Descriptive Essay Skills

TIP Sheet
WRITING A DESCRIPTIVE ESSAY

The aim of description is to make sensory details vividly present to the reader. Although it may be only in school that you are asked to write a specifically descriptive essay, description is an important element in many kinds of writing. Description embedded in an argument paper, for example, may be intended to make a position more persuasive. However, in this TIP Sheet we will discuss the descriptive essay as it is commonly assigned by instructors as an exercise in organizing sensory information and choosing vivid details.

Showing vs. telling
Sensory details are details of smell, taste, texture, and sound as well as sight. If you choose "showing" words, those that supply vivid sensory details appropriate to your subject and purpose, you will succeed in showing rather than telling. "Telling" words are usually vague or ambiguous; they can be interpreted in a variety of ways. The following first example mostly makes statements about what is lacking in the room, whereas the second example describes the sights, textures, smells, and sounds of the empty room:

Telling:
The empty room smelled stale and was devoid of furniture or floor covering; the single window lacked curtains or blinds of any kind.

Showing:
The apartment smelled of old cooking odors, cabbage, and mildew; our sneakers squeaked sharply against the scuffed wood floors, which reflected a haze of dusty sunlight from the one cobwebbed, gritty window.

"Showing" uses very specific details: cabbage and mildew, scuffed and dusty floors, unwashed windows. Though the writer of the second example does not actually use the word "empty," she nevertheless suggests emptiness and disuse. The suggestion of emptiness in the second example is more vivid than the statement of emptiness in the first. If you don't think the first example is vague, look at another possible interpretation of that empty room:

 

Showing:
The sharp odor of fresh paint cut through the smell of newsprint. Four stacked cartons of inkjet printer paper sat squarely in the middle of a concrete floor, illuminated by a shaft of morning light from a sparkling chrome-framed window on the opposite wall.

Do not mistake explanation for description. Explanation is a kind of telling that interjects background material that does not contain sensory details or contribute to the overall effect–a character's motives or history, for example:

Explanation:
The tenants had moved out a week earlier because the house was being sold to a developer. No one had bothered to dust or clean because they assumed the apartment was going to be knocked down and replaced with single-family homes like those built just a block away.

When description devolves into explanation (telling rather than showing), it becomes boring.

Observing details
Once you are ready to abandon the attempt to explain or to tell about, evaluate your subject in terms of visual, auditory, and other sensory details. Think in concrete terms. The more you are interested in and connected to the subject, the easier it will be to interest your reader, so if you describe a person, choose a person whose characteristics stand out to you. If you describe a place or a thing, choose one that is meaningful to you.

You are painting a picture that must be as clear and real as possible, so observe carefully and, preferably, in person. Note what sets this subject apart from others like it. If the subject is a person, include physical characteristics and mannerisms. Describe abstractions such as personality traits only insofar as you can observe them. For example, do not tell the reader your biology instructor is a neat, meticulous person; show your reader the instructor's "dust-free computer monitor and stacks of papers with corners precisely aligned, each stack sitting exactly three thumb-widths from the edge of the desk." How a subject interacts with others is fair game for description if you can observe the interaction. On the other hand, a subject's life history and world perspective may not be, unless you can infer them, for example, from the photos on his walls or the books on his bookshelf.

Similarly, if the subject of your description is an object or a place, you may include not only its physical appearance but also its geographic, historical, or emotional relevance-as long as you show or suggest it using sensory details, and avoid explaining.

Deciding on a purpose
Even description for description's sake should have a purpose. Is there an important overall impression you wish to convey? A central theme or general point? This is your thesis; organize your essay around it. For example, you might describe your car as your home away from home, full of snack foods, changes of clothing, old issues of the Chico News & Review, textbooks, and your favorite music. Or, you might describe your car as an immaculate, beautiful, pampered woman on whom you lavish attention and money. Just don't describe your car in cold, clinical detail, front to back (or bottom to top, or inside to outside) without having in mind the purpose, the overall impression you want to create. To achieve this impression, you should not necessarily include all details; use only those that suit your purpose.

Avoid telling a story unless it is of central importance to the description or an understanding of it. Keep background information to an absolute minimum or avoid it altogether.

Organizing
Extended description that lacks organization has a confusing, surreal quality and easily loses readers' interest, so choose an organizational plan. Use whatever progression seems logical–left to right, inside to outside, top to bottom-and stick to it. For example, it does not make sense to describe a person's facial features and hair, then his sonorous voice and impressive vocabulary, and then return to details about his eyebrows and glasses.

