Essay writing is common in academia, and students have to tackle various types of essays. One of these tasks is a descriptive essay. Although a descriptive paper is a typical essay writing assignment, it doesn’t strictly fall into academic writing. Such a paper usually contains vivid language and personal examples, which allow the reader to re-experience the writer’s story. Since a descriptive essay is unique, it would be reasonable to enumerate the peculiarities of such a paper and provide a detailed guide on how to write a descriptive essay.
What Is a Descriptive Essay?
In plain terms, a descriptive essay depicts a specific item—usually a tangible object, emotion, place, individual, situation, subject, or abstract element—and provides a lucid description of it. The writer’s primary purpose is to draw the reader’s attention and evoke the same feelings the author has experienced. When writing a descriptive essay, the writer isn’t limited by vocabulary and sentence length. The more eloquent and descriptive the essay is, and the more powerful and figurative language it contains, the higher the chances the essay will accomplish its aim.
Note: If you want to learn more about essays in general, we suggest you read our article on this topic: What is an essay?
10 Sample Topics
Descriptive essay writing appeals to the reader’s senses, so it is critical to have a topic that depicts a single item. Describing the pack of events will do you no good, as you will lack word count to evoke the necessary feelings. The following list of sample topics will help you come up with the right and unique topic for your descriptive essay:
- Riding a bicycle in an overcrowded New York. Describe personal feelings.
- First time flying. Describe your feelings upon stepping on the plane.
- Describe an item you can’t imagine your life without.
- The one that never betrays. Describe your best friend.
- Life in the jungle. Describe the feeling of hunger.
- Describe the experience of a miner.
- Remaining cautious and thorough. Describe a situation when you had to take quick action.
- Describe the place you like returning to.
- Calming yourself down. Describe the experience of voicing a speech to lots of people.
- Living off-grid. Describe what it might be like to live without depending on public utilities.
Description vs. Narration (Showing vs. Telling)
Oftentimes, students confuse description with narration. And while these might occasionally intersect, they don’t carry the same purpose. The main difference between descriptive and narrative essay writing is that the former strives to depict a particular item by means of describing it in great detail. Description uses “showing” words and figurative language, which appeal to sensory details. Narration, in turn, focuses on telling a full-fledged story, which doesn’t require delving into a profound description of a subject, place, or individual. Such “telling” words are often ambiguous, i.e., they can be interpreted differently. Narrative sentences are short, and they can be argued. In contrast, descriptive sentences are pervasive and vivid, and they often describe something in great detail to call up desired emotions.
How to Write a Descriptive Essay (Main Principles)
Writing a descriptive essay is an organized process that requires completing several steps. They are all pivotal. Knowing them, you will increase your chances of making your essay impressive and scoring a high grade. The four unavoidable principles of descriptive essays are:
- The appeal to sensory details.
- The use of striking and vivid wording.
- A clear purpose.
- The correct structure.
Let’s look at each of these descriptive essay writing components in more detail.
Note: To discover more about essay writing in general, check out our ultimate essay writing guide: How to any essay in 12 simple steps.
Appeal to all five senses
When writing a description essay, you want your readers to see the same picture or experience the same feelings. To do that, you should use sensory and figurative language along with outspoken words related to each of the senses. These are sight, smell, sound, touch, and taste. Whenever you describe anything that falls into the mentioned categories, remember to use articulate words to enhance your text’s robustness and impress the reader.
Examples of usage for each sense
Using a dictionary of synonyms, you can find gems that will boost your descriptive essay and influence the reader. Just remember to double-check the word meaning if you are uncertain whether it pertains to the sense of sight, smell, sound, touch, and taste. Also, check out the following examples of use for each sense to get a clear picture of how a descriptive sentence might look like:
As I entered the room, the bright yellowish light struck right into my eyes, making me close them and tilt my hand for a bit; once I was sure my eyes got rid of temporal blindness, I opened them and enjoyed a picturesque view out of the window. I managed to see a bounty of antiquely red roofs and old-fashioned pavement.
Meandering around the city, I accidentally sniffed a familiar scent that got me several years back when I was traveling in France; I sniffed once more—yes, that’s it, the smell of freshly baked croissants on top of which is a piece of melted butter.
Riding his mountain bike in the woods, he heard a lively sound that made him stop pedaling and listen carefully to the sound coming from far away. The sound was honeyed, rapidly terminating and appearing with new notes; he didn’t know where that was coming from, but it was a symphony for his ears.
She walked on the patio and glanced over the lawn. Something forced her to go there and touch the grass. She approached slowly, carefully touching thoroughly cut grass. The grass was like myriads of tiny needles tenderly thrusting her palms. Enjoying swinging her hands, she laid on the lawn and let those miniature needles touch her neck, legs, and back.
I stopped at a local pizzeria and ordered a pizza. Once I took the first bite, the dough melted in my mouth, mixing the taste of dor blue, cheddar, and parmesan with notes of basil and tomato sauce. A distant note of smoked garlic enhanced the overall taste, making the pizza palatable and elevating me to a gastronomical nirvana.
Use descriptive language
When writing a descriptive essay and describing any subject, it is imperative to use colorful vocabulary to intensify emotions, beautify pictures, and embellish personal experiences. Descriptive writing relies on a powerful lexicon and detailed descriptions and examples, so don’t shy away from making your sentences considerably long. For instance, instead of saying, “She wasn’t in a mood because of many reasons,” try to demonstrate her feelings. This sentence doesn’t tell much. A great example of a descriptive sentence would be this:
A sequence of unfavorable situations made her feel melancholic. She had a squabble with her friend, burned down her muffins, and dismantled her recently done nails.
