A descriptive essay is a text that presents a detailed image of a person, place, or thing. This is done through the use of descriptive language—adjectives and adverbs—and the incorporation of images that incorporate several of the body's senses. A descriptive essay is typically a form of personal writing because it presents its description through the perception of a single person—typically the writer. However, a descriptive essay differs from a personal essay because its main focus is on describing a
person or thing, not on telling a story.
The point of a descriptive essay is to present a specific image in the reader's mind—to allow the reader to see a scene or thing as the writer does. To do this, a writer must be very precise and detailed. For instance, if a writer were describing a barn, he would not simply say the barn is red. He would describe the exact color of that red—rust-colored in the shadows, cherry red where the sun hits it, both set off by the gleaming white door.
An integral aspect of descriptive essay writing is the order in which the writer chooses to describe a thing or scene. For instance, if the writer were describing a person, that description should not begin with what the person is wearing, because that is not what a person would notice first. When describing a person, it might be best to first indicate the age and sex of the person before commenting on his or her clothes. That way, the image is built from general to specific, which is easier for the mind's eye to imagine.
Descriptive essays depend not only on precision and a general-to-specific order, but also on the scope and quality of the descriptions. A sophisticated descriptive essay will attempt to incorporate as many senses as possible in order to present the most complete form of the entity being described. For instance, if the descriptive essay were describing a field in summer, it would comment on the intense light, the heat from the sun, the smell of the freshly-mowed grass, and the sound of the cicadas in the trees. That way, the reader can truly transport him or herself to that field and experience it with the writer, as the writer has painted it.
The quality of the descriptions figures significantly in descriptive essays. Avoid using clichÃ©s, because they are difficult to imagine. For instance, to describe the old barn above as "old as dirt" doesn't give the reader an image. Stick to precise, inventive language, and say "the barn is so old it leans to one side as if the other side were tired."
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