What is a Descriptive Essay?
The definition of a descriptive essay is a type of composition or paper which describes an object, person, process, or event. The writer’s goal is to create a vivid reading experience, or to show instead of tell (metaphorically).
Descriptive writing usually appeals to the five senses: taste, touch, smell, hearing, and sight. (Ex: Jack’s coffee mug exploded into tiny shards of glass, catching the attention of everyone at the office.) Always appealing to the senses is key to writing a good descriptive essay.
When writing a descriptive essay, your goal will be to paint a comprehensive picture for the reader by appealing to the five senses. Last but not least, your work should have a purpose. It could be anything from a lesson you learned from an experience, to a story of how an object impacted your life. It’s all about making your bright ideas come to life.
Difference Between a Description and a Descriptive Essay
When writing this type of paper, you should know the difference between a description and a descriptive essay. A description can be just a simple paragraph, or several ones with no specific structure, meanwhile, a descriptive essay has five or more paragraphs and a clear and complete structure. A descriptive essay is usually written coherently, has a good thesis statement at the end of the introduction, three body paragraphs, and a conclusion. A description however, does not necessarily have a structure. Its main purpose is to just describe an object, or something else, without having any extra academic layers.
The Issues that Could be Described in Your Paper
- A person. In this paper, you can talk about a person. It can range from simply writing about their appearance to more complex descriptions like actions, behaviors, mood, and qualities of your chosen individual.
- A place. The main thing you should do when describing a place in your work is to describe it interestingly and originally. Your reader(s) should feel, for example, the beauty of your chosen cities—perhaps New York or Rome.
- An event. Here you need to describe the story of what happened. It can be your last vacation, concert, wedding, anniversary, summer music festival, graduation day, or so on.
- An animal. In this type, you need to describe the animal. It may be its appearance, behavior, or biology.
- An occupation. Here you need to write about a job or occupation.
- A behavior. This is the type of descriptive writing you should go for if you would like to write about someone’s behavior. Perhaps you want to describe the strange behavior of your friend, or highlight how certain people act under different conditions.
Two Classic Approaches to the Descriptive Essay
1. Personal Essay
Here you need to describe an experience using your feelings and responses. This work can awake empathy in readers. It can also be vague and disorganized. If you want to write a good personal essay, you should try to focus only on those aspects that most fully express your experience. Do not shy away from vivid, evocative language in this type of assignment.
A few examples of personal essay topics might be:
- Describing the experience of swimming in the azure sea in summer
- Explaining your favorite movie and its impact on you
- Reflecting on your birthday and all the things that have shaped you in the past
2. Formal Description
This type of descriptive writing resembles an argumentative essay. Your main goal should be communicating a set of key points or describing something in detail—according to a clear structure. Rather than focusing on your own experience, you need to use specific categories of information to provide the fullest possible portrait of what you are describing. This approach can also be engaging, especially when the reader is more curious about the subject of the paper than the writer’s response to it. Still, try not to make it dull with too formal language.
Topics for formal descriptions can include:
- A descriptive essay about climate change, politics, or historical events.
- A news story that provides a summary of an event or information about the place where it occurred.
Descriptive Essay Topics & Ideas
Finding descriptive essay topics isn’t hard. You can describe pretty much anything—from your favorite car to today’s weather. We’ve gathered some ideas to help you get started. Hopefully, you’ll find good descriptive essay topics to spark your imagination.
Describe a Person
Pick a person who you know well—doing so gives you a lot to write about. Choose from family members, friends, teachers, etc. You can even write about a celebrity who exposes most of their private life to the media: The Kardashians, Kanye West, or Taylor Swift for instance. A famous superhero like Spider-Man is also interesting. Such fictional figures have undergone many character studies from both academic and non-academic perspectives.
Why my father is my favorite person.
How Kim Kardashian changed my life.
Describe an Object or a Place
You may also describe an object or a place with which you have a special connection. This could be your high school, a playground, or a toy which used to scare you as a kid. Fictional places also count!
My native city – Paris
My trip to London
Describe an Emotion
Remember the most sincere emotion you’ve experienced and turn it into a descriptive essay writing. You may choose a strong feeling like anger, happiness, loss, desire, or rage. It doesn’t have to be a personal emotion, it could be an observed one.
How love changed me
Hatred and love – how they are similar
You can also write a descriptive essay about anything you can describe according to human senses: touch, sight, taste, smell, or hearing.
Creating a Descriptive Essay Outline
When thinking about descriptive essay writing, remember that a structured paper outline is your golden ticket. 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
- Hook sentence
- Context/Background information
- Thesis statement
- Body paragraphs
- Topic sentence
- Sensory details
- Actual details
- A conclusion
- Summary of all main points
- Clincher Statement
It is important to spend enough time considering the victim of description because all of your illustrations will be based around it.
