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September 30, 2019 Beyond The Dash

How Many Words Should an Obituary Be?

Print, online, and writing for the genre

How Many Words Should an Obituary Be?
Finding the right balance of detail and conciseness is an important part of writing a respectful obituary tribute for one who has passed. (Getty Images)

Most people who write obituaries for publication in the newspaper or online have never written an obituary before. It can be daunting to write a loved one's life story—particularly if you are coping with fresh grief. However, a published life story is one of the most meaningful and lasting ways to memorialize a loved one who has passed. It's a wonderful final gift to give to someone you have loved, and lost. 

Understanding the length requirements, formats and conventions of the genre can help novice and professional writers alike. In this article, we will explore how long a life story should be in both print and digital formats.

Print vs. Online

Today, there are many ways to publish an obituary. Death notices or short obituary tributes have historically been published in local print newspapers, usually under the Classifieds section. Increasingly, families are turning to digital platforms and social media to tell a loved one's story. 

Newspaper print obituary prices and length requirements vary depending on the publication. The amount charged and space available has to do with the size and circulation of the newspaper. The following information should be used only as a general guideline when writing a loved one's obituary. 

This chart is a general guideline you can use when writing a loved one's obituary. Remember to check the individual publication's guidelines on length and pricing. (Beyond the Dash)


For people who want to keep a printed copy of their loved one's story, a newspaper obituary is the best option. However, even brief printed obituaries usually cost between $50 and $300. With longer text and a photo, a newspaper obit can easily cost $1,000 or more. 

If you wish to publish a print obituary, call the newspaper of your choice or visit their website for more information before you begin to write. 

Find out about:

  • How the publication's pricing works

    • Each newspaper may have its own structure for pricing obituaries. Print publications most often charge per word, per line or by a flat rate.

    • Many newspaper websites offer real-time preview capability when you build a life story on their page and submit it electronically. In this case, you may not need to call for pricing, as you will see the pricing model during the obituary creation process.

    • Some newspaper obituary packages include a certain number of lines, and charge for extra lines. 

  • If photos are permitted

    • Photos are often extra, so inquire about the cost of adding a photo if you would like one to appear in print.

    • The newspaper may need you to submit the photo in a specific orientation, size or dimension. Inquire about this before submitting.

  • Any length requirements

    • Even if you are willing to pay for a long story to appear in print, the newspaper may have their own rules about length. Find out if there is a maximum length requirement, as this may affect the life story you are telling.

Basic printed newspaper obituaries are usually about 40 to 100 words in length. Longer tributes may be closer to the 500 word mark. While a tribute longer than 500 words may be possible, the cost is likely to be in the thousands. 


A digital obituary format may be best suited to wishing to tell a full and detailed account of their loved one's accomplishments, passions and relationships. Typically, there is no length limit for an online life story. 

If you are open to an online life story, there are many options to choose from. Many digital obituary providers offer their obituaries for $50 or less. 

Beyond the Dash obituaries:

  • Are free to publish online.

  • Never expire.

  • Include a guestbook for family and friends to share their thoughts.

  • Can accommodate multiple photos.

  • Let you write as much as you want—there's no limit on length. 

  • Can help you place the digital story in the newspaper of your choice.

Create an Obituary 

Most printed newspaper obituaries include an online notice as well. If you are placing a notice in print, find out how to manage and edit the digital version. It may be possible to publish a brief print notice, and use the included digital obituary to tell a fuller life story. 

How long is too long?

Even if you have an unlimited amount of space, you don't need to write a novel. In fact, it's usually better to be concise.

Ultimately, the best obituaries will tell a full, detailed life story while remaining concise and respectful. There is no need for superfluous wording, unnecessary repetition or details that don't add to the tribute. Most people reading the obituary story will expect to be finished reading within 5 to 10 minutes, which is usually under 1,500 words.  

Tell their story

Most print obits are concise due to space and cost restraints. But a life story does not need to follow all the conventions of a traditional obituary, especially in a digital format. Details about family, life milestones, accomplishments, hobbies and charity work make life stories stand out. In the end, readers who never met your loved one in life should feel acquainted with an admirable person who is loved and missed. 

An obituary is a chance to pay tribute to a special person who has passed. It will live as a permanent record of their life, and a testament to their impact on the world. For a grieving loved one, writing their life story can be a cathartic opportunity to process the tragedy by focussing on the best parts of their life. The effort of creating obituary will be well worth it, as this written tribute will act as a permanent memorial for years to come. 

Your loved one had a remarkable life. Tell their story, and we’ll publish it online for free.

After creating an online memorial, you can also publish in print in any of over 6,000 newspapers across North America.

Get started for free
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