• If you are citizen of an European Union member nation, you may not use this service unless you are at least 16 years old.

  • You already know Dokkio is an AI-powered assistant to organize & manage your digital files & messages. Very soon, Dokkio will support Outlook as well as One Drive. Check it out today!



Page history last edited by David King 12 years, 7 months ago




  • Is the act of capturing people, places, events, objects, and feelings in words so that a reader can visualize and respond to them
  • Suspends objects in time
  • In its pure form, does not contain action or time
  • Is a sensory experience
  • Is based on “showing” rather than telling
  • When the intent is to be objective, description is ...
    • characterized by impartial, precise, and emotionless tone
    • technical and specific
    • accurate, unbiased, and easily understandable
  • When the intent is to be subjective, description ...
    • produces a particular response in the reader
    • focuses on feelings rather than raw data


Reading and Writing Descriptive Essays:  All good descriptions share four fundamental qualities:

  • An accurate sense of audience and purpose
  • A clear vision of the object being described
  • A careful selection of detail that help communicate the author’s vision
  • A consistent point of view or perspective from which a writer composes


Introduction to Writing Descriptions:

from the Purdue University Online Writing Lab at http://owl.english.purdue.edu


Because description is a mode we use in many pieces of expository writing, we sometimes find difficulty in imagining a purely descriptive essay. In a narrative, for example, description can make the setting of characters more vivid; in a process paper it can insure that the audience understands the finished product. Regardless of how we use description, it is easy to see that it strengthens an essay considerably. 




  • Students often ask, “But how do I write a purely descriptive essay? What’s the point of description? What’s so different about it?” There are three characteristics of a purely descriptive essay which are worthy of remembering.  
  • A descriptive essay has one, clear dominant impression. If, for example you are describing a snowfall, it is important for you to decide and to let your reader know if it is threatening or lovely; in order to have a dominant impression it cannot be both. The dominant impression guides the author’s selection of detail and is thereby made clear to the reader in the thesis sentence.   
  • A descriptive essay can be objective or subjective, giving the author a wide choice of tone, diction, and attitude. For instance, an objective description of one’s dog would mention such facts as height, weight, coloring and so forth. A subjective description would include the above details, but would also stress the author’s feeling toward the dog, as well as its personality and habits. 
  • The purpose of a purely descriptive essay is to involve the reader enough so he or she can actually visualize the things being described. Therefore, it is important to use specific and concrete details. 




  • The descriptive essay relies on concrete, sensory detail to communicate its point. Remember, we have five senses; be sure to appeal to a few of them.
  • The author of a descriptive essay must carefully select details to support the dominant impression. In other words, the author has the license to omit details which are not in line with the dominant impression unless the dominant impression is one which points out the inconsistencies.  
  • Description very often relies on emotion to convey its point. Because of this, verbs, adverbs, and adjectives convey more to the reader than do nouns.  
  • Unless the description is objective, you must be sure that the dominant impression conveys an attitude. 




  • Try giving all the details first; the dominant impression then is built from these details.  
  • Check your details to be sure that they are consistent with the dominant impression. You might even want to write down the five senses on a scratch piece of paper and check to see that you have covered them all.  
  • Try moving your reader through space and time chronologically. For instance you might want to describe a train ride from start to destination, or a stream from its source to the point at which it joins the river.  
  • Use a then-and-now approach to show decay, change, or improvement. The house where you grew up might now be a rambling shack. The variations on this strategy are endless.  
  • Select an emotion and try to describe it. It might be more difficult to get started, but it can be worthwhile. 


Download this handout


Descriptive Texts to Analyze:  The Iguana; Once More to the Lake; Where Indian Children Used to Play


Sample Student Essays:  Songhua River; Lou's Place; The Old Fence


Comments (0)

You don't have permission to comment on this page.