How to write an obituary

What is an Obituary?

You may wonder if in the digital age death notices still work.


It all depends on the audience and the reason for publishing an obituary. 


On a visit to Nessebar Island in Bulgaria, pinned to far too many doors were paper death notices called Necrologs. 


One had to wonder if they were a feature of the Island for tourists or that many people had suddenly died.


The key factor here is they were effective in notifying the public of a death. This is the aim of an Obituary. It is a short piece of text that gets displayed in a national or regional newspaper, magazine or print publication that is looked upon by researchers and the general public.

You might wonder who browses obituary listings, but once you approach a certain age it becomes a kind of hobby.While print media suffers from the modern age, there are other routes to notify the population at large of a death.


Some turn to digital media and specific websites that aim to alert certain communities and specific realms of sports or hobbyists for people’s names they might be familiar with. 


Meanwhile at celebrity level they take on a whole a new aspect with entire pages taken out for mini-bios about the person who has died.

Death notices can be placed in the classifieds section of a newspaper for a fee.


You may wish to choose newspapers in areas a person lived during their lifetime, targeting the weekly free newspapers or national papers such as The Times or The Guardian.


The notice may be accompanied by certain data and a photo should you feel it necessary to do so. The time and date and location of the funeral should be included alongside any other pertinent information.

How To Write An Obituary - Deadlines And Word Limits

It is often surprising how few words a person’s life will be summed up with, every classifieds section of a newspaper is denoted by a word count and a cost for every word. It will be important to understand how many words or letters you wish to have written to inform people of the death via an obituary notice.

For example, the average length of a paragraph on this page will be fifty to seventy five words. It’s not a lot, is it?


You may need to be concise if publishing obituaries across many publications, using different data for each, writing each one on a personal level for that area. You need also to be aware of the closing deadline for publication.


This can be a day or 36 hours before publication. The text will have to be received on time but can be by fax or email. 


Websites dedicated to obituaries tend not to have word limits.Tip: Why not refer a print media obituary to an online obituary for more information.

How To Choose Your Words

Funerals and relatives can be awkward companions. 


If a lone child everything is much more simpler. If there is a sister or brother, children involved you should perhaps consult them as to the text of the obituary before release, as this can sometimes be a sensitive issue.


There is only once chance to get it right, you may wish to include snippets of details, focus on the more recent life story or opt for a longer version.

You may need to talk to older family members about the person too. If you are the Son and your Mum has passed away, you may not know as much about your Mother as you thought you did.


Talking to Uncles and Aunties, Grand Parents or Childhood friends may help you ascertain through research, a better picture and one others might recognise her for. Understandably this is all a lot to do considering the occasion.

Collating Ideas For An Obituary

We are all different.


I wouldn’t expect my Sons and daughters to spend a whole week dissecting my life, researching who I was so that the world could be informed that I have died.


Others however may wish to take our an entire page in the local Gazette explaining my achievements, who I was married to and my achievements.


In both instances you should perhaps start off by sticking to that word count, then you’ll know by how much you will need to expand the details within the Obituary.


There are a variety of methods of brainstorming but two to keep close to are; a timeline, understands dates of schooling, work places, achievements, marriage, births of children, will allow all to understand what they are celebrating.


The timelines could be used in tandem with a diagram that helps you connect dates to events and people and locations.

Allowing you to target an obituary in the correct areas of the country. Filling in details about certain events where possible. You may wish to use photos and jot down related memories to give colour to the Obituary.

The Most Important Aspects

If you are aiming to be short and concise, with a url to a website included for further reading, you need to include the following as a must: 


Name of the person who died, their age, place of birth, date of death, location and it is possible to include funeral details at the same time.


Some family members may disagree but cause of death could also be added.

We would suggest that most people who print an obituary keep things simple and short. 


There are a variety of other ways to dress up an obituary, especially if the person has been a long standing member of the community and was known by a lot of people. 


By the time I was 14 I was known by thousands of people in my home town, I can only imagine what that would be like after 80 years.

So what else could you include?

  • You could write about their family and friends, including current and previous marriages.
  • You could write about their family and friends, including current and previous marriages.
  • For childhood friends and work colleagues, list places of work and nicknames the person had.
  • Celebrate their life by noting educational and sports achievements, military service, terms of office and honours.
  • Include favourite anecdotes and phrases or poems and lyrics that the person most admired.
  • Lastly any clubs they partook in or community aspects that people would recognise.

Not all Obituaries are without design. It’s not always just the word count. You can have an image published with the text or have a drawing included. This might be a headstone, a cross, a dog, cat or a flower.


If larger and a quarter or half page, you can perhaps get children to draw something, just ensure it is sent in time for publication.Tip: While considering printing an obituary in a newspaper, do they offer free inclusion on their website too?

Obituary FAQs

How Much does An Obituary Cost?
Regional and National newspapers each have a per letter, line or word cost that can be found in the information sections on their website equivalent. You could also try our free funeral cost calculator to find out how much it will all cost.


With additional costs for any pictures or photos. You may even be able to pay someone to write an obituary on your behalf for a fee. 


They will simply need the details to form one. Websites geared towards obituary listings tend to be free and have no limit. Contact local and national newspapers and decide upon a budget beforehand.

Do I Need An Obituary?
No, in fact the person who has died may have requested there not be one. Death notices and obituaries are a normal procedure however, at least if only at a local level. To simply let anyone who should read the section that a person has passed away.
Do I Need Any Paperwork?
Yes. In the UK a funeral Director would normally take care of listing an obituary and provide all relevant documents pertaining to the death to ensure all is in order. If you organise the obituary yourself you will probably be asked for a Death Certificate or alternative proof.