How to Write an Obituary

Obituaries serve several purposes. They announce a death and communicate information about services, gatherings, and memorials as well as tell the story of the life that was lived. It can be challenging to summarize an entire lifetime in a few paragraphs and not forget to include all the important details. 

To assist you, we offer this checklist of items to consider including. You may incorporate as much biographical information as you feel comfortable. Because many newspapers charge for obituaries, we often use two versions: a shorter one for publication in newspapers, and a longer version for placement on our website and printed materials.

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Opening Paragraph - Here we tend to announce the death and include pertinent dates, times and location of services or gatherings. Use the person’s full name (including nickname) age, date and place of death, (cause of death is optional). Service or gathering locations, dates and times (include cemetery and visitation information if applicable). If you plan to have a service in the future, or if services will be private- you are welcome to say “Services will be held at a later date.” 

Second Section - We often begin the story of someone’s life in this section of the obituary. It can be as detailed and personal as you feel comfortable. Some items that may be included: date and place of birth, parents names (including mother’s maiden name), where someone grew up, education (High School, College etc.), marriages, military history, career history, retirement, memberships, awards and achievements. In addition, including unique attributes, hobbies and interests really personalize an obituary. 

Survivors and Preceded in death by - There are many ways to name survivors and each family is unique- just be sure to double check you have included everyone you think should be listed. Spouse, parents, children (list spouse’s name in parenthesis), grandchildren and great grandchildren (by number or name), grandparents, sibilings (list spouse’s name in parenthesis). You may want to include the place of residence. Other family members: nieces, nephews, cousins, pets, close friends. After listing survivors, include the name and relationship of people that have preceded someone in death.

Concluding Paragraph - Consider listing one or more charities or organizations to which you would like donations made. You are also welcome to thank people that you have found helpful (friends, doctors, hospice staff and volunteers etc.).



You are welcome to compose and submit your obituary here or email it to us at The Des Moines Register charges $5.00 per line and up, and offers multiple formats and days of publication. We are able to provide price quotes and recommendations. Submitting obituaries prior to 12:00 noon each day meets most publication deadlines.