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  • How to write a descriptive essay | Example & tips

How to Write a Descriptive Essay | Example & Tips

Published on July 30, 2020 by Jack Caulfield . Revised on August 14, 2023.

A descriptive essay gives a vivid, detailed description of something—generally a place or object, but possibly something more abstract like an emotion. This type of essay , like the narrative essay , is more creative than most academic writing .

Table of contents

Descriptive essay topics, tips for writing descriptively, descriptive essay example, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about descriptive essays.

When you are assigned a descriptive essay, you’ll normally be given a specific prompt or choice of prompts. They will often ask you to describe something from your own experience.

  • Describe a place you love to spend time in.
  • Describe an object that has sentimental value for you.

You might also be asked to describe something outside your own experience, in which case you’ll have to use your imagination.

  • Describe the experience of a soldier in the trenches of World War I.
  • Describe what it might be like to live on another planet.

Sometimes you’ll be asked to describe something more abstract, like an emotion.

If you’re not given a specific prompt, try to think of something you feel confident describing in detail. Think of objects and places you know well, that provoke specific feelings or sensations, and that you can describe in an interesting way.

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what to write a descriptive paragraph about

The key to writing an effective descriptive essay is to find ways of bringing your subject to life for the reader. You’re not limited to providing a literal description as you would be in more formal essay types.

Make use of figurative language, sensory details, and strong word choices to create a memorable description.

Use figurative language

Figurative language consists of devices like metaphor and simile that use words in non-literal ways to create a memorable effect. This is essential in a descriptive essay; it’s what gives your writing its creative edge and makes your description unique.

Take the following description of a park.

This tells us something about the place, but it’s a bit too literal and not likely to be memorable.

If we want to make the description more likely to stick in the reader’s mind, we can use some figurative language.

Here we have used a simile to compare the park to a face and the trees to facial hair. This is memorable because it’s not what the reader expects; it makes them look at the park from a different angle.

You don’t have to fill every sentence with figurative language, but using these devices in an original way at various points throughout your essay will keep the reader engaged and convey your unique perspective on your subject.

Use your senses

Another key aspect of descriptive writing is the use of sensory details. This means referring not only to what something looks like, but also to smell, sound, touch, and taste.

Obviously not all senses will apply to every subject, but it’s always a good idea to explore what’s interesting about your subject beyond just what it looks like.

Even when your subject is more abstract, you might find a way to incorporate the senses more metaphorically, as in this descriptive essay about fear.

Choose the right words

Writing descriptively involves choosing your words carefully. The use of effective adjectives is important, but so is your choice of adverbs , verbs , and even nouns.

It’s easy to end up using clichéd phrases—“cold as ice,” “free as a bird”—but try to reflect further and make more precise, original word choices. Clichés provide conventional ways of describing things, but they don’t tell the reader anything about your unique perspective on what you’re describing.

Try looking over your sentences to find places where a different word would convey your impression more precisely or vividly. Using a thesaurus can help you find alternative word choices.

  • My cat runs across the garden quickly and jumps onto the fence to watch it from above.
  • My cat crosses the garden nimbly and leaps onto the fence to survey it from above.

However, exercise care in your choices; don’t just look for the most impressive-looking synonym you can find for every word. Overuse of a thesaurus can result in ridiculous sentences like this one:

  • My feline perambulates the allotment proficiently and capers atop the palisade to regard it from aloft.

An example of a short descriptive essay, written in response to the prompt “Describe a place you love to spend time in,” is shown below.

Hover over different parts of the text to see how a descriptive essay works.

On Sunday afternoons I like to spend my time in the garden behind my house. The garden is narrow but long, a corridor of green extending from the back of the house, and I sit on a lawn chair at the far end to read and relax. I am in my small peaceful paradise: the shade of the tree, the feel of the grass on my feet, the gentle activity of the fish in the pond beside me.

