Avoid Pitfalls when Writing Obituaries


These are the common pitfalls people run into when writing obituaries. These mistakes make the difference between a good obituary and a meaningful obituary. Learn how you can avoid these pitfalls when writing obituaries for your loved ones.

Why You Might Hit Pitfalls When Writing Obituaries

Writing obituaries is often a sad task because you have to do it after someone you love has passed on. Because of this, sometimes you can make mistakes with the obituary that pulls the focus away from the celebration of life and announcement of death that an obituary really is. Also, if you've never written an obituary before, you may not fully understand what you need to write about.

What is an Obituary?

An obituary is a notice that announces the death of someone with a description of the person's life and list of family members. An obituary can be published in a newspaper, online or in the funeral program. There are subtle differences in the obituary based on where it will be published. Find out how to write an obituary at ObituariesHelp.org

What are the Common Pitfalls When Writing Obituaries?

There are many but the most common ones are:

  • Writing about the loss rather than writing about the deceased.
  • Writing too much about the events leading up to the death and the death itself.
  • Writing too much about the funeral.
  • Writing that uses clichés.
  • Thanking people in an obituary

Writing About the Loss Rather Than Writing About the Deceased

This pitfall is the most common. Writing about the family or about how the person writing the obituary feels rather than writing about the deceased is not appropriate. Do not write about how the family is feeling after the death of their loved one. Phrases to avoid are:

  • With deep sorrow, the family announces....
  • It is with great sadness that we announce....
  • With mixed emotions, we announce the peaceful passing....

It is assumed that you will have some emotions toward the death of your loved one, to write it in the obituary is unnecessary. Besides an obituary is about the deceased, not the mourners. It is also important that you speak of the deceased in third person, using He or She. Don't use the words that you, the writer used when addressing the deceased, like "mom" or "auntie"

Writing Too Much About the Death

It is not necessary to mention the cause of death, although it is perfectly appropriate to do so. But if someone died from an illness it is not appropriate to explain details of the illness up until the death. These phrases are appropriate although as I mentioned, not necessary:

  • Died of Name of Disease
  • Passed away peacefully...
  • Passed away suddenly...

The fact is, the person has died, but details about the death are better left to conversations or memoirs than in an obituary. It is just not appropriate.

Writing Too Much About the Funeral

There is a subtle difference between announcing the funeral in an obituary and describing the funeral. A funeral should be announced, but not described in an obituary. It is not a party invitation, it is an announcement of the passing of a dear person so that every one can come and pay their respects. Give dates, times, locations and required dress or etiquette of the funeral, but describing the casket, flowers and menu is not appropriate.

Writing that Uses Clichés

The interesting thing about clichés is that some people understand them and others don't at all. It may be completely clear to you what is meant but imagine you are new to the English Language, would you understand these phrases:

  • Gone to meet his maker
  • In Lieu of Flowers
  • After a long battle with Name of Disease...

Rather you could say:

  • Died peacefully
  • Donations can be made to Name of Organization
  • Succumbed to Name of Disease

Thanking People in an Obituary

This is a touchy subject, but unless you have spoken to the deceased about whom they would want to thank in their obituary or are writing your own obituary, thanking people is not appropriate for several reasons:

  • You might miss out some very important people that the deceased would have wanted included.
  • Thanking only those involved with the funeral leaves out everyone who helped the deceased before death.
  • Thank you notes should be hand written and given or sent directly to the person you wish to thank. A thank you in an obituary is neither heartfelt nor appropriate.

With a little bit of care you can avoid this pitfalls when writing obituaries. It is best to read it over and have others read it over to make sure you haven't fallen into these traps. Proofread it carefully and make sure you've included every detail that the deceased would have wanted in the space allotted.

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