Descriptive Essay

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Descriptive Essays

There are different types of essays, from descriptive essays and expository essays to compare/contrast essays and persuasive essays. You can choose the type of essay you want to write depending on the subject and the purpose of the essay. Regardless of the type of essay, description as a writing technique can be used in all types of essays including narrative writing in order to create a powerful impression. A narrative descriptive essay, for example, would combine the writing elements of a narrative and descriptive writing.

What is a descriptive essay?

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A descriptive essay is an essay in which you describe a single event or subject using sensory details such as sight, smell, sound, touch, and taste. Descriptive writing is often seen in travel writing, poetry, and in the short story and novel form, but it is not restricted to them. The rule of the thumb in descriptive writing is “show, don’t tell.” You can see the power of description in these lines from Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita: “Her skin glistening in the neon light coming from the paved court through the slits in the blind, her soot-black lashes matted, her grave gray eyes more vacant than ever.” While this example is taken from a novel in which the narrator describes a character, a descriptive essay is a good format to consider if you want to write an essay about a person. When writing a descriptive essay about a person, you can describe what the person looks like and what he/she is wearing as well as the other sensory details such as smell, touch, and sound.

A successful descriptive essay is one that recreates the experience such that readers too experience it. It often describes a single event or subject and pushes forth a dominant impression. Therefore, choosing a dominant impression is the first step to writing a descriptive essay. Ask yourself: What was the impression that a place or person left you with? Was the atmosphere bleak? Was there a sense of anxiety? A bleak atmosphere can be recreated by describing the shabbiness, musty smell, the light or the lack of it – such as the summer sun hesitating to enter the room, dead colors, a draft too tired to rustle up goosebumps, or the low buzz of a flickering light bulb. On the other hand, anxiety can be created by describing the shallow breathing, the restless foot-tapping, clenched jaws, fingers worrying a loose shirt button, and darting eyes.

Sensory language is used to evoke an experience or illustrate an object in vivid detail. While there is a general preference for visual language, by employing all the senses, you will create a better picture. You can describe what you saw, what you heard, what you smelled, tastes and flavors, and the tactile sensations. Consider this: a mewing black cat with soft fur and stale breath, and the disgusting memory of a sour salmon meal.

Certain techniques too are used to make descriptive essays powerful, such as naming, comparing, and detailing. Naming involves identifying what is seen. When you walk into a study, you may see a fireplace, a table, bookshelf, a chair, a cat, and curtains. Detailing makes the named objects more specific. For example, an antique table of redwood, mint-green curtains with sunflowers that had not seen the sun in a long time, or a mewing cat. Comparison creates a stronger impression and employs the use of literary devices such as metaphors or similes. For example, the study looked like a forgotten forest from another age. Besides language, senses, and techniques, the type of description is important. Descriptive essays can be either objective or subjective. Objective descriptions are used in writing that do not involve emotions such as an essay by a marine biologist about the condition of coral reefs. Subjective descriptions are more personal – such as your personal experience going scuba diving for the first time. It is essentially your point of view. The approach – subjective or objective – determines the tone of your essay. An objective description may sound more academic while a subjective description may sound more personal. An objective description may describe the coral reefs as, “The corals, without the algae that lend them their color and nutrition, are now white,” whereas a subjective description may say, “I was caught in the midst of a rush of colorful reef fish and the deafening sounds underwater.”

Descriptive Essay Examples

How to write a descriptive essay

Source: Creative Commons

One of the first steps in writing a descriptive essay is to identify the thesis or the main point. Once you are clear about the main point, you can then develop the essay with clarity. In case of descriptive essays, the thesis would be the dominant impression that you want to describe over the course of the essay. Next, you need to identify the purpose of your essay, whether it is to inform or to get an emotional response. If you want to inform, you can use an objective description. If the purpose is to evoke emotions, a subjective description is ideal.

Once you are clear about the thesis statement and the purpose, you can start prewriting to determine what details you would like to share with your reader and the sensory details that elaborate on the dominant impression that you want to recreate in your essay. After you determine the points that you would like to cover, you can then begin organizing it. The body paragraphs can be organized in a spatial (how everything relates to each other or physical positions), emphatic (the most important information appears first), or chronological order (follows the order of events). You can also organize the essay according to the sensory perception with each body paragraph dedicated to a single sense. Similar to all academic essays, each body paragraph should begin with a topic sentence followed by evidence and a concluding sentence that ties up the focus of the paragraph. Transition words need to be incorporated to ensure that the essay is cohesive and flows smoothly.

Once the structure and the essay outline are in place, you need to pay attention to the language and the sentence structure. In a descriptive essay, language has to be rich in sensory detail. Metaphors and similes can make the essay sound more vivid but you have to take care not to use common and overused comparisons. Adverbs weaken writing and need to be avoided. On the other hand, verbs, sentence diversity in terms of length and structure, and the use of active voice are effective. Lastly, with the help of a review checklist which includes grammar checking, you can polish your essay and make it readable. If you are in doubt about how to start writing the essay, going through essay samples and personal descriptive essay samples can help. You may benefit from reading a descriptive essay for college students or descriptive essay examples for high school. On 123HelpME, you can see many descriptive essay example pdfs. Once you are familiar with how a descriptive essay is written, you can start writing your own essay. The time spent reading these essays may give you a few descriptive essay ideas. If you are still unsure about what to write about, you can go through the good descriptive essay topics below or look for grade-specific essays such as descriptive essay topics for grade 10.

Descriptive essay outline template

You can use the following descriptive essay outline to help you compose a descriptive essay. A normal five-paragraph essay consists of an introduction, three body paragraphs, and a conclusion.

I. Introduction

a. Hook: It should grab the attention of the reader and entice them to read on. It could begin with a question, an interesting fact or statistic, or a quote. The hook should match the intention of the essay. A good hook is also one that is unique.

b. Background/context: It tells the reader what the essay is about and sets the tone of the essay. But it needs to be broad. That is, it provides the outline of the essay without giving away everything too soon. It is also an opportunity to familiarize the reader because they may not be aware of the context.

c. Thesis statement: It focuses on the dominant impression and the main purpose of your essay. It clearly communicates what the essay is going to be about. An effective thesis statement consists of a central point and support, which clearly lay out the focus, emphasis, and range of the essay.

II. Body Paragraph 1

a. Topic sentence: It is the key point of the paragraph related to the supporting points of the thesis statement. It is required to introduce a new idea or a new point. Topic sentences can be considered as signposts of your essay. It helps you organize your paragraphs and lend structure to your essay.

b. Evidence: It includes supporting details which hold up the claims made. In case of descriptive essays, it includes sensory details. Each sentence should stay in line with the main point of the paragraph which is identified in the topic sentence.

c. Conclusion: It is the last line of the body paragraph. It ties back to the topic sentence and transitions to the next idea to ensure that the essay flows smoothly from one body paragraph to the next one.

III. Body Paragraph 2

a. Topic sentence: It is the key point of the paragraph related to the supporting points of the thesis statement. It is required to introduce a new idea or a new point. Topic sentences can be considered as signposts of your essay. It helps you organize your paragraphs and lend structure to your essay.

b. Evidence: It includes supporting details that hold up the claims made. In the case of descriptive essays, it includes sensory details. Each sentence should stay in line with the main point of the paragraph which is identified in the topic sentence.

c. Conclusion: It is the last line of the body paragraph. It ties back to the topic sentence and transitions to the next idea to ensure that the essay flows smoothly from one body paragraph to the next one. 

IV. Body Paragraph 3

a. Topic sentence: It is the key point of the paragraph related to the supporting points of the thesis statement. It is required to introduce a new idea or a new point. Topic sentences can be considered as signposts of your essay. It helps you organize your paragraphs and lend structure to your essay.

b. Evidence: It includes supporting details that hold up the claims made. In case of descriptive essays, it includes sensory details. Each sentence should stay in line with the main point of the paragraph which is identified in the topic sentence.

c. Conclusion: It is the last line of the body paragraph. It ties back to the topic sentence and transitions to the next idea to ensure that the essay flows smoothly from one body paragraph to the next one.

V. Conclusion

a. Reflect: It considers what the essay has so far revealed to you and any insights gained. These could be revelations or provocative insights that are the culmination of what you have described so far in the essay. However, no new ideas should be introduced at this point.

b. Reinforce: It revisits the main points discussed and restates the thesis statement. It is more effective to synthesize rather than summarize the points, which is to say that you need to show how the points made fit together instead of repeating the same points.

c. Closing statement: It is the last sentence of the entire essay and the concluding paragraph, and it needs to be an impactful one. It should leave the reader with a strong impression, a question to consider, or ideas to explore further depending on the purpose of your essay. 

Popular Descriptive Essay Topics

If you are looking for good descriptive essay topics and descriptive essay ideas, these are a few popular ones you could consider.

  • Your favorite place or holiday
  • Your pet
  • Your best friend or favorite person
  •  A concert you attended
  • Your dream
  • The house where you grew up
  • Describe yourself
  • An object that is special to you
  • Your favorite food
  • Your happiest memory

Additional Descriptive Essay Samples

► Descriptive Essay – The Baseball Diamond

Many people don’t understand the point in playing baseball. Why would someone swing a stick, hit a ball, and try to get back to where they started before the ball returns? What pleasure is there in that? 

► Descriptive Essays – The Horse Farm

I am jarred out of a relaxing sleep by a voice yelling my name in a loud whisper, and a light burning through my eyelids. Groggily, I open my eyes to see my father standing in the doorway to my messy room.

► Descriptive Essay – The City Dock

The perfect place in the city is one that is incredibly versatile – it may be bustling with activity one minute and nearly deserted the next. The city dock has been a mainstay of the city for as long as anyone can remember

► Descriptive Essay – The Evangelic Church

It may seem a little bit strange, but my favorite place in town in none other than this beautiful Evangelic Church. However, it wasn’t always so. When I was a child I used to be frightened of entering such a place for it seemed so imposing and somewhat dangerous, especially when music was being played. 

► Descriptive Essay – A Mountain Resort

For those who like winter sports like skiing and snowboarding, we have just the perfect place- the remote yet very popular mountain resort called Balea Lake. It is situated at an altitude of 2,034m, being the highest mountain resort of Romania.

► Descriptive Essay – The Pier

Naples, not the most exciting place on the planet. No, people have seemed to conclude that Naples, FL is the place to go for a nice, relaxing retirement. And I have to agree, they are right.

► Descriptive Essay – Fifth Avenue

Naples is a very unique city that attracts people from all over the world to its beautiful surroundings. Amongst the pristine beaches and championship golf courses, a teenager can find many entertaining locations.

► Descriptive Essay -The Dump

My mom and I were cleaning up our attic this weekend, and in the process, I found all sorts of old junk that I had forgotten about. Of course, I wanted to keep everything I saw; otherwise, I would not have stashed it there in the first place.

► Descriptive Essay – The Woods in Autumn

  It is not true that the close of a life which ends in a natural fashion—life which is permitted to put on the display of death and to go out in glory–inclines the mind to rest.  It is not true of a day ending nor the passing of the year, nor of the fall of leaves.  

► Descriptive Essay – The Meadow

On a crisp autumn afternoon, I sat idly under an enormous oak tree watching as a whirlwind whisked across the rolling hills of  the meadow.  As it passed by me, the whirlwind scooped up a dormant pile of leaves lying next to the oak tree.

► Descriptive Essay – The Football Practice Field

Imagine a small town with green trees and windy roads slowly fading into the “dobes” of the desert that surrounds its southern border. Along with the desert is a vast mountain range that snuggles against its northern and eastern borders.

► Descriptive Essay – The Old Root Cellar

Our summer trips to Colorado seemed to take forever. I was an eager four-year-old child who couldn’t wait to get to my secret place. Every child has a special place

► Descriptive Essay – Our Mountain Cabin

The ruckus from the bottom of the truck is unbearable, because of the noise and excessive shaking. As we slowly climbed the mountain road to reach our lovely cabin, it seemed almost impossible to reach the top, but every time we reached it safely.

► Descriptive Essay – College Dorm Room

As I lifted my head, I was greeted by at least fifty naked models, all in various X-rated positions, each eyeing me with an expression that suggested nothing but lust and desire.

► Descriptive Essay Example: The Football Field

The wheels on the bus went round and round, all the way to Paonia. The ten-mile trip seemed to last forever. Whoosh, Whoosh was the only sound could be heard as the wheels ran through the new rain puddles that were created earlier that day.

► Descriptive Essay – The Wrestling Room

As I sit here with my eyes closed, I imagine a tropical breeze. The warm wet air slides over my face. The humidity seems almost heavy enough to crush me. As I take a deep breath, the realization that this is no tropical air comes crashing in. 

► Descriptive Essay: A Beautiful Place

I think we all have a beautiful place in our mind. I have a wonderful place that made me happy a lot of times, years ago. But sometimes I think that I am the only person who likes this place and I’m asking myself if this place will be as beautiful as I thought when I will go back to visit it again. 

► Descriptive Essay: A Healing Place

In my hometown, there is not much to do on any night of the week, so many nights I found myself walking around town with my friends. After walking an hour of so we would often become tired and need a rest. 

► Descriptive Essay Example: The Photo

This picture, probably the only one in existence of all my friends together, has more meaning than it seems. At first, it appears to be nothing more than a happy congregation of teenagers, all from the ages of fifteen to sixteen.

► Descriptive Essay: A Beautiful Paradise

The other night I was sitting by the blazing fire eating a juicy orange, and the sweet smell reminded me of my vacations to Florida over winter break. I will never forget the fresh smell of the air when we stepped off the airplane.

► Descriptive Essay – New York City in the Morning

A violin song pulls us out of sleep, dreams of trains and pineapples, like a silk rope. He notices the morning light come to the wall. In the city we left only a few days ago, we learned about waking up before dawn, not to the light, but to the stirring that moves the blood in our thighs and hands.

► Descriptive Essay – The Interesting Bus Ride Home

When most people think about an eventful or memorable place, they almost certainly would not picture a bus. As we all know, buses are not exactly attractive. The design scheme is the same in almost every bus

► Descriptive Essay: Lou’s Place

It is years later and I can still remember my first visit to Lou’s Cafe. Stopping in to see if anyone could tell us where to locate the turn we had missed, my dad and I received a large dose of culture shock. It seemed as if we had opened the door to a place where time stood still.

► Descriptive Essay: The Courthouse

When we are young, most of us are somewhat naive. We are inherently taught that
good will always triumph over evil. A courthouse is the forum where evil should
be dealt with. But, in reality, this is seldom the case.

► Descriptive Essay: The Arena

Standing here, in this arena that’s larger than five of my houses, I feel like a needle in a haystack.  So many people surround me it’s like I’m a little grain of sand in a huge ocean.  The people in the round gymnasium all form a crimson, white, and blue rainbow.  

► Descriptive Essay: Grandpa’s Place

I know to take one last breath of fresh, clean air before I open the front screen door and then the faded, chipped white wood door. I walk in, and the blend of the aroma of apples and old people suffocates me.

► Descriptive Essay about Sunset Beach

Ever since Sunset Beach has been officially opened to the public, there has been a drastic increase of tourists present. Television programs concluded that at least a thousand people visit the beach everyday.

► Descriptive Representation Of The American Democracy Essay

Citizens of the United States rely heavily on their representatives to ensure that their concerns are heard, as well as that their needs are met. Descriptive and agency representation are two types of representation. 

► Descriptive Essays – The Good Old Truck

My dad bought his red Dodge Dakota truck in 1995. When he got the truck it had already hit a deer and two cows. Since he has owned it, its value has gone down considerably, even though he has spent more money fixing it than he paid for it.

► Descriptive Essay – The Local Golf Course

Our town is notable for having several interesting golf courses. For those residents whose interests lie in other pursuits, those courses are a waste of large quantities of otherwise useful space that could be better used to construct another mall or store.

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