The Modes of Discourse—Exposition, Description, Narration, Argumentation (EDNA)—are common paper assignments you may encounter in your writing classes. Although these genres have been criticized by some composition scholars, the Purdue OWL recognizes the wide spread use of these approaches and students’ need to understand and produce them.
Contributors: Jack Baker, Allen Brizee, Elizabeth Angeli
Last Edited: 2013-03-10 01:34:44
What is a descriptive essay?
The descriptive essay is a genre of essay that asks the student to describe something—object, person, place, experience, emotion, situation, etc. This genre encourages the student’s ability to create a written account of a particular experience. What is more, this genre allows for a great deal of artistic freedom (the goal of which is to paint an image that is vivid and moving in the mind of the reader).
One might benefit from keeping in mind this simple maxim: If the reader is unable to clearly form an impression of the thing that you are describing, try, try again!
Here are some guidelines for writing a descriptive essay.
If your instructor asks you to describe your favorite food, make sure that you jot down some ideas before you begin describing it. For instance, if you choose pizza, you might start by writing down a few words: sauce, cheese, crust, pepperoni, sausage, spices, hot, melted, etc. Once you have written down some words, you can begin by compiling descriptive lists for each one.
- Use clear and concise language.
This means that words are chosen carefully, particularly for their relevancy in relation to that which you are intending to describe.
Why use horse when you can choose stallion? Why not use tempestuous instead of violent? Or why not miserly in place of cheap? Such choices form a firmer image in the mind of the reader and often times offer nuanced meanings that serve better one’s purpose.
Remember, if you are describing something, you need to be appealing to the senses of the reader. Explain how the thing smelled, felt, sounded, tasted, or looked. Embellish the moment with senses.
If you can describe emotions or feelings related to your topic, you will connect with the reader on a deeper level. Many have felt crushing loss in their lives, or ecstatic joy, or mild complacency. Tap into this emotional reservoir in order to achieve your full descriptive potential.
- Leave the reader with a clear impression.
One of your goals is to evoke a strong sense of familiarity and appreciation in the reader. If your reader can walk away from the essay craving the very pizza you just described, you are on your way to writing effective descriptive essays.
It is easy to fall into an incoherent rambling of emotions and senses when writing a descriptive essay. However, you must strive to present an organized and logical description if the reader is to come away from the essay with a cogent sense of what it is you are attempting to describe.
Some of the descriptive passages are evocative and powerful. Times, Sunday Times (2006)His descriptive language is deceptively simple and profoundly evocative. Times, Sunday Times (2010)The emphasis he places on the process of writing can be seen in the descriptive language he uses to recount his theory. The Times Literary Supplement (2010)Add to that, his descriptive powers of place. Times, Sunday Times (2015)He recorded telling descriptive details, noted sounds and smells and took photographs. Times, Sunday Times (2013)He merely had to mimicviableprocedures, and use the right descriptive language. The Times Literary Supplement (2008)I finddialoguequiteeasy but descriptive passages harder. The Sun (2016)The descriptive writing is bland. Times, Sunday Times (2012)Use descriptive language and details.Porush, David A Short Guide to Writing About Science (1995)In a language that invents descriptive terms with drunkenabandon, all food writerssuffer from the meagrecupboard of gastronomic terms. Times, Sunday Times (2015)In this I soon find that neither descriptive nor motivational language helps very much. Christianity Today (2000)That, in passing, produces some fine descriptive writing. Times, Sunday Times (2007)I have continued to use it because it is one of the few descriptive terms that has not been "redefined" in psychiatricdictionaries.Randolph, Theron G. & Moss, Ralph W. (contributor) An Alternative Approach to Allergies (1990)Gripping as this plot is, it is the descriptive detail that lifts the story from the run-of-the-mill. Times, Sunday Times (2007)When reading together, askquestions such as'What is the effect of having a long descriptive passage here? Times, Sunday Times (2012)The theme of sharedsecretmemoriesunfolds like a peeledonion, framed by descriptive passages of rural France as vivid as paintings. Times, Sunday Times (2007)From time to time one comes across a turn of phrase, a descriptive passage, a metaphor so apt that it rings like lead crystal. Times, Sunday Times (2010)