A quote from your subject or a brief anecdote about him or her may provide an interesting introduction (or conclusion); dialogue can be a great way to add interest to a descriptive essay. In your introduction, you might be permitted to make general, abstract statements (tell about) your subject or supply background information, as long as you demonstrate these points concretely later in the body of your essay.

Use vivid nouns, verbs, and adjectives, and appropriate metaphors, similes, comparisons, and contrasts. Avoid clichés.

Like the introduction, the conclusion is another place you can get away with reflecting about your subject: Why did you write this description? What is its significance to you? To your reader? If you have achieved your purpose, your conclusion should only confirm in the reader's mind what you have already shown him by your use of selected sensory details.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. This may be true, but how can we find those thousand words to portray that picture. Well, our professional essay writers would recommend using descriptive language! Some of the best authors in the world have mastered the technique of writing descriptively to pull their reader into the story. They are meticulous in detail and provide the reader with relatable situations, which allows them to make inferences about characters and plot development. Examples of these authors include Stephen King, Charles Dickens, Shakespeare, etc.


Table Of Contents


Descriptive Essay Definition

A descriptive essay is a type of writing in which you describe a thing, event, process or person. The main goal of this type of essay is to create a vivid experience for the reader and give them a more in-depth understanding of the essay’s subject. Normally, most readers receive the most effective representation of something through the use of their senses! Taste, touch, smell, hearing, and sight are the 5 ways that the human brain receives information. When it comes to giving the best possible description of something, it is incredibly important to appeal towards all 5 senses.

When a writer is asked to create a descriptive essay, the options that they have to choose from are descriptions of:

  • Person
  • Place
  • Memory
  • Experience
  • Object

Think of this process as just an artist doing his job. The goal for him or her is to paint an overall, all-inclusive picture for the reader to give them a well-rounded impression of what you (the artist) were trying to convey!

Last but not least, the entire story is supposed to deliver some kind of purpose. Whether it is a , or how a , make sure to include a specific purpose for writing the descriptive essay!

Which One to Choose

Choose a person to describe

One idea for a topic is to describe a person that you know. This could be one of your family members such as your mother or father. It could also be your best friend, a colleague, school teacher or professor. Choose a person that you know well; doing this gives you a lot to write about. Because of this, you will not deal with the lack of content, giving you peace of mind while creating your eloquent masterpiece!

  • It is ok to choose a fictional person to write about. You could write about a character from your favorite movie, TV show or video game.

Place or Object to describe

Another thing you can describe is a specific place or object that you have strong feelings about. This could be a place like your high school, workplace, or childhood home.

  • Feel free to write about defunct place or object, such as the fantastical place from your favorite book or the magic wand from your favorite movie.

Select an emotion to describe

Try to remember your most sincere and longest lasting emotion and turn it into a beautiful piece of art in the form of an essay. You may choose a strong emotion like anger, happiness, loss, desire, or rage.

  • You could also choose a more specific emotion, such as brotherly love or self-hatred. Talking about these emotions will probably make your essay more thrilling.

Sample Topics

  • Person
  • Describe the traits that make for a perfect role model.
  • Describe what separates your best friend from regular acquaintances.
  • Describe the average human to an alien who has never before seen a person.
  • Place
  • Describe a place you have dreamed about that doesn’t exist in real life.
  • What would be the ideal place to plan an event of your choice.
  • Paint a picture with words of the most beautiful sight you have ever seen!
  • Memory
  • Which event brought about your favorite memory, and how did the setting impact it?
  • What is one of the most common memories that you think about it, and what made it so iconic?
  • What particular aspects separate regular events from unique memories in your life?
  • Experience
  • Describe that moment in your life where you zoned out of a certain social setting and took a moment to appreciate life.
  • Describe a moment in your life where you either led a crowd or did something completely out of your comfort zone!
  • Describe a day in your life that took a complete , and explain how you dealt with it.
  • Object
  • Talk about an item that holds sentimental value to you, and how that came about.
  • Describe something that you would bury in a time capsule to tell people about what life is like today.
  • The commoners are accusing you of witchcraft, so you must describe technology to people from the dark ages to save your life.

Note: It is very common in descriptive writing to "combine the senses". For example, there can be scenarios where a certain object brought about a memorable experience. Another example would be when a social interaction with a person created an unforgettable memory! Not only is mixing senses acceptable, it can make for some of the most vivid stories in an individual's life.

