This could be something as simple as your favorite flavor of ice cream or as complicated as the politics of 13th century Vienna. Different than a simple description, a descriptive essay allows the writer to really show off both their imagination as well as their writing skills.
What is a Descriptive Essay?
A descriptive essay is a type of academic writing that asks the writer to fully describe a place, person, situation, event, or thing. They can be simple or they can be very complex depending on the subject matter and audience written for. These types of essays train a writer’s ability to express themselves accurately as well as build compelling sentences and arguments.
Descriptive Essay Ideas
There is no exhaustive list of things that can be described, but these are some of the most common things you may be asked to write about.
A Location - The goal of writing about a place is to make the reader feel as if they are there. Words, similes, and metaphors that ignite the reader’s imagination are essential. Try and immerse the reader in the sights, smells, and sounds of the place you are describing. Examples could be a city, a view, a particular building like your house, etc.
A Time Period - Similar to writing about a location, the goal is to make the reader lose themselves in the time you are describing. This requires great research to be able to describe physical characteristics as authentically and as well as possible. This could include how you felt a year ago, an ancient time period, or the future.
An Event - The goal of describing an event is to explain a series of interesting circumstances. Typical storytelling elements like describing the plot, setting, and characters are useful, but make sure you focus on the chain of events.
An Emotion - The goal of describing an emotion is to make the reader feel the sentiments of the character you are describing. Metaphors and similes are very useful when trying to evoke an emotion in a reader along with physical descriptions that express the emotion.
A Person - The goal of writing about a person is to make the reader understand something about that person. This includes physical descriptions of what they look like, what kind of clothing they wear, a sense of the physical presence along with their profession, as well as how they behave.
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Descriptive Essay Outline and Structure
Though a descriptive type of essay is quite different from a typical academic paper, it still follows a classic 5 paragraph format. Always follow any directions though, sometimes you may need more or fewer body paragraphs. This is a general structure you should keep in mind for this type of essay.
- Introduction/background information
- Topic Sentence
- Sensory Information
- Physical Descriptions
- Transition Sentence
- Summary of the main points
- Restate the thesis
An outline is always a good idea for any kind of writing, but it is particularly useful for this type of essay because it collects your thoughts and makes sure your essay stays on track.
- Hook - The sting of salty water, the hypnotic crash of the waves, the breathtaking sunsets, the best vacation spot?
- Background information - Everyone is different and everyone likes different types of things. When it comes to vacations though, there is a place that almost everyone enjoys.
- Thesis - In my opinion, the beach is the best possible vacation spot because of the variety of ways one can enjoy it.
Body Paragraph 1
- Topic Sentence - The beach has many kinds of natural beauty
- Sensory information - The unlimited expanse of the ocean combined with glorious sunrises and sunsets.
- Physical descriptions -The crunch of sand below your bare feet and the crash of waves on your body.
- Transition sentence - There’s more than just natural beauty though, there are physical activities to enjoy as well
Body Paragraph 2
- Topic Sentence - The beach has unlimited activities for physical enjoyment.
- Sensory information - The thrill of battling with the ocean, the joy of falling on the sand, the wind streaming through your hair, and the pleasant tingling of the sun on bare skin.
- Physical descriptions - Water sports like surfing, jet skiing, and the like allow you to exercise in one of the most fun ways possible. Not to mention sports like frisbee, volleyball, beach soccer, and more.
- Transition sentence - If you just want to relax, the beach is perfect for that too!
Body Paragraph 3
- Topic Sentence - The beach is ideal just to relax, destress, and take it easy.
- Sensory information - To relax as you are massaged by either human hands or the sun is a pleasure. Lazing around might be frowned upon, but the beach is the ideal place to spend some time taking care of yourself and letting the stresses of the world melt away.
- Physical description - Whether it’s reading a book, or enjoying a refreshing beverage with umbrellas in it, you can get taken care of on the beach. Building sandcastles, painting, and meditating are other activities easily and freely enjoyed.
- Transition sentence - The beach has so much to offer.
- Summary of the main points - Whether it’s nature, physical exercise, or simple relaxation, the beach can offer all of that and more.
- Restate the thesis - That’s the main reason that a beach is the ideal vacation spot, it allows for diverse ways of having fun.
- Closing statement/Clincher - Think about the last time you went to the beach, don’t you want to go again?
What is the Purpose of a Descriptive Essay?
It should leave the reader with a clear idea of the topic of the essay. The goal is to explain things in a comprehensive and interesting way so that the information stays with the reader. Let’s go into the details of how to accomplish this.