My cat crosses the garden nimbly and leaps onto the fence to survey it from above. From his perch he can watch over his little kingdom and keep an eye on the neighbours. He does this until the barking of next door’s dog scares him from his post and he bolts for the cat flap to govern from the safety of the kitchen.

With that, I am left alone with the fish, whose whole world is the pond by my feet. The fish explore the pond every day as if for the first time, prodding and inspecting every stone. I sometimes feel the same about sitting here in the garden; I know the place better than anyone, but whenever I return I still feel compelled to pay attention to all its details and novelties—a new bird perched in the tree, the growth of the grass, and the movement of the insects it shelters…

Sitting out in the garden, I feel serene. I feel at home. And yet I always feel there is more to discover. The bounds of my garden may be small, but there is a whole world contained within it, and it is one I will never get tired of inhabiting.

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The key difference is that a narrative essay is designed to tell a complete story, while a descriptive essay is meant to convey an intense description of a particular place, object, or concept.

Narrative and descriptive essays both allow you to write more personally and creatively than other kinds of essays , and similar writing skills can apply to both.

If you’re not given a specific prompt for your descriptive essay , think about places and objects you know well, that you can think of interesting ways to describe, or that have strong personal significance for you.

The best kind of object for a descriptive essay is one specific enough that you can describe its particular features in detail—don’t choose something too vague or general.

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Descriptive Essays

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The Modes of Discourse—Exposition, Description, Narration, Argumentation (EDNA)—are common paper assignments you may encounter in your writing classes. Although these genres have been criticized by some composition scholars, the Purdue OWL recognizes the wide spread use of these approaches and students’ need to understand and produce them.

What is a descriptive essay?

The descriptive essay is a genre of essay that asks the student to describe something—object, person, place, experience, emotion, situation, etc. This genre encourages the student’s ability to create a written account of a particular experience. What is more, this genre allows for a great deal of artistic freedom (the goal of which is to paint an image that is vivid and moving in the mind of the reader).

One might benefit from keeping in mind this simple maxim: If the reader is unable to clearly form an impression of the thing that you are describing, try, try again!

Here are some guidelines for writing a descriptive essay.

  • Take time to brainstorm

If your instructor asks you to describe your favorite food, make sure that you jot down some ideas before you begin describing it. For instance, if you choose pizza, you might start by writing down a few words: sauce, cheese, crust, pepperoni, sausage, spices, hot, melted, etc. Once you have written down some words, you can begin by compiling descriptive lists for each one.

  • Use clear and concise language.

This means that words are chosen carefully, particularly for their relevancy in relation to that which you are intending to describe.

  • Choose vivid language.

Why use horse when you can choose stallion ? Why not use tempestuous instead of violent ? Or why not miserly in place of cheap ? Such choices form a firmer image in the mind of the reader and often times offer nuanced meanings that serve better one’s purpose.

  • Use your senses!

Remember, if you are describing something, you need to be appealing to the senses of the reader. Explain how the thing smelled, felt, sounded, tasted, or looked. Embellish the moment with senses.

  • What were you thinking?!

If you can describe emotions or feelings related to your topic, you will connect with the reader on a deeper level. Many have felt crushing loss in their lives, or ecstatic joy, or mild complacency. Tap into this emotional reservoir in order to achieve your full descriptive potential.

  • Leave the reader with a clear impression.

One of your goals is to evoke a strong sense of familiarity and appreciation in the reader. If your reader can walk away from the essay craving the very pizza you just described, you are on your way to writing effective descriptive essays.

  • Be organized!

It is easy to fall into an incoherent rambling of emotions and senses when writing a descriptive essay. However, you must strive to present an organized and logical description if the reader is to come away from the essay with a cogent sense of what it is you are attempting to describe.