The introduction serves to introduce your subject to the reader and give them enough context to fully understand your work—but keep it brief and interesting for the reader(s). When learning how to write a descriptive essay introduction, remember – the first paragraph of your paper is the part that can make your descriptive essay stand out from the others.
As with any college paper, a descriptive essay introduction must contain the following points:
- Hook Sentence: Although the entire paper should be full of exciting and vivid descriptions, grabbing the reader’s attention from the very beginning is ideal.
- Context/Background Information: Tell the reader what you’re about to describe and explain why it is crucial to you. Give them a brief context for your paper.
- Thesis Statement: The descriptive essay thesis should be a short yet concise summary of the work. It must include the subject of your description, and your purpose for describing it.
For further information on how to write a thesis for a descriptive essay, check out the examples below.
If you were to write about Buckingham Palace: “Even though the monarchy is long gone, Buckingham Palace serves to remind us of the aesthetic beauty which that era had built.”
For describing Spider-Man: “The defining characteristics of Spider-Man are his youthfulness, New York City, and the fact that he talks to himself more than Hamlet.”
A piece about a personal experience of fear: “For many reasons, the dark forest is my greatest fear, though not a fear which I would necessarily like to venture into.”
There are usually three body paragraphs in a paper. They cover three different points or arguments. How many body paragraphs to include in your descriptive essay is entirely up to you—or your professor. Sometimes it only takes a paragraph to tell a story, while other times it takes books.
How to write a body paragraph:
- Start with a topic sentence. ex. The orange looks familiar; it is a round citrus fruit whose color matches its name.
- Add sensory details. When describing the orange, appeal to relatable senses.
- Include actual details. Always include descriptive information within your body paragraphs. Finish a body paragraph by introducing the next. Transition sentences are essential because they create immersion within your writing. Your writing will become better and it won’t appear as if you are reading a list of facts.
According to the descriptive essay format, your conclusion should be a summary of all of the main points in the body text. It is a good idea to write a final sentence that relates to the main point of your paper. Once this is done, the paper is now complete. We advise that you proofread your descriptive essay to correct any grammatical errors.
Try to incorporate the following into your conclusion:
- The first thing to do at the end is to reflect on the initial purpose of the work. Spill the beans on why you decided to write about this subject, and how this subject has affected your life.
- Signify the Importance of the Details: Go over some key moments of the paper. Give a summary of what you have covered, and prepare the audience for the clincher statement.
- Clincher Statement: The clincher is the final sentence that reinforces your paper’s overall purpose or leaves your audience with an intriguing thought, question, or quote. You’ve probably spent a lot of time thinking of a hook to pull the audience in. Do not allow the paper to escape your audience’s thoughts right after they have finish reading it.
Writing and Reviewing Your Descriptive Paper Writing
Writing the paper consists of the following stages:
- Pre-writing stage. Here you need to examine all of the sources you have and define if they all offer important information on the topic of your choice.
- Writing the beginning. You should start your paper with a powerful, engaging hook that will grab the readers’ attention. It may include an unusual metaphor or an interesting literary quote.
- Creating the first draft of your descriptive essay. Here is where you just need to write down all of the words that come to your mind; you’ll have a chance to narrow down your ideas later.
- Adding details to your paper with the help of enriched English vocabulary and online dictionaries. Use your English vocabulary to add missing feelings, like hearing, to help make the descriptive essay leave a lasting impression.
- Revising and editing the paper with the help of different free online grammar checking tools.
Let’s talk in detail about the final step here: reviewing your paper. After you finish writing, take a break. It’s always best to clear your mind before editing your paper.
When you come back to your descriptive essay, here are some questions to ask yourself:
- Have you provided enough context in the introduction?
- Is the paper easy to read?
- Does the thesis relate to the content of the paper?
- Does the paper feature vivid, descriptive language?
- Will the clincher statement leave a lasting impact?
- Are there enough details to make it possible for your readers to obtain a full and vivid perception of your description?
- Does each section of your work focus on one aspect of your description?
- Does your paper possess any unnecessary details in your description that can be thrown away or replaced by more meaningful information?
- Overall, if you were the reader, does this paper make sense to you?
- Are there any problems with grammar and punctuation?
Sometimes web applications like Grammarly or the Hemingway app can help you sort your grammar. However, it’s always best to master the rules of grammar yourself and become the best writer you can be. Once you’re convinced you have the final draft, read it out loud or give it to a friend to read. Sometimes you need some constructive criticism to tie up loose ends in your writing.