Plaques have been placed on walls in various locations for thousands of years, memorializing the dead. Because plaques have limited space, inscriptions have to be relatively short. While they tend to follow a traditional, formalized pattern and content, some plaques use humor or wit to remember the departed person.

Gauge how many words can fit on the plaque. The manufacturer or the engraver will be able to tell you this, or, if you are using a template on the computer, it will be set to limit the number of words allowed. A few more words can be fit on a plaque if you use a smaller script, but this will make the wording harder to see.

Think of images related to the deceased's life that might be added to the plaque. An image will take away from the number of words that will fit, but showing a tractor or an ear of corn for a farmer speaks volumes and is worth considering.

Consult with relatives and friends about how simple or how detailed the text should be. Ask for one sentence or one phrase from each person, describing the deceased or his life, and then share the list with everyone, getting feedback on the best wording.

Give the deceased’s name and birth and death dates. This occurs on most, though not all, dedicatory plaques. If the person was well known by a nickname, this can be used instead of the first name, or it can be inserted in quotation marks between the first name and the last name. Sometimes the full name will be given first, followed by “also known as” and the nickname.

Include a quotation from literature that expresses your or the deceased person’s feelings about death or life. Perhaps the deceased had a favorite author. You can find books of quotations at the library in the reference section. Quotations are often divided into categories such as life, death, love, religion, work, entertainment, economics, and more. Also, some books specialize in one topic only. For example, "Last Words: a Dictionary of Deathbed Quotations," by C. Bernard Ruffin, keys in on pithy last words, or The Columbia Granger’s "Dictionary of Poetry Quotations," edited by Edith Hazen, provides a variety of thoughtful lines. Both are available at Online quotations are available at, with quotations about death available.