Writing and Organizing Descriptive Essays

The following comes from our revised Essay Architect Writing System, which is due out this August!  Be sure to like us on Facebook to be notified when the book is released.

Please note: This material is Copyright 2012 Secondary Solutions.  No part of this article/post may be reproduced, transmitted, translated or stored, in any form, including digitally or electronically, without the express written permission of Secondary Solutions.

In a Descriptive essay, your task is to describe something to your audience, allowing the reader to fully experience the object, event, or situation.  Sensory details, figurative language, and powerful vocabulary can create an image in the reader’s mind, enhancing his or her understanding and appreciation of the topic. This is one of the few essays in which the use of “I” may be acceptable.

Key Prompt Words: describe, illustrate, reveal, show, detail, tell about

Purpose

  • To use descriptive and powerful language in order to create an image in the reader’s mind

Important Aspects

Using Detailed, Specific, and Illustrative Descriptions

  • Describing what is seen, heard, touched, tasted, and smelled
  • Describing the way things are seen from your (or a narrator’s) perspective
  • Comparing the ordinary to the extraordinary

To set up a Descriptive Essay, consider whether you would like to focus on an objective or a subjective description.

  • An objective description describes how something looks, feels, tastes, etc.
    • When describing your favorite outfit, you would focus on the fabric, colors, color combinations, fit, etc.
  • A subjectivedescription describes how you feel towards or about the topic
    • When describing your favorite outfit, you would focus on how you feel (confident, comfortable, stylish, chic, thin, etc.) and why, when wearing that outfit.

Ways to Enhance the Reader’s Experience

  • Show, don’t tell (sensory images of touch, taste, smell, hearing, and sight)
  • Figurative language (metaphors, similes, hyperbole, understatement, irony)
  • Active verbs (avoid says, did, had, went, are, etc. and use descriptive verbs: sneaked, whispered, snub, coddle, etc.)


Organizing Descriptive Essays

Descriptive Writing:

  1. Describes something to your audience, allowing the reader to fully experience the object, event, or situation.
  2. Uses sensory details, figurative language, and powerful vocabulary to create an image in the reader’s mind
  3. May use the first person “I” perspective

Goal of Descriptive Writing:

To use details and images to help your audience create a mental picture of what you are writing about.

Example of a Descriptive Prompt:

Describe the worst job you have ever had to do.

Descriptive Thesis

Remember that Descriptive essays describe something in detail.  Your Descriptive thesis should introduce your reader to the details they will read about in your paper.

For Example:

Topic:  Describe your favorite vacation spot.

Descriptive Thesis: The sights, sounds, and smells of the beach make this sandy destination my favorite vacation spot in the world.

Let’s test this thesis.

  1. Does the thesis offer an opinion or specific personal point of view?

Testing a thesis for this type of essay is tricky.  The opinion or position for this type of essay comes mostly with the fact that it is YOUR OPINION that these sights, sounds, and smells make the beach a “favorite” vacation spot.  In other words, someone else may feel that it is the surfing that makes the beach a favorite spot; another person may feel that the beach is boring, and prefer skiing in the mountains. 

  1. Does the thesis mention the topic of the essay?

YES, the topic of favorite vacation spot is mentioned in the thesis.

Of course, you know that this thesis is just a simple thesis.  If we want to write a “better” thesis statement, our thesis statement might look something like this:

The bright hot sun, the sounds of birds circling overhead, and the salty, briny smells of the beach make this sandy destination my favorite vacation spot in the world.

For a FREEBIE to help students learn descriptive writing, try this Show, Don’t Tell activity.

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How to Write a Compare and Contrast Essay

The following comes from our revised Essay Architect Writing System, which is due out Fall 2012!  Be sure to like us on Facebook to be notified when the book is released.

Please note: This material is Copyright 2012 Secondary Solutions.  No part of this article/post may be reproduced, transmitted, translated or stored, in any form, including digitally or electronically, without the express written permission of Secondary Solutions.

Compare and Contrast essays are used to examine two or more subjects and the similarities and/or differences between them.  The task of this type of essay is to clarify something unknown by analyzing it next to something with which the reader is familiar.  Like the cause and effect essay, it is important that your thesis statement clearly states whether you will be comparing (giving similarities), contrasting (showing differences), or sometimes, both.