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Chapter 3: Paragraph Structure

3.1 Descriptive Paragraphs

Learning Objectives

  • Understand and utilize the descriptive language associated with the five senses.
  • Conceptualize the difference between showing the reader and telling the reader.
  • Identify the different types of descriptive paragraphs: person, place, object, and event.
  • Describe a person, a place, an object, or an event adequately and concisely.
  • Master the organizational schemes associated with descriptive paragraphs.
  • Indicate in writing the significance of a person, place, object, and event.

A descriptive paragraph provides a vibrant experience for the reader through vivid language and descriptions of something. Unlike narrative paragraphs, which must include personal thoughts, feelings, and growth, descriptive paragraphs do not need to be personal in nature. Instead, descriptive paragraphs must focus on vividly and objectively describing something to the reader. In order to provide this vivid detail, the writer must use language that appeals to the reader’s five senses: sight, smell, sound, taste, and touch. To appeal to these senses, the writer must use descriptive language, usually in the form of adjectives, that describes the sensations felt by the senses. For instance, examine the differences between the descriptions below:

Sentence 1 : The tree was tall and green. Sentence 2 : The soft and damp pink flowers of the dogwood tree smelled sweet in the cool spring air as the wind whistled through its yellow-green leaves.

How do these descriptions compare? If these two sentences both describe the same tree, which sentence provides a better picture for the reader? Why?

While the first description does provide some detail (that the tree is both “tall” and “green”), it does not help the reader picture the tree. Saying that the tree is “tall” and “green” does not help separate the tree being described from any other tree. The second sentence, however, provides the reader with descriptive information that makes the tree unique. Unlike the writer of the first sentence, who only vaguely describes how the tree looked, the writer of the second sentence appeals to at least four of the reader’s five senses. This writer describes how the tree feels (soft and damp), how the tree smells (sweet), how the tree sounds (it whistles), and how the tree looks (pink and yellow-green). Through these descriptions, the reader can see, hear, feel, and smell the tree while reading the sentence. However, in some instances, not all of the senses will be applicable for the description. In this case, most descriptions of trees would not include a sense of how the tree tasted, especially when so many trees are inedible or poisonous!

Providing good details in a descriptive paragraph also rests on the idea that a writer must show and not tell the reader. While good details in a paragraph are important, the most essential part of a descriptive paragraph is the reason for writing the paragraph. Since descriptive paragraphs should explain to the reader the importance of what is being described, in addition to helping the reader picture it, the author must show the reader how and why something is significant rather than simply telling the reader. A good writer helps the reader picture what they are describing; however, a better writer shows the reader the purpose or reason for describing something. Consider the differences between the sentences below:

Example 1 : Ever since grade school, I have always been nervous during tests. Example 2 : Staring blankly at my exam, I tapped my pencil rapidly on the side of my desk and desperately tried to focus. Mustering up some courage, I wrote an answer to the second question. Just as quickly, I erased the answer frantically, not wanting to leave a trace of it on the blank white paper. As the teacher announced that time was almost up, I remembered the taunt of my evil grade-school teacher: “You’ll never pass this test. Just give up already.” The memory of her words paralyzed my mind. Even more panic-stricken than before, I stared wildly at my blank test, trying to remember what the teacher had said in class last week or what I had read in the textbook.

While the first example does not explain how the narrator is nervous, it also fails to show why this nervousness is important. Ultimately, the first example tells and does not show the reader how the narrator is nervous or why this reaction is important. Meanwhile, the second example not only shows how the narrator expresses this nervousness (tapping the pencil on the desk, erasing answers, etc.), it begins to show why this is significant by relating it to earlier experiences in the narrator’s life. Through this connection, the writer is beginning to develop the description and the importance of the test-taking nervousness. The second example describes the experiences from grade school that led to this current bout of test-taking anxiety.

By showing and not telling the reader and by using descriptive language that appeals to the five senses, descriptive paragraphs provide the reader with a detailed account and the significance of something. Thus, this something being described is the most important aspect of the descriptive paragraph. Generally, descriptive paragraphs describe one of four somethings: a person, a place, an object, or an event.

