One of the keys to writing a descriptive essay is to create a picture in your reading audience’s mind by engaging all five of their senses – smell, sight, touch, taste and sound. If you can do this, then your essay is a success, if not, then you have a lot of work to do. The first steps in writing a descriptive essay will lay the groundwork for the entire piece.
Step 1: Choose a topic
A descriptive essay will usually focus on a single event, a person, a location or an item. When you write your essay, it is your job to convey your idea about that topic through your description of that topic and the way that you lay things out for your reader. You need to show your reader (not tell them) what you are trying to describe by illustrating a picture in their mind’s eye very carefully.
Your essay needs to be structured in a manner that helps your topic to make sense. If you are describing an event, you will need to write your paragraphs in chronological order. If you are writing about a person or a place you need to order the paragraphs so that you start off in a general manner and then write more specific details later. Your introductory paragraph sets the tone for the rest of the essay, so it needs to set out all of the main ideas that you are going to cover in your essay.
Step 2: Create a statement
The next step is to create a thesis statement. This is a single idea that will be prominent throughout your essay. It not only sets out the purpose of the essay, but regulates the way that the information is conveyed in the writing of that essay. This is an introductory paragraph that sets out your topic framework.
Step 3: Get the senses right
Next, create five labelled columns on a sheet of paper, each one having a different of the five senses. This labelled list will help you to sort out your thoughts as you describe your topic – the taste, sight, touch, smell and sound of your topic can be sketched out among the columns. List out in the columns any sensation or feeling that you associate with the topic that you are writing about. You need to provide full sensory details that help to support the thesis. You can utilize literary tools such as metaphors, similes, personification and descriptive adjectives.
Once you have the columns laid out you can start to fill them with details that help to support your thesis. These should be the most interesting items that you have noted in your columns and will the details that you flesh out into the paragraphs of the body of your essay. Topics are set out in each separate paragraph and a topic sentence begins that paragraph and need to relate to your introductory paragraph and your thesis.
Step 4: Create an outline
The next step is to create an outline listing the details of the discussion of each paragraph. Students in high school are generally asked to write a five paragraph essay while college students are given more freedom with the length of their piece. The standard five paragraph essay has a particular structure including the introductory paragraph with the inclusion of a thesis statement, followed by three body paragraphs which prove that statement.
Step 5: Write the conclusion
Finally, the conclusion paragraph makes a summary of the entirety of your essay. This conclusion also needs to reaffirm your thesis (if necessary). Your conclusion needs to be well written because it is the final thing to be read by your reader and will remain on their mind the longest after they have read the remainder of your essay.
Step 6: Review your essay
It is important to take a break from your writing once you have completed the work. By stepping away from the work for a short time you can clear your mind and take a short rest. You can then take a look at the essay with fresh eyes and view it in much the same way that a person reading it will when they first see the piece.
After you have taken a short break or a walk (or whatever the case may be), read the entire essay again thinking about your reader. You should ask yourself if you were the reader, would the essay make sense to you? Is it easy to read so that anyone can understand what the topic of the essay is? Do any of the paragraphs need to be rewritten because they are confusing and need to be better written to be descriptive?
Your choice of words and language need to convey what you are trying to describe when you talk about a particular topic. The details that you have provided should give your reader enough information that they can form a complete picture. Any details in the essay should help a reader to understand the meaning of the topic from the writer’s point of view.
Read your entire essay over again, out loud this time. Sometimes reading something out loud can help to identify any issues that should be worked out. Read the essay again to a friend or family member and have them give you any criticisms that they might have. Have someone else ready your essay and then ask them if anything needs to be clarified or if they received a clear picture from the details given in the essay.
Step 7: Finish it up
Finally, read your essay again very carefully and check for any grammar, punctuation or spelling errors that are obvious within the essay. If you find any clichés, be sure to delete them, they certainly do not belong in your essay. If there are any parts that are not completely descriptive or don’t make as much sense as you would like them to, rewrite them once again and then follow the proof reading and reading aloud process again to ensure that the final product is exactly as expected. You can never be too thorough when it comes to reading the essay over again and checking for any areas that need to be reworked.
Enjoyed this post? Here’s what you can do next:
An essay is a short piece of writing that discusses, describes or analyzes one topic. It can discuss a subject directly or indirectly, seriously or humorously. It can describe personal opinions, or just report information. An essay can be written from any perspective, but essays are most commonly written in the first person (I), or third person (subjects that can be substituted with the he, she, it, or they pronouns).
