A descriptive writing gives a vivid, detailed description of something—generally a place or object, but possibly something more abstract like an emotion. This type of essay, like the narrative composition, is more creative than most academic writing.
Descriptive composition test your ability to use language in an original and creative way, to convey to the reader a memorable image of whatever you are describing.
When you are assigned a descriptive composition, you’ll normally be given a specific prompt or choice of prompts. They will often ask you to describe something from your own experience. It could be a personal descriptive writing (e.g. a place you love to spend time in or an object that has sentimental value for you), something outside your experience where you need to use your imagination (e.g. what it might be like to live on another planet) or a descritive writing about something more abstract like an emotion.
The key to writing an effective descriptive writing is to find ways of bringing your subject to life for the reader. You’re not limited to providing a literal description as you would be in more formal essay types. Make use of figurative language, sensory details, and strong word choices to create a memorable description.
Figurative language consists of devices like metaphor and simile that use words in non-literal ways to create a memorable effect. This is essential in a descriptive essay; it’s what gives your writing its creative edge and makes your description unique. Take the following description of a park.
Literal description: There are patches of woodland in the park.
This tells us something about the place, but it’s a bit too literal and not likely to be memorable. If we want to make the description more likely to stick in the reader’s mind, we can use some figurative language.
Figurative description: Small groves are dotted across the face of the park like a patchy beard.
Here we have used a simile to compare the park to a face and the trees to facial hair. This is memorable because it’s not what the reader expects; it makes them look at the park from a different angle. You don’t have to fill every sentence with figurative language, but using these devices in an original way at various points throughout your essay will keep the reader engaged and convey your unique perspective on your subject.
Another key aspect of descriptive writing is the use of sensory details. This means referring not only to what something looks like, but also to smell, sound, touch, and taste.
Sensory details: I feel the bonfire’s heat on my face, and smell the rich smoke filling the air.
Obviously not all senses will apply to every subject, but it’s always a good idea to explore what’s interesting about your subject beyond just what it looks like. Even when your subject is more abstract, you might find a way to incorporate the senses more metaphorically, as in this descriptive essay about fear.
Sensory details used metaphorically: Fear is the smell of sweat, and the feeling you can’t breathe.
Writing descriptively involves choosing your words carefully. The use of effective adjectives is important, but so is your choice of adverbs, verbs, and even nouns.
It’s easy to end up using clichéd phrases—“cold as ice,” “free as a bird”—but try to reflect further and make more precise, original word choices. Clichés provide conventional ways of describing things, but they don’t tell the reader anything about your unique perspective on what you’re describing. Try looking over your sentences to find places where a different word would convey your impression more precisely or vividly. Using a thesaurus can help you find alternative word choices.
However, exercise care in your choices; don’t just look for the most impressive-looking synonym you can find for every word. Overuse of a thesaurus can result in ridiculous sentences like this one:
The introduction serves to introduce your subject to the reader and give them enough context to fully understand your work—but keep it brief and interesting for the reader(s). When learning how to write a descriptive essay introduction, remember – the first paragraph of your paper is the part that can make your descriptive essay stand out from the others.
As with any college paper, a descriptive composition introduction must contain the following points:
Let’s see some examples:
Place. If you were to write about Buckingham Palace: “Even though the monarchy is long gone, Buckingham Palace serves to remind us of the aesthetic beauty which that era had built.”
Person. For describing Spider-Man: “The defining characteristics of Spider-Man are his youthfulness, New York City, and the fact that he talks to himself more than Hamlet.”
Emotion. A piece about a personal experience of fear: “For many reasons, the dark forest is my greatest fear, though not a fear which I would necessarily like to venture into.”
There are usually three body paragraphs in a paper. They cover three different points or arguments. How many body paragraphs to include in your descriptive essay is entirely up to you. Sometimes it only takes a paragraph to tell a story, while other times it takes books.
How to write a body paragraph:
According to the descriptive writing format, your conclusion should be a summary of all of the main points in the body text. It is a good idea to write a final sentence that relates to the main point of your paper. Once this is done, the paper is now complete. We advise that you proofread your descriptive essay to correct any grammatical errors.
Try to incorporate the following into your conclusion:
Writing the paper consists of the following stages:
Let’s talk in detail about the final step here: reviewing your paper. After you finish writing, take a break. It’s always best to clear your mind before editing your paper.
When you come back to your descriptive composition, here are some questions to ask yourself:
Make sure you read your teacher’s feedback of your paper. Sometimes you need some constructive criticism to tie up loose ends in your writing.
On Sunday afternoons I like to spend my time in the garden behind my house. The garden is narrow but long, a corridor of green extending from the back of the house, and I sit on a lawn chair at the far end to read and relax. I am in my small peaceful paradise: the shade of the tree, the feel of the grass on my feet, the gentle activity of the fish in the pond beside me.
My cat crosses the garden nimbly and leaps onto the fence to survey it from above. From his perch he can watch over his little kingdom and keep an eye on the neighbours. He does this until the barking of next door’s dog scares him from his post and he bolts for the cat flap to govern from the safety of the kitchen.
With that, I am left alone with the fish, whose whole world is the pond by my feet. The fish explore the pond every day as if for the first time, prodding and inspecting every stone. I sometimes feel the same about sitting here in the garden; I know the place better than anyone, but whenever I return I still feel compelled to pay attention to all its details and novelties—a new bird perched in the tree, the growth of the grass, and the movement of the insects it shelters…
Sitting out in the garden, I feel serene. I feel at home. And yet I always feel there is more to discover. The bounds of my garden may be small, but there is a whole world contained within it, and it is one I will never get tired of inhabiting.