Like any other descriptive paragraph, the most important aspect of a person paragraph is the reason for writing it. Have you ever read a book or article for school wondering what the point is? Perhaps even feeling disinterested because of what you felt was a lack of point or reason for reading or even writing the book, poem, article, etc.? Essentially, the same can be true for your own paragraphs if you do not write with a purpose. In choosing the person you want to write about, you have a reason for the choice you have made. It is your job as the writer to show the reader your point. Why have you chosen this person instead of another? What makes them interesting? You must draw your readers into your paragraph just as every other author draws their readers into their work, even if your only audience is your instructor. Remember, instructors do not like reading pointless writing any more than you do!

Thus, whenever writing a descriptive paragraph about a person, you must ask yourself: Why did I choose this person? What makes this person special? Is it a memory? Which of this person’s characteristics has inspired me to write about them? In answering these questions, you not only find the reason or purpose for writing your paragraph, but you also inadvertently discover how to format your paragraph as well. Generally, paragraphs can be formatted in a number of different ways. The formatting of a paragraph rests almost entirely on what you are trying to do or say within your writing. For instance, let us consider the answer to some of the questions provided above.

Imagine that you have decided to write your descriptive paragraph about your aunt because you spent your summers with her when you were younger. Let’s say that, during one of your visits, she taught you how to swim in the lake behind her house, and this is one of the fondest memories from your childhood. In this case, your descriptive paragraph would be a chronological account of this experience. You would organize your paragraph around the experience by having an introductory and concluding sentence that indicate the topic and purpose of your paragraph while detailing the event in the body of the paragraph. For instance, in a descriptive paragraph about your aunt, the introductory and concluding sentence would indicate that this memory was the highlight of your childhood while the body sentences would describe the event in chronological order. Since this is a descriptive paragraph about a person and not an event, you must be sure to centre your discussion of the event on the person involved; the person who made the event special.

However, you could also write a descriptive paragraph about your aunt that details some of your favourite characteristics about her. Perhaps you want your paragraph to describe a few reasons why your aunt is your favourite relative. In this paragraph, you would focus on the several characteristics that show why your aunt is so important to you. To do so, you may choose to explain briefly an event that supports one characteristic. For instance, if you want to show that your aunt is spontaneous and that this is one of your favourite things about her, you may choose to describe a day when she woke you up early to go on an unplanned, spur-of-the-moment trip to the beach. Through describing this event in one of your body sentences, you help support your claim that your aunt is spontaneous.

Much like a person descriptive paragraph, the most important aspect of a descriptive paragraph about a place is your reason for writing it. Consider all of the places you have been to in your life—not only the places you have visited on vacation, but also those that you visit in everyday life. Every day, or at least during the school week, how many different places do you go? After leaving home, do you stop to get breakfast or coffee along the way, or do you stop and pick up a friend? Do you spend the majority of your day at school? If so, do you leave campus to get lunch? How about after later in the day? Do you go straight home? Go to the gym? Pick your kids up from school? Considering all the places you visit in one day, which would you pick to write about and why? These are the most important questions to answer when writing your place descriptive paragraph, and answering them will help you decide the organization of your paragraph.

The organization of a descriptive paragraph about a place is much like that of a descriptive paragraph about a person. Thus, there are two main organizational schemes that you can choose from when composing a descriptive paragraph about a place: one that focuses on certain characteristics of the place, or one that focuses on a specific event (or set of events) related to the place. For instance, for the first type of organization, you would focus on the reasons—or characteristics—why you like or dislike a place. For the second type, you would focus on the events that explain why this place is important to you. For example, if you were writing a descriptive paragraph about Barkerville, Table 3.3 describes the two ways in which you could organize your paragraph.

