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Descriptive essays teach students the basics of writing and self-expression. Depending on your line of work and your writing goals, you may continue writing descriptive essays well into your professional career.

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What Is a Descriptive Essay?

A descriptive essay offers a vivid description of a particular subject. Good descriptive writing can take the form of newspaper articles, book reports, research papers, accounts of a single event, travelogues, and memoirs of a personal experience.

What Is the Purpose of a Descriptive Essay?

Descriptive essays give readers a more robust understanding of a particular topic by fleshing it out with concrete details and figurative language. After reading a descriptive essay, you should walk away with a clear picture of the subject at hand, whether it’s a historical episode, a geographic location, or a work of art. Descriptive essays also benefit the person writing them. Whether the subject of your essay is something personal, like your favorite movie or favorite food, or something of cultural importance, this type of essay is fundamental to learning the art of descriptive writing.

How to Write a Descriptive Essay

The best descriptive essays are organized, full of detail and sensory language, and focused more on fact than opinion. The writing tips below can provide a step-by-step template for writing descriptive essays.

  1. Choose a specific topic. Strong descriptive essays remain focused at all times. Settle on the purpose of the essay before you begin outlining or writing. It may be appropriate to summarize your main idea in a thesis statement. In these types of essays, a good thesis statement is less about your personal point of view and more about pointing toward the information that should make the dominant impression in your reader's mind.
  2. Compile information. The best descriptive essays are full of detail—names, dates, physical characteristics, background information, and sensory information that can help implant your main points in your reader's mind. Collect these details, and then use note cards to group them into specific categories of information that you can pull up as needed.
  3. Make an outline. Your descriptive writing must be organized. Group your main points into individual body paragraphs, each of which should be a subcategory of your essay's main topic.
  4. Write the introductory paragraph. A good introductory paragraph can be a road map for your entire essay. The best introductions start with a hook like a rhetorical question or a bold statement. After your hook, provide global context and outline questions that your essay will seek to tackle. Your thesis statement should come at the end of the introduction.
  5. Write body paragraphs. Each body paragraph should begin with a topic sentence that anchors the reader's attention and tells them what to expect from the paragraph. Parse out details in each body paragraph. Be as specific as possible without overwhelming your reader with information. Specific examples always make more of an impression than generalizations.
  6. Summarize the essay in the concluding paragraph. Your conclusion is the button on the entire essay. Use it to reiterate the main ideas you established in the first paragraph, and touch back on key details from body paragraphs. Do not use this paragraph to introduce new ideas for the first time. If you realize you still have important topics to include, create another body paragraph.
  7. Look for ways to enliven your language. Before you consider your essay complete, go through it and look for places where vivid sensory details might enhance a description. Look for opportunities to tell a story rather than recite lists. Descriptive language and literary tools will keep your essay in your reader's mind long after they've finished reading.
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