Descriptive Essay

Structuring A Descriptive Essay

A descriptive essay simply describes something or someone by appealing to the reader’s senses: sight, sound, touch, smell and taste. Here are the basic steps to writing an effective descriptive essay:

1. Select a subject 
Observation is the key to writing a good description. For example, if you are writing about a place, go there and take notes on the sights, sounds, and smells. A descriptive essay paints a picture for the reader, using descriptive devices and the senses. Create a thesis statement that informs the reader who or what you are describing. Examples: “The wooden roller coaster in Coney Island is a work of art.” “My bedroom is an ocean sanctuary.” 

2. Select dominant details 
Select only the details that support the dominant impression (your thesis statement).

3. Organize details 
The paragraphs in a descriptive essay can be structured spatially (from top to bottom or from near to far) or chronologically (time order) or from general to specific. Descriptive essays can also use other patterns of organization such as narrative or exemplification. 

4. Use descriptive words 
Do not use vague words or generalities (such as good, nice, bad, or beautiful). Be specific and use sensory, descriptive words (adjectives). For example: 

I ate a good dinner.  OR  I devoured a steaming hot, cheese-filled pepperoni pizza for dinner. 

Provide sensory details:
     *  Smells that are in the air (the aroma of freshly brewed coffee)
     *  Sounds (traffic, honking horns)
     *  Sights (“The sun scattered tiny diamonds across dew-covered grass as it peeked out from beyond the horizon.”)
     * Touch (“The texture of the adobe hut’s walls resembled coarse sandpaper.”)
     * Taste: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, tart (“Giant goose bumps formed on my tongue when I accidentally bit into a sliver of lemon.”) 

5. Draw a logical conclusion
The conclusion may also use descriptive words; however, make certain the conclusion is logical and relevant. 

Select dominant details
Select only the details that support the dominant impression (your thesis statement). 


More than many other types of essays, descriptive essays strive to create a deeply involved and vivid experience for the reader. Great descriptive essays achieve this affect not through facts and statistics but by using detailed observations and descriptions.

What do you want to describe?

As you get started on your descriptive essay, it's important for you to identify exactly what you want to describe. Often, a descriptive essay will focus on portraying one of the following:
a person, a place, a memory, an experience, an object

Ultimately, whatever you can perceive or experience can be the focus of your descriptive writing.

Why are you writing your descriptive essay?

It's a great creative exercise to sit down and simply describe what you observe. However, when writing a descriptive essay, you often have a particular reason for writing your description. Getting in touch with this reason can help you focus your description and imbue your language with a particular perspective or emotion.

Example: Imagine that you want to write a descriptive essay about your grandfather. You've chosen to write about your grandfather's physical appearance and the way that he interacts with people. However, rather than providing a general description of these aspects, you want to convey your admiration for his strength and kindness. This is your reason for writing the descriptive essay. To achieve this, you might focus one of your paragraphs on describing the roughness of his hands, roughness resulting from the labor of his work throughout his life, but you might also describe how he would hold your hands so gently with his rough hands when having a conversation with you or when taking a walk.

How should you write your description?

If there's one thing you should remember as you write your descriptive essay, it's the famous saying: show don't tell. But what's the difference between showing and telling?

Consider these two simple examples:
I grew tired after dinner.
As I leaned back and rested my head against the top of the chair, my eyelids began to feel heavy, and the edges of the empty plate in front of me blurred with the white tablecloth.

The first sentence tells readers that you grew tired after dinner. The second sentence shows readers that you grew tired. The most effective descriptive essays are loaded with such showing because they enable readers to imagine or experience something for themselves.

As you write your descriptive essay, the best way to create a vivid experience for your readers is to focus on the five senses: sight, sound, smell, touch, taste

When you focus your descriptions on the senses, you provide vivid and specific details that show your readers rather than tell your readers what you are describing.

Quick Tips for Writing Your Descriptive Essay: 

a) Writing a descriptive essay can be a rich and rewarding experience, but it can also feel a bit complicated. It's helpful, therefore, to keep a quick checklist of the essential questions to keep in mind as you plan, draft, and revise your essay.

b) Planning your descriptive essay:
- What or who do you want to describe?
- What is your reason for writing your description?
- What are the particular qualities that you want to focus on?

c) Drafting your descriptive essay:
- What sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures are important for developing your description?
- Which details can you include to ensure that your readers gain a vivid impression imbued with your   emotion or perspective?

d) Revising your descriptive essay:
- Have you provided enough details and descriptions to enable your readers to gain a complete and vivid perception?
- Have you left out any minor but important details?
- Have you used words that convey your emotion or perspective?
- Are there any unnecessary details in your description?
- Does each paragraph of your essay focus on one aspect of your description?
- Are you paragraphs ordered in the most effective way?