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DESCRIPTIVE ESSAY

Dr. Sharon Gerald, English Composition I

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Sharon Gerald

Gerald, English Composition I Photos by Sharon Gerald Descriptive Essay Assignment Write a descriptive essay about

Descriptive Essay Assignment

Write a descriptive essay about a place that is meaningful to you. The essay should be at least 5 paragraphs and at least 600 words.

Sample Topics

A room in the house you grew up in

A room in your grandparents’ house

A favorite hangout

A 6ishing spot

A hunting spot

A camping spot

A playground

A child’s clubhouse

A train depot

An airport

A casino

A nightclub

A park

A 6lea market

A fair

A stadium

A farmer’s market

A family garden

A nature preserve

A nature trail

A library or bookstore

A Little League park

A town square or main strip

A workshop

A church

A classroom

A neighborhood street

An animal shelter

A storm shelter

A disaster zone

A beauty shop

A coffee shop

A laundromat

A food court

A restaurant

The lobby of a dorm

An art gallery

A museum

An antique store or secondhand shop

A beach

A farm

Tips for Descriptive Writing

Appeal to the senses . What are the sights, smells, sounds, tastes, textures, shapes, and colors in the setting you are describing? People experience life through the senses, and they will get a much clearer and much more memorable picture from your writing if it is packed full of sensory information. Don’t just say, “My mother always served chocolate cake on Sundays.” Instead, say, “My mother’s standard Sunday cakes were so richly chocolate and so moist that I felt like I was drinking pure Hershey’s syrup with every bite.”

Pay attention to detail . The more speci6ic you make your descriptions, the better. Don’t just say, “The church choir sang.” Instead, say, “The church choir swayed back and forth in their dark green robes and raised their hands above their heads as they nearly blew the roof off the sanctuary with their thunderous rendition of ‘I Sing Because I’m Happy.’” Don’t just say, “I ate an M&M cookie.” Instead, say, “The cookie I ate for an afternoon snack was the size of the palm of my hand and the color of my skin in midsummer. I counted 6ive M&Ms in it, two brown, one green, one red, and one yellow.”

Emphasize the unique . What’s different about the scene you are describing? What makes this place different from any other? Are there still marks on the bricks around the 6ireplace where

you wrote on them with a Sharpie as a child? Does your grandmother still get the place mats out that you made for her when you were in kindergarten? How about the Santa Claus that you made out of a toilet paper roll and red construction paper? Does any of this embarrass you? If so, it is exactly what you need to describe in your essay. Unique is memorable, and you want people to remember what you have to say. Use simile and metaphor . Simile and metaphor are types of 6igurative language in which one thing is compared to another and/or one thing is used to represent another. This can be crucial to describing things that might not be familiar to your audience. For example, if you want to describe a campus bell tower to someone who hasn’t seen it, you might say, “The bell tower shoots into the sky like the tallest tree in a forest of only the one lonely tree.” The bell tower might not literally look like a tree, but the simile helps the reader to imagine the height of the tower. This isn’t an exact measurement, of course, and different readers might imagine different heights, but it still creates a picture and makes an impression. Being 6igurative rather than literal is often called for in descriptive writing.

a picture and makes an impression. Being 6igurative rather than literal is often called for in
a picture and makes an impression. Being 6igurative rather than literal is often called for in
a picture and makes an impression. Being 6igurative rather than literal is often called for in

Tips for Descriptive Writing (continued from previous page)

Tips for Descriptive Writing (continued from previous page) • Use hyperbole . Hyperbole is another type

Use hyperbole . Hyperbole is another type of 6igurative language in which the size or signi6icance of something is blown out of proportion. For example, “I just ate a hamburger the size of Texas” is hyperbole. We all know no one literally ate a hamburger the size of any state, but the hyperbole provides a more imagistic and therefore more memorable way of saying “it was big.” Never simply say “it was big” when it could be “the size of the Empire State Building” or “deep enough to make the Grand Canyon look shallow.”

