Guide: How to write a descriptive essay

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  • Subject area(s): Types of essay
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  • Published on: December 6, 2019
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  • How to write a descriptive essay
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In a descriptive essay, the writer uses the five senses to describe something as vividly as possible for the reader. A descriptive essay may describe an object or it may overlap with another type of essay. For example, a descriptive essay may also be a narrative essay in which description is used in telling a story.

Vivid Language

The key to a successful descriptive essay is vivid language. Compare these two sentences and notice which one is more evocative:

It was windy out.

The wind whipped my hair around my face and burned my cheeks red and raw.

The second sentence doesn’t simply tell the reader it was windy but really describes how it felt to stand in the wind.

Some words are more descriptive than others. “Shuffled” and “sprinted” both tell more about how a person moved than “walked.”

Descriptive essays are also a good opportunity to use figurative language. Figurative language means tools like similes and metaphors in which something is described in comparison to something else. A simile uses the words “like” or “as” to make the comparison: Her eyes were green as the lily pads in the back garden. A metaphor drops “like” or “as” and makes a more literal comparison: The groups of children were little buzzing bee hives of activity.

Avoiding Cliché

When writing description and particularly in using figurative language, it’s important to avoid clichés. A cliché is simply an overused word or phrase. An example would be comparing something blue to the ocean or the sky. A good rule of thumb for a writer is that if it’s been heard or seen before, it’s best avoided.

Choosing the Right Details

In an effort to be as descriptive as possible, the writer must beware of a couple of pitfalls. The first is trying to describe too many things. Writing a descriptive essay is not just about including lots of details but choosing the right details. Thinking back on a day at the beach will produce many sensory memories, but trying to include too many of them will overwhelm both writer and reader. Generally, a few major details will stand out, and those are the ones that a writer should focus on for a descriptive essay.

Along similar lines, the writer should avoid wordiness and overwriting. “Enormous” is sufficient to describe something big; the reader does not need to be told the thing is also massive, huge and giant.

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