There are many different kinds of essays. The following are some of the most common ones:
Examples: A descriptive essay could describe . . .
- a tree in my backyard;
- a visit to the children's ward of a hospital;
- a hot fudge sundae;
- what an athlete did in order to make it to the Olympics.
The descriptive essay provides details about how something looks, feels, tastes, smells, makes one feel, or sounds. It can also describe what something is, or how something happened. These essays generally use a lot of sensory details. The essay could be a list-like description that provides point by point details. Or, it could function as a story, keeping the reader interested in the plot and theme of the event described.
Examples: A definition essay may try and define . . .
- the meaning of an abstract concept, like love;
- the true meaning and importance of honesty;
- how the meaning of family goes deeper than just your blood relatives.
A definition essay attempts to define a specific term. It could try to pin down the meaning of a specific word, or define an abstract concept. The analysis goes deeper than a simple dictionary definition; it should attempt to explain why the term is defined as such. It could define the term directly, giving no information other than the explanation of the term. Or, it could imply the definition of the term, telling a story that requires the reader to infer the meaning.
Examples: A compare/contrast essay may discuss . . .
- the likenesses and differences between two places, like New York City and Los Angeles;
- the similarities and differences between two religions, like Christianity and Judaism;
- two people, like my brother and myself.
The compare/contrast essay discusses the similarities and differences between two things, people, concepts, places, etc. The essay could be an unbiased discussion, or an attempt to convince the reader of the benefits of one thing, person, or concept. It could also be written simply to entertain the reader, or to arrive at an insight into human nature. The essay could discuss both similarities and differences, or it could just focus on one or the other. A comparison essay usually discusses the similarities between two things, while thecontrast essay discusses the differences.
[ Return to Top ]
Examples: A cause/effect essay may explain . . .
- why a volcano erupts, and what happens afterwards;
- what happens after a loved one's death.
The cause/effect essay explains why or how some event happened, and what resulted from the event. This essay is a study of the relationship between two or more events or experiences. The essay could discuss both causes and effects, or it could simply address one or the other. A cause essay usually discusses the reasons why something happened. An effect essay discusses what happens after a specific event or circumstance.
The below example shows a cause essay, one that would explain how and why an event happened.
If this cause essay were about a volcanic eruption, it might go something like:
"Pressure and heat built up beneath the earth's surface; theeffect of this was an enormous volcanic eruption."
The next example shows an effect essay, one that would explain all the effects that happened after a specific event, like a volcanic eruption.
If this effect essay were about a volcanic eruption again, it might go something like: "The eruption caused many terrible things to happen; it destroyed homes, forests, and polluted the atmosphere."
Examples: A narrative essay could tell of . . .
- my brother's and my fishing trips;
- a boring trip to the grocery store;
- my near-death experience at the beach.
The narrative essay tells a story. It can also be called a "short story." Generally the narrative essay is conversational in style, and tells of a personal experience. It is most commonly written in the first person (uses I). This essay could tell of a single, life-shaping event, or simply a mundane daily experience.
Examples: A process essay may explain . . .
- how to properly re-pot a plant;
- how an individual came to appreciate hard work.
A process essay describes how something is done. It generally explains actions that should be performed in a series. It can explain in detail how to accomplish a specific task, or it can show how an individual came to a certain personal awareness. The essay could be in the form of step-by-step instructions, or in story form, with the instructions/explanations subtly given along the way.
Examples: An argumentative essay may persuade a reader that
- he or she should use public transportation instead of driving.
- cats are better than dogs.
An argumentative essay is one that attempts to persuade the reader to the writer's point of view. The writer can either be serious or funny, but always tries to convince the reader of the validity of his or her opinion. The essay may argue openly, or it may attempt to subtly persuade the reader by using irony or sarcasm.
Examples: A critical essay may analyze . . .
- how Shakespeare presents the character, Othello, in his play, Othello;
- the strengths and weaknesses of the movie, Children of a Lesser God;
- the use of color in Monet's painting, Sunflowers.
A critical essay analyzes the strengths, weaknesses and methods of someone else's work. Generally these essays begin with a brief overview of the main points of the text, movie, or piece of art, followed by an analysis of the work's meaning. It should then discuss how well the author/creator accomplishes his/her goals and makes his/her points. A critical essay can be written about another essay, story, book, poem, movie, or work of art.
[ Return to Top ]