Writing and Organizing Descriptive Essays

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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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