Key Prompt Words: compare, contrast, show differences, show similarities, differentiate, show a connection between

Purpose

  • To reveal similarities and/or differences between two things

Important Aspects

  • Know Your Purpose
    • Are you comparing (finding similarities)?
    • Are you contrasting (finding differences)?
    • Are you doing both?
  • Be sure your thesis clearly states whether you are comparing, contrasting, or both, and gives a sneak “peek” into the points you make in your paper.
    • The thesis is your opinion and can be argued because you chose those 2-3 points of comparison or contrast to explore in your essay.  In other words, someone else could disagree with your claim that those are the main or most important points to mention in your essay.

There are many ways to set up a five-paragraph Compare and Contrast Essay; here are four models:

NOTE: Make new paragraphs to avoid very long paragraphs if necessary.  No one should fault you for having more than five paragraphs, but you will be counted down for having fewer than five.

  1. Introduction
  2. Minor Similarities
  3. Minor Differences
  4. Focus on One Major Similarity OR One Major Difference
  5. Conclusion
  1. Introduction
  2. Major Similarity
  3. Major Difference
  4. 3-4 Minor Similarities/ Differences
  5. Conclusion

Contrast Only:

  1. Introduction
  2. Difference #1
  3. Difference #2
  4. Difference #3
  5. Conclusion

Compare Only:

  1. Introduction
  2. Similarity #1
  3. Similarity #2
  4. Similarity #3
  5. Conclusion

 

Organizing Compare/Contrast Essays

Compare/Contrast Writing:

  1. Explores the similarities, differences, or both, of a subject
  2. Gives examples, quotes, or arguments to support the major similarities/differences
  3. Sticks with either similarities/differences (sometimes, both) throughout

Goal of Compare/Contrast Writing:

To examine two or more subjects and the similarities and/or differences between them.  The task of this type of essay is to clarify something unknown by analyzing it next to something with which the reader is familiar.

Most Important Aspects of Compare/Contrast Writing:

Knowing Whether to Compare or Contrast

  • Must be able to interpret the essay prompt to know what it’s asking of you
  • Must show a clear line of differences or similarities
  • Must provide specific logical evidence to prove the similarities or differences

Beyond the Obvious

  • It is important that you go beyond the obvious to compare and contrast; your essay should be enlightening and effective, not merely a summary or description of items

Example of Compare/Contrast Prompt:

Prompt for both compare AND contrast: The theme of revenge is common in many of Shakespeare’s plays. Explore the theme of revenge, and consider how it is treated in two of Shakespeare’s plays.

Prompt to compare: There is saying: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Find the similarities between life when you were in kindergarten and your life today.

Prompt to contrast: Using the two texts we’ve studied, contrast how differently each of the protagonist women are treated by their families and society in general.

Compare/Contrast Thesis

Remember that in a Compare/Contrast paper, you showing the MAJOR similarities and/or differences between a subject.  Your thesis statement must clearly state whether you will be comparing, contrasting, or both.

For Example:

Topic: Compare and contrast entering junior high and high school.

Simple Compare/Contrast Thesis:  While there are several similarities between entering junior high and high school, the differences are stark—and even shocking—to students.

To test whether this thesis actually qualifies as a Compare/Contrast thesis, we need to check two things:

  1. Does the thesis address whether the essay will cover similarities, differences, or both? 

Both similarities and differences are mentioned, but it looks as if the emphasis will be placed on differences.  That is okay, as long as both are addressed according to the prompt.

  1. Does the thesis mention the topic of the essay?

YES, the topic – similarities and differences of entering junior high versus high school is mentioned.

Of course, you know that this thesis is just a simple thesis.  If we want to write a “better” thesis statement, our thesis statement might look something like this:

While both junior high and high school begin with new faces and lost students looking for their classrooms, the shock of being a small fish in a big pond and the overwhelming feeling of drowning in homework is common as one enters the intimidating world of high school.

See also Argumentative Essays and Cause and Effect Essays

How to Write and Organize a Cause and Effect Essay

Please note: This material is Copyright 2012 Secondary Solutions.  No part of this article/post may be reproduced, transmitted, translated or stored, in any form, including digitally or electronically, without the express written permission of Secondary Solutions.

Writing Cause/Effect Essays

Cause and Effect essays explore why things happen (causes) and what happens as a result (effects). These essays give reasons and explanations for behaviors, events, or circumstances. It is important that your presentation is factual and believable, and that in your thesis statement you explain whether you will be discussing causes, effects, or sometimes both.

Key Prompt Words: identify, show, give reasons, show the causes of, give the effects of, etc.

Purpose

  • Present the causes or the effects of the issue—or rarely, both causes and effects

Important Aspects

  • Know your Purpose
    • It is important to distinguish between causes and effects when writing a cause or effect paper. To determine the effects, ask “What happened?”  To determine the causes, ask yourself “Why did this happen?”
  • Avoid first person pronouns “I,” “me,” and “my”
  • DO NOT SAY: “I believe that the gun control issue is way out of hand.”
  • SAY: “Lack of gun control has caused thousands of deaths in the United States alone.”

