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:
The empty room smelled stale and was devoid of furniture or floor covering; the single window lacked curtains or blinds of any kind.
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
If you have got a task to write a descriptive essay at school or university, it is hardly worth immediately taking a pen and putting thoughts on paper. Experts advise to prepare for writing any academic assignment by taking four steps, following which you can make a work informative and well-structured:
- First, correctly allocate time studying the essence of the essay topic, generate ideas, collect material on essay topic using various sources.
- Secondly, write the detailed work outline.
- Then divide your work into meaningful fragments. The standard purpose of essays usually includes the following: analyze, contrast, illustrate. For example, you have been assigned to give a detailed description of some aspects (phenomena, actions), then you aren’t required to analyze them as this type of work has an aim to provide as many details as you can.
- And finally make your work as bright and lively that a reader can taste and smell the described things while a virtual place visit, which writer is talking about.
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Great Descriptive Essay Topics to Choose From
It is very important to choose the right descriptive topic. What does it mean “the right topic”? Choose an actual topic able to raise interest.
Descriptive essay topics may be either easier or more difficult. Have a look at popular topics.
Descriptive Essay Topics for 8 Grade
- How do you see your ideal world?
- How should your dream house look like?
- Share an experience of some journey, which impressed you.
- Describe the most beautiful person you know.
- Which laws do you consider inappropriate and describe why exactly?
- What are your household chores?
- Describe your first cooking experience.
- What age did you fall in love for the first time?
- Describe a person who made a great contribution to the history.
- Which design for your flat would you choose if had such an opportunity?
- What profession would you like to choose? Describe all possible benefits of your choice.
Topics for Descriptive Essays High School
- Describe the most pleasant memory.
- How do you imagine yourself in 5 years time?
- Describe your perfect wedding day.
- How do you feel when realizing that somebody lies to you?
- Give a description of your daily routine.
- Describe your feeling when you found out that Santa Claus isn’t real.
- Give a description of the best film you have watched.
- What is your favorite book about?
- Which character features do you appreciate in people most?
- How should your ideal present look like?
- What was the best gift you have ever got?
Descriptive Essay Topics for Middle School
- How should your ideal weekend look like?
- Describe your best summer.
- Which book do you like most and why?
- Which of your friends is a more pleasant person. Describe his/her main features.
- Describe your parents.
- How does your kitchen look like?
- Describe a place you want to live for the rest of your life.
- Give details about your personality.
- Describe one of your neighbors.
- Which toy was your favorite in childhood?
- Which attitude to fashion do you have?
Descriptive Essay Topics for College
- Tell which food you love most.
- Describe doing something for the first time.
- Can you imagine the world without laws and restrictions?
- What is your favorite kind of sports?
- Describe the well-known celebrity.
- Describe your unique experience.
- Give the detailed description of some process.
- Describe all steps necessary to learn to ride a bike.
- Describe holiday traditions in your family.
- How do you spend your working day?
- How do you imagine your perfect match? Include the description of his/her appearance and character.
If you use one of the above mentioned descriptive essay topics, you will definitely attract audience attention. Learn here how to write an effective title.
Descriptive Essay Examples to Look at Before Get Started
In case a student has never described anything in the written form, he or she may feel confused being unable to choose an appropriate tone. Don’t have any ideas? Look at the sample before writing a descriptive essay example.
Here you will find short descriptive essay examples:
Descriptive essay sample number 1: “How I want to spend my perfect weekend”
Descriptive essay sample number 2: My ideal house
Use descriptive essay examples if assigned to write about similar topics.
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Guidelines How to Write a Descriptive Essay
You may wonder how to write a descriptive essay. There are several things to keep in mind before you write:
- The selection of material should be systematic. What does this mean? There is no need to find out absolutely everything that in one way or another relates to the essay topic. You should focus on information that relates to the issue of the essay, has to do with it. What online resources will be useful? Should I use audio and video materials? These are the questions to ask before you get started. First, divide all sources into basic and secondary.
Usually, teachers give students a list of literature on the subject. Also, each textbook has a list of bibliographies to search for literary sources (books, magazine and newspaper publications). Get acquainted with the annotation to the publication and read excerpts from the text, only then make a decision to read the whole text. Electronic media will help you to keep abreast of current events and pick up bright living examples to illustrate the reasoning.
- Start processing the collected material only when it is sufficient to write an essay.
- Formulate themes and ideas that you want to cover in your essay. Pay special attention to the illustrative material and a descriptive essay example that will make your piece of writing more original and interesting.
- Do not forget about the structure. The paper identifies three main parts - introductory paragraph, main section, and conclusion. The main part is divided into paragraphs. Usually, every new aspect, a new idea is revealed in a new paragraph of the body.
How to Write an Introduction to a Descriptive Essay
The introduction can be considered successful if it performs the following functions:
- Informative: help your audience understand what your story will be about;
- Catching the reader’s attention:Hook the intended audience and do your best to hold their attention.
Choose the most suitable statement that covers all points that you are going to discuss in your work. Use some interesting quotes or citation making your introduction eye-catchy.
How to Create a Good Descriptive Essay Thesis
Make sure that your thesis statement meets all requirements:
- Must be short and concise,
- Must help to understand the leading idea,
- Must be understandable.
How to Write a Conclusion for a Descriptive Essay
Concluding, follow these recommendations:
- Make it clear which role it plays for you personally;
- Summarize all information given in the essay;
- Explain the reason why your reader should care about the idea provided in your essay.
Effective Tips How to Write a Descriptive Essay Outline
Follow several steps to have a good descriptive essay outline:
- Gather all topic information;
- Collect all pieces of information making it sound like one entity;
- Check out whether your text has a logical connection between the introduction, the body paragraphs, which are usually five, and the conclusion.
For example, if you have made your mind to write a description of some place, stick to the following detailed plan:
- Write an opening sentence revealing the topic idea;
- Present a place you are going to talk about;
- Tell about your feelings being at this certain place;
- Provide specific details about its location;
- Provide additional facts and details, which relate to your topic;
- Write a statement summarizing the entire word done.
The more locations you will describe, the more paragraphs your paper will consist of. If you find it difficult to organize your thoughts in the written form and develop a good outline, then you may ask those who know how to do this quickly and effectively by ordering it online.
Advice from Expert
Creating a successful description, you should use a vivid language to help your reader see the picture. Don’t forget to include different illustrative examples. You will be able to answer the question:” How to write a descriptive essay?” after you know the secret of successful descriptive texts: just make an accent on all sensory organs. Learn here how to write an observation essay.
For example, describing your holidays at the seaside, breathe life into your work and avoid formalism. Use simple, understandable language appealing to your target audience. Help your reader feel how it was great to swim and play with waves. You will succeed if the person reading your paper can feel like being there. In fact, it is a narration with more vivid details. This is the main peculiarity that makes this descriptive type of writing different from a simple narrative paper style. You may notice that compared to a narration, here you won’t see a lot of action. Sometimes there is no movement at all. Your work will contain a minimum of verbs and maximum of adjectives and adverbs.
Want to become a good writer? Then act like a fisherman who is ready to wait for long till he catches a fish. The same is about a writer, who need to be patient hitting the books and then doing his best hooking the reader. Learn here how to avoid the most common mistakes in your essay.
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