable achievements – they also may or may not want the details of the funeral and wake to be announced in the obituary.

This is a chance for the family to tell the public about their loved one’s life and achievements. They may wish to share anecdotes or stories that you are not aware of. It is also a good time to reflect on your time with your loved one, as this will help when you come to write the obituary.

Brainstorming

If the obituary is limited in length, you will want to focus on key information. However, if you have the space to discuss your loved one’s life in more detail, you may want to brainstorm ideas.

There are various brainstorming techniques that may help you generate ideas for writing the obituary. Here are just a few:

  • Mood board: a type of collage that can include pictures, text and materials. Examples include photos of your loved one, keywords or ideas, or other objects that remind you of them. By physically arranging memories and ideas in this way, you will have a visual prompt when you come to write the obituary.

  • Timeline: often obituaries make reference to certain dates, such as births, marriages, graduations or relocations, so a timeline can help organise information in an easy-to-read way. This will also help with the structure of the obituary and give you prompts as to what to write next.

  • Keywords: try writing a list of words that you would use to describe your loved one. Write as many words as you can. These will be useful prompts when writing.

Content

The most important information to include in an obituary is:

  • Name
  • Age
  • Place of birth
  • Date of death
  • Place of death

You may also want to include the cause or suspected cause of death. Make sure that you ask the family’s permission though, as they may not want this information to be shared.

You can also include other information that is relevant such as:

  • Where and when they were born
  • Close family members
  • Marriages
  • Nicknames
  • Any military service
  • Education
  • Favourite poems, songs or quotes
  • Sporting achievements
  • Anything they have contributed to the community
  • Clubs/society memberships

Sometimes people also choose to include a poem or short verse to accompany an obituary. This can be a poem that had significance to your loved one, or it may be a poem about bereavement and remembrance.

Cost

The cost of obituary notices in local newspapers range from around £50 to £300, depending on how many words are included and the pricing policy of the newspaper group in question. Obituary notices in national newspapers typically cost hundreds or even thousands of pounds.

For exact pricing, contact your preferred newspaper, or speak to your funeral director, who may be able to help.

Funeral Zone’s online obituaries are free of charge. Ask your funeral director for more information on how to post an obituary on Funeral Zone.

Obituary examples

The first line of a short obituary might say:

Michael Jones, 55, of Ormskirk, Lancashire, passed away at home on the 14th July 2013 of a suspected heart attack.

This is largely factual and gives readers the key information first. You could then add more information, such as mentions of close family, as well as more descriptive words:

The beloved husband and father is survived by his wife, Sarah, 49, and his son Ethan, 10.

You can include as many family members and close friends as you want. Usually, an obituary will also mention funeral or memorial service information. This would include a time, date and any other relevant information:

The funeral service will be held at St. Peter’s Church, Church Street at 12pm on Sunday 20th July. All welcome. Please make any charitable donations to The British Heart Foundation.

A slightly longer obituary would include more information about the person’s life.

For example:

Michael Jones, 55, of Ormskirk, Lancashire, passed away at home on the 14th July 2013 of a suspected heart attack. The beloved husband and father is survived by his wife, Sarah, 49, and his son Ethan, 10.

Michael attended Edge Hill University where he studied English Literature. He then went on to become head of English at Woodbridge High. He was also an active member of the University's football team, and led them to victory in 1977. He was an avid football fan, and supported Liverpool from a young age. His real passion in life, however, was his family. He would often visit his sister Andrea and her husband Derek at their home in Surrey. It is here where he would spend time with his nieces, Jacqui, 14, and Holly, 15.

The funeral service will be held at St. Peter’s Church, Church Street at 12pm on Sunday 20th July. All welcome. Please make any charitable donations to The British Heart Foundation.