During your lifetime, you might experience the death of a friend or loved one and be asked to write an obituary. An obituary is a summary of the precious and unforgettable life of a loved one in writing.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Open Microsoft Word
- Picture of the Deceased
- Death Announcement
- About the Deceased
- Funeral Arrangements
- Donations and the Like
- Final Words
- Save the File!
Once you’re ready, the next step to figure out is writing it. If you’re using a computer, Microsoft Word is a common word processor for the task. The instructions and advice below will equip you to write an obituary using the MS Word program.
And if you'd like more help through the complicated process of losing a loved one, check out our post-loss checklist.
1. Open Microsoft Word
If you have a computer, you can write an obituary on numerous applications. Microsoft Word has some extra tools such as a well-equipped dictionary, thesaurus, and grammar checker that can help you out. Start by opening up Microsoft Word and choosing whether or not to use a template.
Use a template
If you want to use a template, then your first step will be to open Word and type in “obituary” in its search bar. Once you do, MS Word will pull up all obituary templates it has located on your computer or available online if you’re connected to the internet. If you’re offline and no templates show up, you’ll need to connect to the internet so you can download templates.
To do that, type “obituary templates” in the MS Word search bar and look at the options that pop up. Once you find one, simply click on the template and it will download onto your computer. If you only need words, then you can search for a word-only obituary template and format it to your own preference.
Design your own
Templates can be helpful since they give you a place to start, but they’re not entirely necessary. You can use the format outlined in this article and a blank Word page instead of going through the trouble of downloading an obituary template.
An obituary that touches hearts can be simple or complex in design. As the author, it’s up to you to decide how to best represent the deceased in words and format.
2. Picture of the Deceased
People often place much more emphasis on the written content of an obituary than the photo they enclose with it. However, though words hold immense importance, a picture can speak louder and serves as a final visual reminder of the deceased.
Pictures catch the eye and draw the heart. They provide one final glimpse into the wide grin or mischievous glint the person was known for. It can show their serious side or their funny side. It gives people an opportunity to remember the person as they were. Adding a picture will go a long way in creating a tribute to the person who has passed.
So, what type of photo do you add? Obituaries are sensitive and solemn reminders by nature, so it’s important to choose a picture that is fitting. Some items to consider during the selection process include quality, orientation, and clarity.
If you pick a low-resolution picture for the obituary, readers won’t be able to see the details. You should ask the newspaper you are writing the obituary for about their quality guidelines to ensure the picture remains the same in print and online.
It’s preferable to select an image with only the deceased. People only loosely associated with the person who passed away may not know who the person is if you use a family photo.
Worse, it might give the impression that the entire family died! If you only have a handful of pictures of the deceased and none are solo portraits, consider cropping a group picture. Otherwise, be sure to notate who is in the picture somewhere in the content of the obituary.
Colored images make an obituary appear more vibrant. However, black and white pictures can have a timeless quality. When choosing a black and white picture, be sure to pick one that isn’t blurry so people can clearly recognize the person who has passed away.
Black and white photos are often used to capture a person during an earlier time period. This is fine as long as you don’t pull a picture from childhood. Try and keep black and white photos around the age when they are recognizable, from early to late adulthood. When using color pictures, keep in mind clarity and ask yourself how it will appear in black and white if the newspaper doesn’t print in color.
Out of the myriad of photos, choose the one that portrays the deceased’s personality well. Pick one that shows them doing something they love, preferably smiling. When it comes down to it, pick a picture of the person that will make other people smile fondly and think of good memories when they see it.
You can read our guide on how to choose an obituary photo for more.
3. Death Announcement
Since an obituary is primarily a death announcement, this is the first thing that should be written. You can sum the following points in one to two sentences. Only include as much information as is appropriate for your situation.
- The whole name of the deceased
- Their age upon death
- Place of death
- Time of death
- Date (day/month/year) of the death
You can list the cause of death if appropriate. If you need to keep this section short and sweet, you can simply write a sentence such as, “He passed away on the 12th of April with his children by his side.” Or “Her husband was with her when she went to the Almighty Lord.” In general, most people prefer phrases like “passed away,” “passed on,” or “left this life” instead of simply saying “died.”
4. About the Deceased
An obituary is meant to be a compelling, informative, and short account of the deceased’s life. You’ll want to include interesting facts about the person, their personality, and their family.
Keep in mind while writing that your tone and wording are equally important as the facts you include. While a straightforward, factual account might provide information, a paragraph that is devoid of emotion won’t resonate with the hearts of friends and loved ones.
Before anything else, you need to collect information. If you’re related to the deceased, it will be easier for you to write. But, if you’re an obituary writer hired because the family is too overwhelmed with grief, you’ll need to get a glimpse of the dead person’s personality and behaviors.
Looking into their life will help you write a finished obituary that is a touching story rather than a robotic article. Some questions to ask yourself or their family and friends include:
- How do you want to describe their personality? Vibrant, collected, cheerful? Find the correct adjective or phrase to describe them.
- Did they have any accomplishments they were proud of? In most cases, their greatest joy is being a mother or father.
- What were the best memories you or a family member had with them?
- What were their likes and dislikes?
- Any personality traits that made them different or special?
The facts below are ones you need to ask for by using questions written above or doing your own research:
- Town/city and country of the deceased
- Date of birth
- Name of spouse (if married)
- The time of marriage: day/month/year
- Hometown (if any)
- Primary school, high school, college
- Job/position in a company
- Hobbies (likes and dislikes)
- Beliefs and religion
Incorporate these facts into a brief summary of their life rather than trying to write a complete biography of the deceased. A eulogy isn’t meant to tell their entire story from birth to death but to provide a brief account of their life so readers can better understand them.
After writing the name and interesting facts about the deceased, you should move on to list the family they left behind. It should be in this order: spouse, parents, children, siblings, grandchildren, nephews, nieces, and great-grandchildren.
One simple way to write about them is to use the phrase “survived by.” You can also include information about who among them will serve as pallbearers or other roles if appropriate.
Death may be a somber affair but the obituary shouldn’t be downright depressing. Depending on the personality of the deceased, it can even be humorous and focus on their quirks and funny moments from their life. The best obituaries bring out the personality and individuality of the person they are meant to represent.
An obituary needs facts and figures but more importantly, it needs to be written like a story. Jot down the most interesting events in the deceased person’s life, be they funny or thought-provoking, and write in such a way that they would want to be remembered.
5. Funeral Arrangements
Include essential information about the service and visitation so that people who knew the person can attend. In a line or two, write the name of the church or mortuary, date, and time of service in addition to visitation times and a phone number if visitation is by appointment.
6. Donations and the Like
Briefly note any charity where the deceased or family would like donations to be made in lieu of flowers. If they want to support a specific cause, be sure to include relevant information so people can direct their donations accordingly.
7. Final Words
At the end, you can write a small saying or prayer for the person who has passed away. Words like, “May they rest in peace” or “Until we meet again” help to express your love.
You can also offer a statement of gratitude to relatives and friends that helped with the funeral in a special way, if appropriate.
8. Save the File!
“Save” the Word Doc as you start writing and click save several times while you compose the piece so you don’t lose any of your hard work should the unthinkable happen and your computer shut off or the power go out.
Name it so you can quickly find it again and place it in a folder on your computer that you’ll remember.
Tell Their Story
When you write an obituary, you are tasked with creating a short story of someone’s life. Read what you wrote and make sure it is a piece that honors their memory and helps readers relive moments with their friend or loved one.
An obituary like that, and the person it is written about, will be remembered for years to come.