While it may not matter which type or organization you choose, you must always make the place the focus of your paper. Thus, be sure the events or characteristics you describe in the paragraph do not outshine the importance of the place they are describing. For instance, following the example above, when talking about listening to the actors at Barkerville, do not focus too much on tours you have experienced at other museums. While comparing use of actors to give tours at Barkerville does stress how much better they are, do not let tours at other museums distract from your discussion of Barkerville. Additionally, remember to stress why the place being described is important to you regardless of the organizational scheme you choose.

By now, you may have noticed a pattern when it comes to organizing a descriptive paragraph. As you remember, you organize a descriptive paragraph about a person or place based either upon the characteristics of the subject or an event associated with it, and an object descriptive paragraph is no exception to this pattern. When writing a descriptive paragraph about an object, you must first decide why you have chosen this specific object to write about. In answering this question, you will know how to organize your paragraph. If you decide that an object is important to you because of the characteristics the object possesses, then you would organize the body of your paragraph around these characteristics or reasons. However, if an object is important to you because it was part of a significant event in your life, then you would produce body sentences that explain the event in chronological order.

For instance, imagine you wanted to write a descriptive paragraph about a tree at a local park. Consider the two ways of organizing this paragraph described in Table 3.4.

Although the organizational scheme you choose rests solely on the content you intend to include, the object must be the focus of the paragraph. Make sure the characteristics of an object or the retelling of an event do not overshadow the impact of the object being described. For example, when describing the event of your first kiss, you would need to make sure that you did not spend too much of your paragraph focusing on your partner. Additionally, when writing about an event connected to the object, be sure to connect the event to the significance of the object so that the event itself does not outshine the object being described. In focusing on not only the organization of the paragraph but also the significance of the object, the object descriptive paragraph that you compose will stress both the description and importance of the object being described.

Although the three previous types of descriptive paragraphs follow the same two organizational schemes, event descriptive paragraphs differ slightly. While other descriptive paragraphs either describe the person, place, or object in question or detail an event connected to it, event descriptive paragraphs chronologically describe an event from the past or from the future. Thus, descriptive paragraphs that focus on an event can either detail a memory that is significant or your hopes about an upcoming event. For instance, your event descriptive paragraph about a past event would describe a memory that is in some way important to you, be it positively or negatively. However, your event descriptive paragraph about a future event would describe something to occur in the future that you hope for or that you dread.

While the other descriptive paragraphs also employ organizational schemes that outline events connected to the subject, a descriptive paragraph about an event must focus on the event itself. For example, one could write a descriptive paragraph detailing the event of their high school graduation that could be based on a person, place, object, or event. If they wanted to stress a person through this event, they could write a paragraph that details how their graduation was important because it was the first time they saw their grandparents in ten years. If they wanted to stress a place, they could write a paragraph that details how important the park where the graduation took place is to them. If they wanted to stress an object through the event, they could write a paragraph that describes how important their high school diploma is to them. However, if they wanted to stress the importance of the graduation, or the event itself, they could write a paragraph that describes how all the things listed above—their grandparents, the park, and their diploma—all make the event significant. The different approaches they could take to a paragraph about the graduation are detailed in Table 3.5.

Hence, while in the other descriptive paragraphs, you must never let the event overshadow the significance of the person, place, or object being described, in an event descriptive paragraph, you should focus on how the people, place, and objects surrounding the event make it important. In this way, an event descriptive paragraph is a lot like the person, place, and object paragraphs. Thus, think of the objects, people, and place of an event as the characteristics that make the event important to you whenever you are constructing an event descriptive paragraph.

