What is a Descriptive Essay?

Descriptive essays are a genre of academic assignment wherein the writer builds a compelling description of something, which may be a person, place, idea, situation, building, or the like. The primary purpose of this type of essay is to provide a vivid and specific description of the subject to enable the reader to clearly picture or imagine the described item in their mind’s eye.

Descriptive Essay Writing – The Steps:

  1. Select the topic or subject matter you intend to write about and work out who or what will feature in your description.
  2. Draft a rough sketch or outline and list any characteristics, special features, or facts you can later develop.
  3. Collect sufficient information for your introduction or opening paragraph i.e. in the event you have decided to write about a famous person, place, building, memorable holiday, or something historical.
  4. Work out a main point or idea for each body paragraph.
  5. Start writing each paragraph, beginning with a topic statement or sentence followed by descriptive detail as your thoughts develop.
  6. A comprehensive conclusion is the last step in the writing process. This should recap on all the key points from your essay.
  7. On completion, leave your essay to one side for a while before thoroughly proofreading it.

Choosing Your Topic

Descriptive essays come in different types. The ones that are most common are those that describe people, places, objects, or buildings. The following are a few examples of suitable topics for the above-mentioned categories:

  • A memorable person
  • Someone you admire
  • Your favorite poet or writer
  • Someone who changed your life
  • A special place you would like to visit
  • A trip to an art gallery, museum, or theatre
  • The type of house you would like to own
  • A family vacation to somewhere exotic
  • Your closest friend
  • Your view of the perfect wedding
  • A romantic trip to Paris
  • Celebrating a special day in London

Main Points for Consideration

  1. As is the case with any effective essay or written piece, the structure of a descriptive essay should be balanced and clear. It is normal to begin by introducing your subject matter. You should also indicate your relationship with the person or place or what purpose the object serves.
  2. For the body paragraphs, it is advisable to focus on the particular characteristics or qualities of your subject and to elaborate on each of these. If, for example, you are describing a particular person, it would make sense to devote a paragraph to describing their physical appearance, another to their unique personality, another to their interests, hobbies, and/or talents, and so on.  
  3. You could focus the concluding paragraph on describing your own feelings towards the subject, and justifying how or why they or it influenced you so much that you felt compelled to make them or it the subject of your essay.
  4. Descriptive essays rely on vivid detail, so remember to make your descriptions quite specific. It is a good idea to include plenty memorable adjectives. It is also a good idea to include some unusual facts, peculiarities, or events you often associate with your subject matter. The better your essay will be the more unique and innovative it is.
  5. When you are getting into descriptive detail, it can help to group any characteristics or qualities that are similar or different together to add versatility to your written work. When grouping traits that are alike, use words such as “also,” “additionally,” “as well as” and so on. When dealing with differences, use words like “although,” “at the same time,” “despite,” “however,” “nonetheless,” and so on.

What You Should and Should Not Do

What You Should Do

  • Use various transitional words to add logic and to link ideas to each other.  
  • Compare items to illuminate points and add vividness. If you are discussing some object, for example, compare its shape to something else that is like it, or when describing a person, compare their personality to, say, a flower, animal, or make some other association.
  • Use emotion when analyzing your feelings about the object, person, or place you are describing. Give your opinion but be subjective.
  • Use creativity when describing people or things.
  • Use a number of different words to describe your emotions and thoughts: develop your feelings and your ideas to form compound and subjective sentences.

What You Should Not Do

  • Try not to start all sentences in the same way. This will prevent your essay sounding and looking rather like a template.
  • Avoid changing tenses i.e. from the present to the past or vice versa.
  • Make sure your writing is not too sketchy or general. Let your descriptions get beneath the surface to give them a more real feeling.
  • Avoid writing everything that comes into your mind about your subject. Think of the most interesting and unusual distinguishing features, whether it is a person, an object, a building, or something else, and emphasize these.
  • Do not focus too heavily on things that are generally believed or known. Concentrate on what is personally important to you.
  • Lack of a central theme or idea. Your work should be centered on one key idea that requires clarification for readers.
  • Use of adjectives that are not needed. Try instead to add your own perspective to your description using feelings and emotion.

Frequent Mistakes

Being too strong when being negative in your descriptions. For instance, rather than saying “Jane is obtuse” say “Jane can sometimes be a little stubborn” or at least some milder language.