A Step-by-Step Guide to an Obituary Outline

Whether or not you’re a writer, you may one day be faced with the task of writing an obituary for family members or loved ones. It’s an important task to get done, but if you don’t know where to start, don’t worry! It’s a big task, so be sure to take all the time you need and be patient with yourself. If you’re not sure what an obituary is, you can find one in your local newspaper (or online news site). An obituary tells readers of a loved one’s remarkable life—almost like a mini-biography. 

Obituaries are more important than most people might realize. Did you know that obituaries are the second most read section in a newspaper? Obituaries serve to memorialize a family’s history separately from a funeral service at a funeral home. Many people have been able to trace their family lines because of obituaries for spouses, cousins, nieces, and nephews, or siblings, and families have beautiful ways to remember their loved ones who have passed.

Writing an obituary for a loved one can be a daunting task. The questions you’ll face when writing an obituary are: how will you get started? How can you write about a loved one who has just passed? What are the essential details in a good obituary?

Create an Outline 

Creating an outline for an obituary may feel almost robotic, but it will help you in your writing process. Sometimes, grief can affect you to the point that you might have a harder time doing mundane tasks. That’s where the outline helps. When working on an obituary outline, you’ll want to follow these tips.

Read Other Obituaries 

It seems a bit strange to read other obituary examples before writing one, but reading is one of the best ways to improve your writing. If you need help finding obituaries to read, try searching up some celebrities or public figures you looked up to that have passed away. 

Reading a public figure’s obituary can show you how they influenced their community and how their family viewed them. Reading about the loss of other people could prove to be a sensitive task, especially after losing your own loved one. If you decide to read other obituaries, try to glean something positive from them rather than focus on the grief. This will also help you when writing your loved one’s obituary.

Gather Your Information 

When creating your loved one’s obituary, you will need to gather information, especially if you plan to write one that provides plenty of positive insight into their life. Some standard information you would need includes:

  • Their full name, their favorite nickname if applicable, and their maiden name
  • Their date of birth and place of birth
  • Their hometown (unless the obituary is published in their hometown)
  • Names of parents and surviving immediate family
  • Date and location of passing 
  • If you’re comfortable sharing, you can also provide how they passed (ex: “After a lengthy battle with cancer….” 

While you’re gathering your standard information, you can also talk to family and friends about your loved one. Talking to people who were close to the deceased can help you cope with the grief, but it can also help you gather stories and memories for the obituary. 


An obituary can also include achievements like military service, hobbies, facts about the deceased’s life, memories from their childhood, or other life events or anecdotes about their life story in chronological order. 

Don’t be afraid to talk about your loved one, and don’t feel guilty if a few of the memories you share with others make you smile. When a loved one passes, you mourn for them, but you also celebrate their life. So sharing stories with friends and family to help you memorialize your loved one is a great way to create an obituary.

Organize Your Information 

Once you have all the important details and treasured memories gathered, it’s time to organize them all into an outline. This is the hardest part, because how can you put into words how someone shaped your life? 

You can either outline your obituary in the order of information you plan to share, or you can outline the stories and memories you plan to include instead. There’s no set rule when it comes to outlining an obituary; it all depends on how you want your information organized and how you write.

Time To Write

Once you’re ready to start writing the obituary, there are a few things you need to remember: you may not be a professional, you may need support, and you may need to switch things up.

How Is Your Writing? 

Are you someone who enjoys writing, or would you rather leave it to someone else? Did you feel saddled into writing an obituary? You may not be a professional writer, but you can do this! 

Sharing your writing can seem a little daunting, especially if you’re not used to writing. However, writing an obituary is not the same as writing a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. Don’t judge yourself too harshly while writing; just keep writing!

Have a Good Support System 

While writing the obituary, you might appreciate a different perspective on your writing. Feel free to share your drafts with close friends or someone you’re comfortable receiving feedback from. They might even be able to add a fun or touching memory to the obituary. 

Or you might find that writing the obituary is bringing up some pain. If that’s the case, you should reach out to someone and talk about it. Sometimes talking through the pain helps you deal with it. A good support system will make the obituary writing process easier for you.

Be a Flexible Writer 

Having an outline when writing is incredibly helpful, but you shouldn’t use it as a crutch. Yes, your outline contains all your vital information for an obituary, but you can’t let it make your writing rigid and detached. One of the most important tips for writing an obituary is to write with a genuine attitude. 

Think of how your loved one would have wanted to be remembered. That outline you plan to use will help you stay organized and remember what information to include, but it should not tell you how to write the obituary itself. Remember, the obituary you write might be the one people will read decades from now. Make it yours truly!

Be sure to understand the context and tone of the obituary. There are examples of great obituaries that incorporate humor and lightheartedness, but these fit the person they were written for. If the one you’re writing for was a humorous soul who would have loved to be memorialized as such, make sure to discuss this with relatives and friends to make sure everything is appropriate. 

You don’t want to use a joke that ends up hurting more than intended, and you definitely don’t want to write a more lighthearted piece when your family intended for a serious or tender piece. Whatever tone you believe your deceased loved one would have wanted, make sure you and the others come to an agreement on it.

Wrapping Things Up

Memorializing a deceased loved one is no easy task, but it doesn’t have to be done alone. You have plenty of resources to help you commemorate the life of someone important. You have sample obituaries to help you write your own obituaries for your loved ones. You have friends and family you can talk to about beautiful memories, and you have them to provide helpful perspectives while writing as well.

We understand that losing someone important to you is one of the hardest things anyone ever goes through. Writing that obituary won’t be easy, but the memory you instill will be absolutely worth the effort. Just remember that to write a touching obituary, you’ll want to create an organized outline first. 

Creating that outline will involve a few steps: read other obituaries to get an idea of what to look for, gather your standard information, and talk to family and friends for personal stories and memories. Once you’ve got your outline, you’re ready to start writing.

Writing an obituary is more important than you might think. What you’ll be writing will contribute to your family history and the history of your loved one. The obituary is just one of the ways to preserve a memory. Now that you have an idea of how to start with an obituary, it’s time to start writing. Remember that you can find a support system in your family and friends and also in obituaries written in years past. And remember that obituaries are made for those who have passed as well as those who are still living.

Obituaries tell a story, and getting to write that story is a great responsibility and privilege. The obituary you write is sure to bring a smile and a warm memory to those who were close to your loved one, and your loved one you’re memorializing will live on in history as someone who made a difference in your and others’ lives. So go out and write that story!

Sources:

Editorial: The Importance of Obituaries | The Independent Herald

Working While Mourning: How to Grieve when You’re on the Job | NBC News

Alex Trebek, Longtime Host of ‘Jeopardy!,’ Dies at 80 (Published 2020) | The New York Times

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