Another instance of vague language use would be, “The car was slow.” As we can see, the car was slow. But why was it slow? Was it because of the engine troubles, gearbox, problems with tires, or its age? Aside from that, it doesn’t deliver any emotions, leaving the reader indifferent. Writing enough details and using sharp phrasing will improve the sentence. You are highly encouraged to use metaphors, similes, and comparisons to strengthen your vocabulary. For example
The car’s engine didn’t endure clogged streets, overheating and reducing the vehicle’s speed tremendously.
Even a minor elaboration will make a sentence more readable and evocative, and more people will be able to relate to such an issue.
Define the purpose
Whatever object, subject, personal experience, or situation you strive to describe, it must have a purpose. You can’t generate content and write a descriptive essay without having a central idea. A thesis statement is a must, as it provides the main point your descriptive essay will develop. For example, suppose you write about your summer house where you usually spend a decent amount of time. In that case, you might describe it as your secluded place where you can put masks off and enjoy the silence.
You can also depict your house as a clamor and distraction-free space where you get the best inspiration to work on your book. Writing about how many square meters, rooms, and floors it has won’t impact the reader. Remember the purpose of your descriptive essay, and don’t forget that you aim to cause an impression.
Descriptive essay thesis statement examples
A thesis statement is usually the last sentence of your introduction. When writing a descriptive thesis statement, you want it to be neither too broad nor too narrow. You must highlight the main elements you will further elaborate on. Look at these three examples:
- I am enamored with my bicycle because it enables me to feel the rhythm of life and experience terrific emotions that motivate me to wake up in the morning.
- Each year I religiously follow the same three-day itinerary to challenge myself and relive strong sentiments I had many years ago.
- The defining characteristics of my friend are his quirkiness, constant movement, and the fact that he can’t stop interacting with people.
Organize the essay
Like any other writing assignment, a descriptive essay must be well-organized. Shifting between diametrically opposite elements and chaotically providing examples will only confuse the reader. Make sure to outline your ideas and stick to them until you unveil them exhaustively. It doesn’t make sense to describe your house’s exterior features, then your experience living in it, and then return to features about its windows and balcony.
Note: We have a separate guide on outlining with examples, we suggest you check it out to know more about the topic: How to write an outline for an essay.
Apart from that, it is essential to know the structure of sentences. A descriptive essay calls for making sentences diverse and engaging. Although the English language typically uses the S (subject) – V (verb) – O (object) pattern, other approaches are also available. Using them will jazz up your writing and make a descriptive essay coherent and highly readable. For instance, the following sentences are grammatically correct:
He passed all the exams. He came back home, packed his stuff, and went to the bus station. He planned to go to the coast.
However, they don’t provoke any feelings. Nor are they engaging and descriptive to the reader. Varying sentences, combining them into one, using cleft sentences, and fronting will break the tedious tone and make a descriptive essay expressive and energetic. Take a glimpse:
Having passed all the exams, he was oversaturated with the feeling of delight and enthusiasm, so he speeded up his walk, came back home, rashly filled his backpack with clothes, and double-quickly went to the station to embark on his first, grandeur trip.
Typically, descriptive essays follow the same structure as any other paper. They comprise an introduction, body, and conclusion. Every paragraph has its idiosyncratic elements that help develop a section and make the paper clear and accurate.
The introduction is the first paragraph of a descriptive essay. Its primary goal is to introduce the topic to the reader, provide the necessary background information, setting, place, and dominant impression, also known as a thesis statement. An opening sentence kicks off a descriptive essay and grabs the reader’s attention. It can manifest in the form of an anecdote, fact, shocking statement, misconception, etc.
The body’s main objective is to develop points stated in your thesis. Your essay’s word count determines the number of body sections. Usually, a descriptive essay has two or three body paragraphs. When working on your body part, ensure adding details that pertain to your introduction. Do not include additional information, as it will obscure the entire descriptive essay. Besides, decide on the type of your body beforehand. Three different approaches exist. They are:
- Spatial order: This strategy makes the description cohesive and precise. For instance, when describing a house, the writer can start from the top to bottom, outside to inside, or vice versa.
- Chronological order: Chronological method helps avoid digressions and makes the event logical and ordered.
- Least-to-most or most-to-least order: This strategy is commonly used when appealing to smell, sound, and taste senses. The smell of croissants coming from down the street is likely to be less distinctive at first, and once the experiencer approaches the confectionery, the smell intensifies. That’s an excellent example of the least-to-most order. The brightest car on the lights would spark the observer’s attention first, which is an example of the most-to-least order.
The conclusion is the last section of a descriptive essay. It wraps up the content and restates the dominant impression, i.e., points stated in a thesis statement. Also, remember to reflect on your subject and highlight its significance.
Frequently Asked Questions
It indeed can. Moreover, a dialogue is an excellent way to engage the reader and motivate them to follow your story. You can have a dialogue at the beginning of your descriptive essay, placing it in the opening sentence. You can also add dialogue when writing the central part to add interest to your paper. But in this case, before including it, consider your body section’s order (spatial, chronological, and least-to-most/most-to-least) and attach it to the correct place.
You can use personal pronouns when writing a descriptive essay. However, using such personal pronouns sometimes depends on your paper’s subject. If you write about a particular situation in which you were a direct observer, you can write the essay from your perspective. In other cases, you can choose whether you want to include the first, second, or third person or use such pronouns interchangeably.
Descriptive essays focus on showing a specific object, perceptible or abstract. When writing this essay, the writer has to describe something in detail, using mellifluous language to appeal to five senses (taste, smell, touch, sound, sight). This will allow the reader to visualize and touch an item, smell a scent, hear a sound, taste a product, and live through a particular experience, event, or situation.
- Indiana University of Pennsylvania – Descriptive Writing
- LEO: Literacy Education Online – Descriptive Essays
- Butte College – Writing a Descriptive Essay