 

Take a look at the following simple scenario:

Because you didn’t study, you failed your final exam.

Ask yourself:  What happened?  Why did this happen?

What happened? (EFFECT) – you failed your final exam

Why did this happen? (CAUSE) – because you didn’t study

Sometimes many effects can result from a single cause, or many causes contribute to a single effect.  These can often be a chain reaction.

 

Take a look at the following chain-reaction scenario (with an emphasis on effects):

Because you did not study, you failed the final exam, failed your Government class, were short credits, and were not able to graduate with the rest of your class.

What happened? (EFFECTS) – you failed your final exam, failed your Government class, were short credits, were not able to graduate with the rest of your class

Why did this happen? (CAUSE) – because you didn’t study

The chain reaction can work the other way, giving several causes to one effect.

 

Take a look at the following scenario (with an emphasis on causes):

Because you decided to go out on a school night, locked your keys in the car, had to call a tow truck, got home after 3:00am and were too tired to study, you failed your final exam.

What happened? (EFFECT) – you failed your final exam

Why did this happen? (CAUSES) – because you decided to go out on a school night, locked your keys in the car, had to call a tow truck, got home after 3:00am, and were too tired to study

To set up a Cause/Effect Essay, consider the following outlines:

  1. Introduction
  2. Effect #1 (with reasons and explanations)
  3. Effect #2 (with reasons and explanations)
  4. Effect #3 (with reasons and explanations)
  5. Conclusion
  1. Introduction
  2. Cause #1 (with reasons and explanations)
  3. Cause #2 (with reasons and explanations)
  4. Cause #3 (with reasons and explanations)
  5. Conclusion


 

Organizing Cause/Effect Essays

Cause/Effect Essays:

  1. Explore the reasons, outcomes, or both, of a subject
  2. Give examples, quotes, or arguments to support causes/effects
  3. Stick with either causes or effects (sometimes, both) throughout

Goal of Cause/Effect Writing:

To introduce to your reader the causes or effects (reasons, results, or explanations) for behaviors, events, or circumstances.

Most Important Aspects of Cause/Effect Writing:

Relationship

  • Must clearly state the connection and relationship of causes or effects
  • Must be able to decide between the causes or effects that are major, or contributing (often, immediate) factors, and those that are minor, or supporting (often, residual) factors
  • Must be strongly supported with logical reasoning

Purpose

  • Decide whether you are trying to inform or persuade your audience.Choose appropriate wording to reflect your purpose.

Example of a Cause and Effect Essay Prompt:

More and more studies are supporting the idea that teens do not get nearly enough sleep.  Researchers feel that lack of sleep can cause major problems for teens, both immediate and long-term.  In a well–written essay, explore either the causes of lack of sleep for teens, or the effects, both immediate and long-term, that poor sleep habits have on teens today.

When writing a Cause/Effect Essay, be sure to use bridges to help your transition from cause to cause or effect to effect.  The following are some examples of good cause/effect transition words:

accordingly
as a result of
because
because of
brought about
caused by
consequently
due to
for the reason
if…then
in effect
is responsible for
leads to
otherwise
since
so
therefore
thus
when
whenever

Cause/Effect Thesis:

Remember that for a Cause/Effect paper, you are either explaining the causes or the effects of something, and in rare cases, both.  Your thesis statement must state 1) whether you are looking at the causes or the effects, and 2) your position on the causes or the effects.

For Example:

Topic: Gun control in the United States

Cause/Effect Thesis: Lack of gun control has caused thousands of deaths in the United States alone.

Let’s test this thesis. 1) Is it an opinion or position, and 2) Is the topic mentioned?

  1. Yes; it is an opinion that gun control is to blame for thousands of deaths in the United States.  Some people would disagree, stating that the problem is not gun control, but irresponsible people who get their hands on guns who are the problem.
  2. Yes; the topic of gun control in the United States specifically is mentioned.

Of course, you know that this thesis is just a simple thesis.  If we want to write a “better” thesis statement, our thesis statement might look something like this:

Lax gun control laws, irresponsible gun owners, and an underground black market have caused thousands of gun-related deaths in the United States alone.

Please note: This material is Copyright 2012 Secondary Solutions.  No part of this article/post may be reproduced, transmitted, translated or stored, in any form, including digitally or electronically, without the express written permission of Secondary Solutions.

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