Creating the Thesis

In this type of writing, a thesis statement serves as a guide for the rest of essay. It represents a concise but fulfilling description of the term. It should appear in the introduction and must be restated in the conclusion.

Outline

When writing a descriptive essay, it is best to create a structured paper outline beforehand. Not only does it help you organize thoughts, but it will also help your essays flow better!

A descriptive essay outline is composed of the following: an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. Prior to writing, you have to know the topic of your essay! Hopefully, you spent enough time considering the victim of description, because all of your illustrations will be based around it!

Introduction

  • Hook Sentence: Although the entire essay should be full of interesting and vivid descriptions, grabbing the reader's attention from the very beginning is ideal!
  • The "event" that you are writing about. Introduce it to the reader without giving away anything too juicy!
  • Brief background/backup information! Get the reader interested with more information about the event. However, keep your wording discrete. You definitely do not want to lose the readers attention before getting to the actual story!
  • Sensory Details: Remember those 5 senses we were talking about? Well, now it is time to show your audience those stellar implementation skills! is the key to writing a spicy essay, so get all those senses in there!

Body Paragraph(s)

Depending on the length of the story, this sections length will definitely vary. Sometimes a story can be told in a few sentences, and other times it takes entire pages!

  • Start from an Exciting Point: Put the story in movement by starting up with a sentence that ! It should not be a slow and boring introduction to the story: get your reader on the rails!
  • Sensory details within Plot Development: As said before, anyone can tell a story, but not everybody can do it well. As you are progressing through the story, keep track of sensory appeal. All of your sentences should not use 1 or 2 sensory parts. Make sure to use as many as possible!
  • Include factual details: An effective way to avoid "empty sentences" is to add factual details. For example, if you are describing a certain person, give some semi-relevant background information about them. This allows you to keep the readers thinking because based on this extra information.
  • Knock your Audience over with a Bang: It is a well-known fact that people's attention starts at a high point, gradually decreases, but comes back sky-high with the finale! The audience will always stay curious about the unknown ending! So when you come to the last point of your story, spend a little more time with it and make it sound as tasty as possible! SENSORY DETAILS!

Conclusion

  • Reflection is Key: Give a respectable purpose for the entire story. Yes, reading descriptive language is all fine and dandy, but your audience wants to know why you just spent so much time describing this thing! Obviously, this thing or experience affected your life in some way or another.

  • Signify the Importance of the Details: Besides keeping your reader's interest, explain the significance of some key moments. Consider the fact that if any one of those details were slightly different, you might not have had this topic for your essay, because it could have lessened its impact!

  • Clincher Statement: You probably spent a lot of time thinking of a hook to pull the audience in! Do NOT allow the essay to escape their thoughts right after they finish reading it. The essay should end with a clincher, a .

Keep The Writing Eloquent

Read what you have written out loud

As soon as you have finished writing a draft, read it out loud. Try to notice any clumsy or unclear sentences. Underline these sentences, so that you can get back to them later. You can also read your essay to other people to get their feedback. Don’t be afraid to ask them if there are any unclear or obscure sentences. The more voices that can confirm the high quality of your writing, the better. Furthermore, you can use our online writing service to get a proofread your essay.

Polish It All Up

Go through the essay one more time and remove any sentences that seem to be unnecessary. Replace weak adjectives with more fitting ones. Review and confirm that the description of the subject is clear and easy to follow.

General Tips and Advice

  • Keep your Description Chronological: Avoid backtracking or fast forwarding. Unless the description has some stale moments, keep things moving in a linear progression.

  • Get Some Peer Editing: Though the description may sound fantastic in your eyes, others might read it and completely lose touch with the scenario. Everyone's brain works slightly differently, so get some second impressions to strengthen the validity of your descriptive language!

Some Good Examples

Essay Writing Advice From Our Professional Team

Professor Isabella, from EssayPro

As the article articulates very well, my advice when writing descriptive essays is always to show and not tell. In order to captivate the reader, describing an event with sensory details is very important. This will come in handy in any creative writing that you do or on your application essays. When experimenting with describing imagery, make sure to avoid doing two things: focusing on too many details at once and using too many adjectives and adverbs. If you are describing actions, then adverbs are your worst enemy. Attempt to replace them whenever you write anything creative or descriptive. Besides, when you write descriptively make sure to pick out details that are very important to the story to focus the reader’s attention on particular points. For example, if you are writing a descriptive essay about your camping trip, you would probably be describing the trip as opposed to the sky or the birds. Best of luck writing your descriptive essay and remember: show, not tell!

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