our everyday life

The Format for an Obituary

by Rebecca High

Writing an obituary does not have to be a loathsome task. Using these basic guidelines, the last tribute and memorial to the deceased will be an honorable and memorable one.

The Importance of a Well-written Obituary

"On a large enough time line, the survival rate for everyone will drop to zero." --Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club To paraphrase Palahniuk's gritty realism: everyone dies, eventually. But those who are still living must deal with people who are not, and lurking behind the often-unprepared flurry of arranging memorial and funeral services is that one-square-inch space of newsprint that needs to be written for the deceased. Despite its small size, writing a standard obituary can be an un-relished task. Poorly-written obituaries clog publications with clichés and tactless rubbish. Yet an obituary is often a last tribute to a life and should be written with taste and care. Using these tips and basic template, a well-written epitaph will be an effortless way to honor and remember a friend or family member.

Before You Write

• Most newspapers charge a small fee to publish obituaries, and some publications may have their own guidelines, such as word count, for submitting obituaries. • Check with each individual newspaper before submitting an obituary. If you want to include information about memorial services, be sure the obituary will be published before the date of the event.

When Writing...

• Avoid clichés. "The family regrets to announce..." is a common, yet painful way to begin an obituary. Instead, start with the subject's name. Do not reference "courageous struggles" and do not overuse "sorrow." • Make the obituary about the deceased. "An obituary should be an exercise in contemporary history, not a funeral oration," said Peter Utley, an English journalist and Obituary Editor for The Times. Honor the dead by remembering how they lived. • Use third person. The obituary is about another person, not yourself. Do not use "I." • Avoid errors. Check the facts, and proofread multiple times.

The Template

ObituaryGuide.com has published an extensive template to use when creating an obituary. Although a standard obituary should be fairly short, you can mix and match the specific details under each related heading. The key is to list the main details, but in an interesting way that honors and memorializes the deceased. Invite readers to reflect and remember. • NAME / ANNOUNCEMENT o Full name of the deceased, including nickname, if any o Age at death o Residence (for example, the name of the city) at death o Day and date of death o Place of death o Cause of death • LIFE o Date of birth o Place of birth o Names of parents o Childhood: siblings, stories, schools, friends o Marriage(s): date of, place, name of spouse o Education: school, college, university and other o Designations, awards and other recognition o Employment: jobs, activities, stories, colleagues, satisfactions, promotions, union activities, frustrations o Places of residence o Hobbies, sports, interests, activities and other enjoyment o Charitable, religious, fraternal, political and other affiliations; positions held o Achievements o Disappointments o Unusual attributes, humor, other stories • FAMILY o Survived by (and place of residence): • Spouse • Children (in order of date of birth, and their spouses) • Grandchildren • Great-grandchildren • Great-great-grandchildren • Parents • Grandparents • Siblings (in order of date of birth) • Others, such as nephews, nieces, cousins, in-laws • Friends • Pets (if appropriate) o Predeceased by (and date of death): • Spouse • Children (in order of date of birth) • Grandchildren • Siblings (in order of date of birth) • Others, such as nephews, nieces, cousins, in-laws • Pets (if appropriate) • SERVICE o Day, date, time, place o Name of officiant, pallbearers, honorary pallbearers, other information o Visitation information if applicable: day, date, time, place o Reception information if applicable: day, date, time, place o Other memorial, vigil or graveside services if applicable: day, date, time, place o Place of interment o Name of funeral home in charge of arrangements o Where to call for more information (even if no service is planned) • END o Memorial funds established o Memorial donation suggestions, including addresses o Thank you to people, groups or institutions o Quotation or poem o [Final] words that sum up the life

Submission and Printing

Remember to check and re-check your article before submitting it to the press. After publication, examine the newsprint for errors. The sooner you catch them, the sooner the newspaper can correct its mistakes if necessary. Save one for posterity and remembrance, and let your obituary stand as a token of respect and final farewell.

Resources

About the Author

Rebecca High graduated from Cedarville University, with a B.A. in international studies. As a university student she wrote and edited for "Cedars," the campus newspaper, and was published twice in the "Kamelian," the literary journal of Kishwaukee Community College. She attended the World Journalism Institute convergence course 2009 taught by journalists including Pulitzer Prize-winning Manny Garcia. She has written reviews for Sazze.com

Photo Credits

  • Image by Flickr.com, courtesy of Tony