2.4 Description

[1]The Purpose of Description in Writing

Writers use description in writing to make sure that their audience is fully immersed in the words on the page. This typically requires the writer to describe his or her world through the use of sensory details.

As mentioned earlier in this chapter, sensory details are descriptions that appeal to our sense of sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. Your descriptions should try to focus on the five senses because we all rely on at least one or more of these senses to experience the world. The use of sensory details, then, provides you the greatest possibility of relating to your audience and thus engaging them in your writing, making descriptive writing important not only during your education but also during everyday situations.

Tip

Avoid empty descriptors. Empty descriptors are adjectives that are vague and oftentimes are solely dependent on how the reader defines that term. Remember that words have both a connotative and denotative meaning. You need to consider both when deciding which words (specifically modifiers) you want to use to explain your argument/idea to your readers. Good, beautiful, terrific, and nice are examples of words that have specific dictionary definitions, but are most often used via their connotation which is the feeling those words carry. Because connotation is based primarily on the feeling a word carries, words can be subjective to the reader and when used hapazadly can lead to misreads and confusion.

Example: A good day, for instance, can mean different things depending on one’s age, personality, or tastes.

Writing beyond College

Whether you are presenting a new product or service to a client, training new employees, or brainstorming ideas with colleagues, the use of clear, evocative detail is crucial. Make an effort to use details that express your thoughts in a way that will register with others. Sharp, concise details are always impressive.

Exercise 1

On a separate sheet of paper, describe the following five items in a short paragraph. Use at least three of the five senses for each description.

  1. Night
  2. Beach
  3. City
  4. Dinner
  5. Stranger

The Structure of a Description Essay

Description essays typically describe a person, a place, or an object using sensory details. The structure of a descriptive essay is more flexible than in some of the other rhetorical modes. The introduction of a description essay should set up the tone and point of the essay. The thesis should convey the writer’s overall impression of the person, place, or object that will be further described in the body paragraphs.

The organization of the essay may follow spatial order, an arrangement of ideas according to physical characteristics or appearance. Depending on what the writer describes, the organization could move from top to bottom, left to right, near to far, warm to cold, frightening to inviting, and so on.

For example, if the subject were a client’s kitchen undergoing renovation, you might start at one side of the room and move slowly across to the other end, describing appliances, cabinetry, and so on. Or you might choose to start with older remnants of the kitchen and progress to the new installations.

Exercise 2

On a separate sheet of paper, choose an organizing strategy and then execute it in a short paragraph for three of the following six items:

  1. Train station
  2. Your office
  3. Your car
  4. A coffee shop
  5. Lobby of a movie theater

Practicing Peer Review

Share your work with a classmate and compare your thoughts on the descriptions. Did your classmate correctly understand your deescriptios? Essentially, were they able to describe back to you what you intended them to visualize using yoru descriptive language? If not, how could you provide more detail to describe it and lead them to the correct conclusion?

Writing a Description Essay

Choosing a subject is the first step in writing a description essay. Once you have chosen the person, place, or object you want to describe, your challenge is to write an effective thesis statement to guide your essay.

The remainder of your essay describes your subject in a way that best expresses your thesis. Remember, you should have a strong sense of how you will organize your essay. Choose a strategy and stick to it. Every part of your essay should use vivid sensory details. The more you can appeal to your readers’ senses, the more they will be engaged in your essay.

Key Takeaways

  • Description essays should describe something vividly to the reader using strong sensory details.
  • Sensory details appeal to the five human senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch.
  • A description essay should start with the writer’s main impression of a person, a place, or an object.
  • Use spatial order to organize your descriptive writing.

  1. 2.4 (except where otherwise noted) was borrowed with edits and additions from Writing for Success which was adapted from a work produced and distributed under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-SA) in 2011 by a publisher who has requested that they and the original author not receive attribution. This adapted edition is produced by the University of Minnesota Libraries Publishing.

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