Thursday, May 2, 2013

How to Write a Great Descriptive Essay

Descriptive writing is something that really shows skill in English. It uses lots of adjectives, specific words, and imagery to help get people to "see" what you are writing.

This post will not focus on the structure of the essay so much as the content of the essay.  For the structure, please check out this link.  These are some principles that will make your descriptive writing much better. The main principle here is to "show" the reader, not just to "tell" them.


Use Imagery - the 5 senses - What do you touch, taste, feel, hear, or smell?  If you can include 2-3 of these senses in each description you are doing a much better job of "showing" the reader something, rather than just telling them.

Bad Example:  The car was fast.
Good Example:  The bright red Ferrari Testarossa burned its tires and screeched down the road at a blazing speed and left a rubbery odor in the air.

The second example uses colors, sounds, and smells. Also, you can see how much easier it is to write more sentences with description than just "telling" the reader about your situation.



Be specific -  Avoid words like good, bad, tall, short, big, small, nice, pretty, etc.   Be sure to use a thesaurus to help you find more interesting synonyms that hold more meaning than the overused words that are above.

Bad example:  The nice boys did a good job.
Good example:  The friendly and jovial children did commendable work.

Here is a video on Being Specific. 

Use Figurative Language -  Sometimes the best way to describe something is to talk about something else. One way to do this is called figurative language. There are many forms of figurative language, but I will give you just a few example. Simile (comparing using "like" or "as", Metaphor "comparing without "like" or "as", Hyperbole (exaggeration), and Personification
( giving a non-human human-like qualities).  Check out my videos on the site for these forms of figurative language.


Bad example:  The man was slow.
Good example:  The man was like a turtle on a chilly morning.


Tips For Teachers:
  • Bring in pictures of different scenes and have students write descriptive about the pictures using the three principles above. 
  •  "Outlaw" boring words like "good, big, small, nice, etc." in student writing. 
  • Write a "boring" sentence/paragraph using "telling" rather than "showing," then have students rewrite the sentences to "show" much better. 
  • Create an exercise where students must use only pronouns to describe a target object/person to a partner without the other partner know the object. "It has..," "He is like....",  "It smells like..." and have students describe a target object to partner until they guess what it is through the descriptions of partners.  
  • Have students go to a busy place on campus or in the town your school is and describe in writing the scene around them.   (You can also include some grammar points in your assignment here, i.e. present progressive.)

I have found these principles to make writing much more fun and engaging for students overall, and I hope that you do too! Please let me know if you have any more good ideas for description!

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