Review Questions

  • Write a descriptive paragraph about a person in your family following one of the organizational schemes listed.
  • Write a descriptive paragraph about an important person in history using the event organization. Instead of indicating how the person is important to you, indicate how the person is important or significant within history.
  • Write a descriptive paragraph about your hometown. Describe the town and indicate why it is important either to you or to society as a whole.
  • Write a descriptive paragraph about one of the original Coast Salish settlements at the time of first contact with European explorers. Describe the location and environment, paying close attention to how the structure of the settlement was a response to the coastal environment.
  • Write a descriptive paragraph about a gift you received on your birthday. Remember you can arrange your paragraph according to the characteristics of the object or by detailing the event at which you received it.
  • Write a descriptive paragraph about the provincial flower, the dogwood. Be sure to indicate why the flower is important to the province.
  • Write a descriptive paragraph about a commemorative event that you attended or that you plan to attend in the future (wedding, memorial, graduation, etc.). Remember to include the people, location, or objects that make the event significant.
  • Write a descriptive paragraph about the next or last federal election, focusing on why this election is significant in Canada.

Building Blocks of Academic Writing by Carellin Brooks is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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How to Write a Descriptive Paragraph: Examples of the Good, Bad and Ugly  

what to write a descriptive paragraph about

How to Write a Descriptive Paragraph

One of the best ways to learn how to write a descriptive paragraph, is by studying real-life examples. So let's start with an example, right off the bat. 

Recently, a coaching client told me he considers descriptive writing a “necessary evil.” We were in a pub where, supposedly, Joseph Conrad began many great novels , inspired by the majestic English coast and his global sailing voyages. It’s a Wetherspoons now, an infamous but beloved chain of bars where you complain about writing, inspired by the majestic English coast and cheap drinks.

“It’s like a tax I have to pay every time I want to introduce a new character,” he whined, just as Conrad (probably) did in the very same spot. “But no one enjoys reading descriptive writing.”

This might be an exaggeration, but it’s true that describing a person, setting, or object can be challenging- for both authors and readers-and, sometimes, it really does feel like an annoying price you have to pay before getting on with the fun parts of your book.

“Well, don’t describe, then,” I said unhelpfully.

He sighed. Eventually, we agreed you have to describe a little, but maybe not as much as you think you do. And that you shouldn’t do it too much, or for too long, or in formulaic ways. What you should do is go to a Wetherspoons by the sea, read Conrad critically, and follow the rest of our rules...

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How Much Describing Do You Need?

When learning about how to write a descriptive paragraph , the first thing to consider about descriptive writing is its purpose.  It seems obvious: you describe a character so your readers can picture them, right? Except, this isn’t entirely true.

Even if you describe someone in painstaking detail, your readers will never imagine them exactly as you do. Being unable to translate the precise image in your mind to the page isn’t necessarily a limitation; it’s part of the power of prose. Books aren’t inadequate substitutes for films, nor should they try to be.

When you describe a character, you’re collaborating with your reader, giving them permission to create with you.

Think about when you watch a movie based on a book you love, and the actors don’t look anything like how you pictured them in the novel. The reason that can be annoying is that you have a personal connection with a character you helped build while reading about them.

You took part in the design and construction of the character. This collaborative creation of a character often connects you with someone familiar, which strengthens the connection even more.

When you let go of the idea that you should go into descriptive detail, putting specific details in the reader’s mind, an exact picture of a person or place, you’ll find you can be freer and more creative in your descriptions.

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What Are Common Mistakes in Descriptive Writing?

Not only is it impossible to give readers every detail of a person or place, but trying too often makes for dull reading and pollutes the writing process too.

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Consider this example:

He was thirty years old, 5’11, had medium-length wavy black hair, pale skin, and dark brown eyes. He wore light blue denim jeans, a clean white, long-sleeved shirt, and a black sports jacket.

Despite all the adjectives, specific details, and sensory language, this description is still pretty vague. Worse, it’s boring . Over-doing it with facts about someone’s appearance can become a forgettable slog that does nothing for anyone-yourself, your readers, or your characters.

Even if you throw in some stock metaphors and a simile or two to be a bit more creative with it ( ...medium-length wavy hair the color of coal...) , it doesn’t make a sentence or descriptive paragraph much more interesting and, usually, your readers still won’t care all that much.

