How to Write a Descriptive Essay: 5 Useful Tips for Students

How to Write a Descriptive Essay

Before we dive into how to write a descriptive essay, let’s take moment to look at what a descriptive essay is. A descriptive essay is an essay that describes a person, place, or thing in such a way that the reader can visualize the imagery of what is being said.

Many descriptive essays are touching, funny, or dramatic. A descriptive essay involves writing a living story about a person, place, event, or situation. The state of mind will depend on the details you want to incorporate. Good descriptive essays often contain a mix of elements, both humorous and dramatic, though one may be emphasized over the other. So, you must choose the details carefully, and be confident to explore new horizons, even if at first glance seems insignificant to you. Sometimes a small gesture, a glance, or an event may carry a symbolic weight, and make the essay more meaningful.

Your first task when writing a descriptive essay is to choose a topic that has many interesting parts or qualities to cover. Unless you have a vivid imagination, it will be somewhat difficult to write on a simple object like a comb, so it would be most beneficial to compare a few topics first to make sure they are viable. The next challenge is to find the best way to describe the chosen topic in a way that conveys a full experience to the reader, so that they can see, hear, and feel through your words.

1. Outline your ideas

As with all writing, the writing stage is the key to a successful descriptive essay. Since the purpose of the essay is to paint a mental picture of a specific subject, it helps to make a list of everything you associate with your subject. For example, if your topic is the farm where you visited your grandparents as a child, you would list all the things you associate with that location. Your list should include both the general attributes associated with a farm and the more personal and specific items that make it special to you and the reader.

Start with general details then add the unique details. By tying these details together, you can make the essay more accessible to the reader. Making these lists will allow you to see how you can relate the items in each list together. At this point, you need to determine the correct order for the items you will be describing. When you are describing an object, you need to decide whether you want to describe its appearance from top to bottom or side to side.

Remember that it is important to start your essay at a general level and work towards the details. Start by describing a simple five paragraph essay with three main topics. Then start building the body of your work. As you build your paragraphs, you should avoid confusing the reader by immediately bombarding them with unfamiliar information; you must work your way into your subject in your introductory paragraph.

2. Use Sensory details

Another simple rule of thumb to remember is “show don’t say”. If you want to describe a feeling or an action, you must reinvent it through the senses rather than just expressing it. Also, paints a picture and puts the reader in the scene that will make it exciting for the reader. Note, what your reader needs and wants to know is the excitatory factor, so describe what you can see, hear, smell, touch, and taste. Describing sensory details (sight, smell, sound, touch, taste) is an important part of a descriptive essay. For example, instead of describing a tree in your garden by saying “There are flowers in the forest,” write how it looks, smells, and feels. Describing how you feel will get the attention of your reader once they have pictorial idea of what is embedded in your essay.

3. Choose a descriptive and lively language

Use your diction carefully. A good narrative essay should be able to create vivid mental images in the minds of readers. Use literary means like comparisons, metaphors and ensure each paragraph describes different aspects of the topic. For instance, you are writing about your favorite person, ensure that the introduction explains why you are talking about this person, i.e., the context of the essay. Then in the body of the essay you can describe different characteristics of that person. In one paragraph you can describe the person’s appearance, and in another paragraph, you can describe his qualities.

4. Conclusion

The conclusion of a descriptive essay is very important. Your conclusion should contain a summary of the body of the essay, do this by connecting the end of the essay to the beginning. For example, if you said, “I have always been fascinated by the ocean.” in the introduction to the essay, you may write that “My fascination with the deep blue ocean runs deep in my soul. A trip to the beach never fails to cheer me up…”. End your essay with a final image and some thought-provoking comments. Ideally, the final image works symbolically, your reader doesn’t need to explain the essay, but they can. Either way, your concluding remarks and description should convey the importance of the essay, leaving the reader with a lasting impression.

5. Revise and keep it specific

Finally, don’t try to cram too much into one paragraph. Use each paragraph to describe a different aspect of your topic. Make sure your essay goes from paragraph to paragraph with good transitional statements. The conclusion of your paragraph is where you can tie everything together and rephrase your essay thesis. Take all the details and summarize what they mean to you and why it matters. Steps to follow:

  • Choose a theme centered on a person, place, or event. All topics under these themes invite description.
  • Start with a meaningful anecdote, instead of a statement of intent or thesis. In a descriptive essay, the thesis may remain implicit. An implied thesis is not clearly affirmative, but everything in the essay prompts the reader to see the idea or understand the feeling you are aiming for.
  • Develop the body of the essay by incorporating action, dialogue, and pictures. You don’t have to include everything, instead present the most important aspects. If they describe a person, use anecdotes, events, a physical description and maybe a favorite date to bring that person to life. Mention his character flaws, as well as his qualities. If you want to describe a place, include people and objects, as well as colors and smells. When describing an event, remember the physical details of its location, and mention people, objects, sounds and smells. Take care to accurately describe the action of an event.
  • Follow the old script adage: show, don’t tell. To do this, use several sensory impressions and describe the action with strong verbs. “She made me sad,” tells the reader how a person feels. Compare with “His face ravaged like broken glass, he began to cry in the sunlight,” which shows the reader something akin to sadness.

It is important to point out that the details of an essay about a person, place, or event are intertwined perfectly. You won’t need to limit your description, forgetting the unimportant details.

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