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Understand the assignment

What is a descriptive essay? The purpose of a descriptive essay is to describe a person, place, object, or event. The description should have a clear purpose and be directed toward a general audience. These essays are typically written in the present tense and use more adjectives and adverbs than a non-descriptive essay.

In contrast to the narrative essay, a descriptive essay does not tell what happened (a story). Instead, a descriptive essay chooses one thing to describe and only describes it.

A complete descriptive essay should:

  • describe a topic by examining several major features.
  • give sufficient sensory details so the reader can imagine the topic.

Brainstorm to find a topic

Think about something that you can describe. It could be a person, place, thing, or event.

If you choose to write about an event, don't choose an event that is too big. For example, don't try to describe the Christmas holiday around the world. There will be too many things to write about in a 2-3 page essay. Instead, choose a smaller event, like your family Christmas last year.

Example Topics

  • The perfect roommate
  • The most beautiful place on Earth
  • My most prized possession

It is important that descriptive essays provide enough detail and explanation that the reader can visualize what is being described without seeing or experiencing it. In order to do this, a writer needs to incorporate words that relate to the five senses: sight, taste, touch, hearing, and smell.

1 Exercise: List descriptive words for the five senses

Look at each noun. Write 2-3 adjectives or adverbs that describe each noun for each category.

1. Grapes

SIGHT

SMELL

TOUCH

TASTE

HEAR

1. round

2.

3.

1. sweet

2.

3.

1. smooth

2.

3.

1. juicy

2.

3.

1. silence

2.

3.

2. Your bedroom

SIGHT

SMELL

TOUCH

TASTE

HEAR

1.

2.

3.

1.

2.

3.

1.

2.

3.

1.

2.

3.

1.

2.

3.

3. A celebrity

SIGHT

SMELL

TOUCH

TASTE

HEAR

1.

2.

3.

1.

2.

3.

1.

2.

3.

1.

2.

3.

1.

2.

3.

Once you have your topic chosen, think about your item in as much detail as possible.

Spend five minutes answering these questions. This will help make the memory vivid in your mind. If you do not have a vivid memory, you will not be able to paint a clear picture for your reader. It's okay to start writing in short (or even incomplete) sentences.

SIGHT

SMELL

TOUCH

TASTE

HEAR

  

Choose a focus

If the item you are describing is too large to describe in one essay, you may need to focus on more specific features of the item (e.g., Living in Utah. > Student life in Provo, Utah.). Do not choose an item that is too big or complicated for a short essay.

Outline your descriptive essay

A descriptive essay follows typical essay organization with an introduction paragraph, body paragraphs, and a conclusion paragraph.

Introduction

Descriptive essays have an introduction paragraph that gives an overview of the topic and states the thesis. Make sure your introduction paragraph ends with your thesis. The thesis should state the item being described and the focus of the description (The ideal roommate is someone that is respectful, communicates honestly, and will do their part to help.).

Body

The body paragraphs in your descriptive essay contain descriptions of the major features of the topic. Divide your story up into major features of the item you are describing and explain each feature in each of your body paragraphs. Each feature you choose should support the thesis of your paper. The topic sentences for your body paragraphs should introduce the feature that you will describe in that paragraph.

Conclusion

The conclusion should start by restating the thesis. After giving a final, general overview of the topic, it should then end with a closing statement that in some way makes a prediction, suggestion, or opinion.

Before outlining, a helpful tool is to free-write. Free-writing is when you write whatever comes to your mind, not worrying about the structure or grammar of what you are writing. The key is to keep writing without stopping.

2 Exercise: Free-write about descriptive esssy topic

1. Practice free-writing about your topic for your descriptive essay. Take 10 minutes. Remember, don’t stop writing to fix anything.

2. After choosing a topic and focus for your paper, start outlining by thinking about your essay. What is the purpose of your essay? What information do you want to focus on?

3. Now, write your thesis. Will your thesis be direct (stated) or indirect (implied)?

Examples

  • The most beautiful place on earth is Yellowstone because of its many majestic features. (indirect)
  • Yellowstone is the most beautiful place on earth due to its natural phenomena, wild animals, and scenic views. (direct)

4. Look over your brainstorming and free-writing. Decide what information you are going to include in your essay. How will it be organized?

List your three main features that you are going to describe.

    Now, organize your writing into paragraphs.

    Example: Essay Outline

    TH: Yellowstone is the most beautiful place on earth due to its natural phenomena, wild animals, and scenic views.

    TS: Yellowstone is beautiful because it has some of the world’s most amazing natural phenomena.

    TS: Wild animals are another wonderful feature that add natural beauty to this park.

    TS: Majestic scenic views are all around this beautiful place.

    TH: These many memorable features of Yellowstone National Park make it the most beautiful place on earth.

    3 Exercise: Make an outline

    Start your outline with your thesis sentence and your topic sentence. 

    You can add the other details after your outline is approved by your teacher.

    TH: 

    TS: 

    TS: 

    TS: 

    TH: