Guide to Writing a Good Descriptive Essay

A descriptive essay, more so than most other genres of essay, strives to provide the reader with a very vivid and engaging experience. The most successful essays of this type achieve this goal with the use of detailed descriptions and keen observation rather than using statistics and factual information.  

What will You Describe?

When you begin writing your essay, it is essential to first identify what you will be describing, and you need to be very exact about this. Descriptive essays often focus on describing:  

  • An individual
  • Some place or other
  • An item or object
  • A memorable experience
  • A vivid memory

Essentially, you can describe anything you feel, experience, or perceive in this type of essay. 

What Is the Purpose of Your Essay?

An effective way to approach a descriptive essay is to be creative and just describe something you see or observe. Nonetheless, there is usually a specific reason for writing this genre of essay. Understanding what this reason is a good way of helping you focus on what you are describing and enhancing your language with a distinct emotion or perspective.

Here is an example: Let us say a writer wants to describe their grandmother. They have decided to describe what their grandmother looks like i.e. her physical traits and how she interacts with other people. Now, rather than describing these traits in a general way, the writer wants to express his or her admiration for this person’s kindness and strength of character. So, this is their reason for wanting to write this essay. In order to achieve their goal, the writer may want to devote one paragraph to describing their grandmother’s aging hands, hands that have become worn from hard work and caring for others, but they may also want to describe how she can still use these hands to great effect when a demanding task requires it.  

How to Begin Creating an Effective Description

Look at the two examples below:

  • She became tired after her dinner.
  • As she inclined backwards and propped her head against the back of her chair, her eyes started feeling heavy, and the white plate on the table before her starting fusing with the white of the tablecloth. 

The reader learns from the opening sentence here that the subject of the story becomes tired after her dinner because you have told them so. The next sentence shows that the subject became tired. The best descriptions are laden with words that “show” because these help the reader to experience or imagine the scene in their own minds.

Using one or more of the five human senses is the most effective way to develop a vivid and memorable experience for readers. These senses are:

  • Sight
  • Smell
  • Sound
  • Taste
  • Touch

By using these senses in a description, the writer is providing specific and vivid details to show their readers something rather than telling them about something.  

Useful Tips for Descriptive Essay Writing

The experience of writing in a descriptive way can be rich, rewarding, and satisfying. However, it also has the potential to feel a little complicated. Therefore, it may help to maintain a list of key questions to ask yourself when planning, drafting and revising a descriptive essay.

Planning Stage Questions

  • Who or what do you wish to describe?
  • For what purpose are you writing this description?
  • What specific qualities should you focus your writing on?

Draft Stage Questions

  • Which sights, smells, sounds, textures, and tastes are needed to develop the description you want to create?
  • What details would be most effective for creating a vivid and memorable impression for readers and to convey your own perspective and emotion?

Revision Stage Questions

  • Do you think you have been sufficiently descriptive and provided sufficient details to enable readers to get a full and vivid picture?
  • Has any small but vital detail been omitted?
  • Do your descriptions contain any unnecessary or surplus details?
  • Do the words you have chosen properly convey your perspective and/or emotion?
  • Have you ordered your paragraphs as effectively as possible?
  • Have you focused each individual paragraph on a single description or one aspect of your overall description?