How to Write a Descriptive Essay

Descriptive Essay
Writing Guide

Thanks to YouTube, anybody can "visit" another country, or even outer space, at any time. Before the 20th century, however, most people relied on the experiences of others to learn about new places.

A descriptive essay is an excellent way to flex your creative writing muscles. The idea is to transport your reader somewhere new by using words alone. The ability to describe things clearly will serve you well in many careers, so let's write that essay.

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Step 1 - Organize Your Ideas and Prepare to Write

First, choose a topic that stands out in your mind. The more vivid your memory of a certain place is, the easier it will be for you to describe that place to others. Look through some old travel photos if you like and pick one that stands out.

Make a list of all the things that immediately pop into your head when you think of this place. Then dig deeper for the finer details and make a note of those too. The longer you make your list at this stage, the less you'll have to add to your paper.

Next, create a rough outline—nothing formal. Of course, you always want to include an introduction and conclusion. Include as many paragraphs in the body of your essay as you need to describe the place thoroughly and meet your assignment requirements.

Step 2 - Let Your Descriptors Flow Freely

Now, it's time to start writing. Many types of writing call for conciseness. But with a descriptive essay, you have more freedom to add adjectives, adverbs, and flowery phrases to convey a visual image.

It may be easier to begin with the body of the essay: the actual description. Close your eyes and remember this place with all five senses. Take your time. Do you recall:

  • the scent of charcoal in the air when you visited Haiti?
  • the sounds of birds at the shore?
  • the feel of the cold stones in those European castle walls?
  • the taste of the fresh fruit you bought from a street vendor in Mexico?
  • the look of the sun shining on the snow in the mountains?

Include as many senses as you can to give your reader the full picture. Use a thesaurus to find strong words.

When you're describing something, the more words you use, the better. Look at the following examples and notice the difference.

BEFORE: Many car horns sounded loudly at once.
AFTER: Like a gaggle of angry geese, the cars honked continuously until the irritating tones blended into a sort of white noise.

BEFORE: My treehouse was higher than the house I actually lived in.
AFTER: When I was in my treehouse, I could look down on my residence and pretend I was a king on his throne.

Generally, you'll want to start each paragraph with an overview of some aspect and then lay on more detail. Not every sentence has to sound like a line of poetry, but injecting some longer phrases and exciting language will captivate your audience.

Step 3 - Finish Your Essay and Polish it to Perfection

The last thing you need to do is add your introduction and conclusion. Be sure you explain why you've chosen this place to write about. End the paper with an explanation of how this place made an impact on you, whether you'll return, and so forth.

After you've written your draft, step away from the assignment and come back to it later. Read the essay with a fresh mind and see if it truly recreates that place you had in mind. Ask a friend to read your essay—but delete any specific references to the location. See if he or she can guess the place you're describing.

If your first effort doesn't do it, simply add more text or cut unnecessary words to tighten the picture. Remove cliches and slang, and be sure to explain any foreign words. Be sure your paper has a logical flow and isn't just a mishmash of random thoughts.

If you follow these guidelines, you'll be able to turn out an excellent descriptive essay in no time. You may even be inspired to do further creative writing—or plan another trip so you'll have a new place to write about!

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