Use personi@ication . Is the sky sad? Is the kitchen lonely? Is the car hopeful? Is the road restless? These are all examples of personi6ication, or giving human characteristics, motivations, or feelings to inanimate objects. Personi6ication is another 6igurative way to help the reader picture the scene you are describing.

Avoid clichés . Do use 6igurative language, but try to make it your own. Avoid using the standard 6igures of speech, like “old as the hills” or “like a 6ish to water” or “a diamond in the rough.” Play with the language and come up with your own comparisons.

Paint a picture with your words . Regardless of what techniques you use in description, the ultimate goal is to help people picture what you want them to picture using only words. Use the words that put others right there at the scene,

seeing what you are seeing, smelling what you are smelling, and feeling what you are feeling.

Follow a logical order . Narrative essays often follow a chronological order, but unless descriptive essays are about events, they will most likely be organized spatially. They might move from left to right across the scene. They might move from big to little or vice versa. They might move from obvious to subtle. Another technique might be to describe something sense‐by‐sense—the sights and then the sounds and then the smells, and so on. Regardless of which option you choose, pick a plan for ordering your descriptions. Understand why you have picked that plan. Then stick to it. Don’t jump around or just ramble. Help the reader understand why you are drawing attention to 6irst one detail and then another.

Attach emotional signi@icance to the descriptions . Your descriptions need to be meaningful, and one good way to make them meaningful is to use them to evoke emotions. That coffee can that was always full of bacon grease on your grandmother’s kitchen counter is just a coffee can until we understand that it reminds you of simpler and happier times and people you wish you had appreciated more while you had them in your life. Don’t just tell us there was a coffee can. Tell us why the coffee can matters.

Make your purpose clear . If you want people to 6ind your descriptions useful, you need to know why you are writing them. What’s the point of telling others about the sandbar at the creek where your dog caught a snake, and you got sunburn so bad it was on the top of your feet and the top of your scalp too? Maybe it is a precautionary tale about sunblock, or maybe it is making a point that we aren’t as prepared as we should be for forays into the forest because our day‐to‐day lives are too disconnected from nature. Whatever the point is, make it clear. Who are your descriptions for? Why does this audience need to read them?

Have fun! Your reader is a lot more likely to enjoy your writing if you enjoy it too. Play around. Amuse yourself. Impress yourself. Write what you want to read.

Organizing the Essay

A descriptive essay should be organized just like any essay, with an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. For this assignment, you will be required to have at least three body paragraphs.

Follow these guidelines for each paragraph:

Introduction (Paragraph 1):

The introduction should start with a hook or an attention grabber. It should establish a sense of audience and purpose, and it should have a thesis statement that sets up a main point.

Start by telling a little bit of back story or describing a very particular item that draws us into the scene. Let us know why we should be interested. Tell us the main idea that you want to get across.

Body (Paragraphs 2‐4): The body paragraphs will contain the bulk of your descriptions. Make sure each body paragraph

the bulk of your descriptions. Make sure each body paragraph is focused on getting across a
the bulk of your descriptions. Make sure each body paragraph is focused on getting across a

is focused on getting across a particular idea in addition to particular descriptions, but go easy on the explanations and save most of your words for the descriptions. Give us sensory detail. Make us feel like we are there.

You can move in a spatial order in the body paragraphs, or you can divide them up sense‐by‐ sense or idea‐by‐idea. Just make

sure that you do have a plan for grouping like descriptions together in your body paragraphs.

Conclusion (Paragraph 5): The conclusion should reiterate the thesis in new words. It should remind us of the purpose of the essay. It should also leave us with something to think about and with one last image to remember.

to think about and with one last image to remember. When is descriptive writing used in
to think about and with one last image to remember. When is descriptive writing used in

When is descriptive writing used in real life?

Descriptive writing is used in many real life and on‐the‐job contexts as well as many academic contexts. Here are just a few examples:

As part of narrative writing and storytelling

For reporting on events

For reporting on and promoting products

For preserving memories

For preserving history

For recording scienti6ic observations