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How to write obituary notices

Updated March 23, 2017

An obituary is a public notice of a recent death, typically published in the newspaper in the town where the subject lived or had some connection. More personalised and detailed than the standard "Notice of Death," a well-written obituary is a mini-biography, highlighting the deceased's family, work and educational history, as well as any awards achieved. While some obituaries are too stiff and rigid, and others are too flowery, a well-written obituary serves as the last public reminder about the deceased's life and times.

Understand that there are no set-in-stone rules for writing an obituary, but there is a general outline that needs to be followed. The idea is to stick to the facts, but without being boring. There is a fine line between being too stiff and too fluffy, and since the flowery overtones will most likely be present during the funeral or memorial service, keep it out of the obituary.

Start with the name and age of the deceased, when and where he/she died, and the cause of death, if appropriate. Example: Joe Jones of Hobe Sound, Florida, died on Tuesday, Jan. 4, at his home, after a long battle with cancer.

Continue with when he/she was born and who his/her parents are. If the parents have predeceased the subject, then refer to them as "The late Mr. & Mrs. Subject." Example: Mr. Jones was born in Roswell, New Mexico, on July 4, 1926, the son of the late Mr. & Mrs. Henry Jones.

Then list any education, military service and career information.

Example: Mr. Jones graduated from Princeton with honours in 1948. He then enlisted in the United States Air Force and was awarded the Medal of Honor for bravery in the Korean Conflict in 1952. Upon discharge in 1954, he joined the ABC Widget Co. in Bridgehampton, New York, as a sales rep. He spent his entire career at ABC, retiring as CEO in 1989. After retirement, Mr. Jones and his family moved to Hobe Sound, Florida.

Follow up with any personal accomplishments outside of work.

Example: Mr. Jones was extremely active in the Hobe Sound community, serving on numerous community boards and spearheading the campaign to upgrade all the local parks.

Mention the family: spouse, children and siblings. Cousins, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews and grandchildren don't necessarily have to be mentioned by name unless they have any important relevance to the reader.

Example: Mr. Jones is survived by Margaret Wilson Jones, his wife of 54 years, one son, Joe Jr. of Naples and one daughter Kelly Jones Smith of West Palm Beach, as well as three grandchildren. One brother, David Jones of Yonkers, New York, predeceased him.

Finally, list any services and indicate any of the deceased's favourite charities.

Example: A memorial service for Mr. Jones will be held at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Hobe Sound on Saturday, Jan. 7 at 10 a.m In lieu of flowers, the family requests any donations be made in Mr. Jones' memory to the American Cancer Society.

Tip

Include the time/date/location for any services and calling hours. This is important for acquaintances who might not of heard about the death until reading the newspaper. Have donations go to a charity that was important to the deceased, as long as the cause isn't overly political or controversial. If you include a photograph, make sure it's a photo of the subject in his/her prime.

Warning

Leave out any questionable information. No matter what the circumstances are, an obituary is not the time to air any dirty laundry.

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About the Author

Christopher Capelle is a freelance copywriter with over two decades of experience. Subjects of his writing include the business and technology fields, consumer products and home repair/improvement. He graduated from The University of Connecticut and earned a master's degree in journalism from Iona College.