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Writing Process & Descriptive Essay Examples
It may seem challenging to write a successful essay of this type, but if you follow the advice below, it will be a breeze.
How to Start a Descriptive Essay
Making sure you choose the right topic is the first hurdle to cross. A topic for a descriptive essay is vital because it is the main subject you will be writing about. Spend at least 20 minutes brainstorming different topic ideas and make sure you choose a topic that you know well.
Next, create an outline to better structure your thoughts and figure out the pieces of information you need to find out more about. The more time you spend creating a well-researched outline, the better your endpaper is going to be, and you’ll end up spending less time on actually writing the paper. Now you can move on the writing the descriptive essay introduction.
How to Write a Descriptive Essay Thesis
A thesis statement is the main argument you are trying to make in your paper. It is the main point you are trying to describe. A good thesis statement for descriptive essay is particular without being too brief. It should include not only just what the topic is, but also mention why the topic is important.
How to Write Body Paragraphs
You can have as many body paragraphs as you think are necessary to achieve the goal of describing something clearly. This means you could have just one body paragraph, the standard three, or more.
Start every paragraph with a topic sentence that explains what the main purpose of the paragraph is. Next fill in sensory details, describing the emotions before moving on to describing the actual physical details. End each body paragraph with a transition sentence that helps each paragraph flow into the other. Not only does this make your writing stronger, but it also helps you create an immersive experience.
How to Write the Conclusion
Summarize the main points of your essay and make sure that you reiterate the thesis statement. This reminds people of the point of your essay and ensures that when writing, you don’t stray too far from the point.
Descriptive Essay Format
There are 3 main formats of citation types for essays. Though the most common one is MLA, it is possible that you may have to use APA or Chicago Style citations.
MLA stands for Modern Language Association and is used primarily for the arts and humanities. MLA uses in-text parenthetical citation in the format of (Author, Page). The page at the end that contains all the sources is called the Works Cited page. The format of these entries is unique to MLA but is easy to make with a citation generator.
APA stands for American Psychological Association and is used mostly for the sciences and social sciences. APA uses in-text parenthetical citations in the format (Author, Date). The page at the end that contains all the sources is called the References section
Chicago Style is used primarily for Business, History, and the Fine Arts. In-text citation can be either as footnotes or parenthetical citation in the format (Author, Date). The page at the end that contains all the sources is called the Bibliography.
Most descriptive essays will follow the MLA style of citation, but if you need any more help, find a guide on Studyfy.com for more information about citation styles in general.
Descriptive Essay Topics
The topic is crucial, because all the research you do, and the entire paper, will specifically be about describing the topic. Here are some descriptive essay prompts to inspire you!
The person you’ve most admired in your life
A movie scene that made you feel strong emotions
The time period you would travel to if you had a time machine
Why a beach is better than the mountains for a vacation (or vice versa)
The taste of a drink when you are incredibly tired
An author that inspired you
Your favorite cuisine
The best place in the world to be by yourself
The best Christmas morning you’ve ever had
An accent that you really enjoy
A time when you wanted something so much it burned
Describe the day in the life of your favorite celebrity
The joy of escaping into a video game
What dancing means to you
A life philosophy you believe in
The feeling of holding a baby in our arms
The sound of crashing waves
Standing in front of a gorgeous view
A vacation that was meaningful
Why fireworks are magical
The first time you cosplayed
How it feels to listen to music that you hate
The best thing you have ever eaten in your life
What would it be like to live 100 years in the future
Why hearing people laugh is beautiful
A day in the life of your favorite animal
A strange superstition you believe in
The strangest person you’ve ever met
Your favorite tv show
Playing your favorite sport
What it’s like to be in love
Descriptive Essay Tips
Before we end, let’s go over some of the key points of information in this article.
- Use figurative language including metaphors and similes
- Use your senses
- Choose appropriate words
- Show don't tell
- Focus on specific details
- Spend time choosing the right topic
- Create a detailed outline
Not to do
- Forget about the purpose of the essay
- Submit your first draft
- Make it too complicated
- Ignore your audience
- Ignore any directions
To Wrap Up
This article covers all the main things you need to know to write a successful descriptive essay - a detailed descriptive essay definition, the general structure as well as a specific outline example, how to write the different parts of the essay, the three main citation styles, example topics, and some final tips to keep in mind. Sometimes you need a second pair of eyes to check and help you with your homework though. The professional writers, teachers, and tutors at Studyfy are there to make sure you do the best you can!