Similarly, the purpose of descriptive writing isn’t to show off how well-read, sagacious, and perspicacious you are. Nor is it to cram as many obscure, recherché, and recondite adjectives and/or metaphors as you possibly can into a single complete sentence. See how annoying that was to read? Your reader is the most important person, and their experience is what matters. Don’t force them to turn to a dictionary on every other sentence!

What is the Purpose of Descriptive Writing?

You do need to give your reader some idea of your settings and your protagonists’ physical qualities. If you don’t do any describing, it can be confusing and difficult to connect the story.

What you focus on and how much you do can vary, by genre especially. For example, romance requires more character descriptions than other genres, and sci-fi should usually have interesting, dynamic, and full setting descriptions.

The key is to consider what the description is actually for . Usually, a good descriptive paragraph should be much more about characterization and atmosphere than about physical details.

If you want to tell us what a character looks like, ask what their appearance says about them as a person? What does a house tell us about its inhabitants? What does your protagonist’s perspective of a new city imply about them and the place?

Examples of Good Descriptive Writing (How to write a descriptive paragraph)

Your description doesn’t need to be long to give your reader an emotion, a clear picture, and profound insight into your story.

“[He] was a tubby little chap who looked as if he had been poured into his clothes and had forgotten to say ‘When!’”

-From Very Good Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse, a writer you should turn to if you’re ever having a bad day.

In this description, we don’t just learn that the character is overweight. Wodehouse only needs twenty words to imply that he’s stuffy, uptight, and a comical, unpleasant character.

He’s able to do this because the purpose of this description is to tell you about the character, not just what he looks like.

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How to Begin a Descriptive Paragraph

The typical moment to describe a person or a place is the first time you introduce them to your reader. Talking about someone for fifty pages and then suddenly dropping in what they look and act like is disorientating.

However, it’s important to try to avoid being formulaic by repeatedly introducing someone, adding a line about their appearance, and then moving on with your chapter’s action. In pre-20th century novels (before editors), this was a common practice and is why some prose of that time can feel a little dated and dull now.

Another formulaic trope to avoid is best explained by Elmore Leonard:

“Never open a book with weather. If it’s only to create atmosphere and not a charac­ter’s reaction to the weather, you don’t want to go on too long. The reader is apt to leaf ahead look­ing for people. There are exceptions. If you happen to be Barry Lopez, who has more ways than an Eskimo to describe ice and snow in his book Arctic Dreams, you can do all the weather reporting you want.”

So, describe early, but not too early, with structure, but without being formulaic. Easy, right?

How to Improve Descriptive Writing

Descriptive writing is difficult, and there aren’t simple tricks that will make yours work every time. To help, I’m going to walk you through a paragraph I worked through our online writing coaching with author Derek Hackman in his upcoming novel A Machine Divine .

Derek didn’t have a lot of confidence in his ability to write descriptions engagingly, but his individual sentences are fantastic. Where he was struggling was in integrating them with the rest of the scene.

Here’s the first draft of a paragraph in which he introduces readers to a character for the first time:

“He was tall with a slim build. Mid-thirties with medium-length wavy brown hair covered by a modest black top hat. His outfit was as flashy and ornate as his entrance. A dark-red vest with gold buttons underneath a tan tweed overcoat. In his right hand was an engraved gold walking cane, topped with a bright emerald. In his left, he dragged an upright antique chest wrapped excessively in chains and locks.”

The first thing I did was note the line “his outfit was as flashy and ornate as his entrance.” This is a brilliant sentence: it’s simple, clever, and engaging, and it would be better placed at the beginning of the paragraph because it logically leads into the rest.

Now, instead of just telling us about someone, he’s also justifying telling us about someone. If the character’s outfit really is as flashy and ornate as his entrance (arriving in the center of town in a hot air balloon), we want to know about it.

Also, it’s often great to begin paragraphs with short, snappy sentences.

What’s the Best Way to Format a Descriptive Paragraph

Continuing with A Machine Divine as our example: the next thing that could be improved about this paragraph is that it reads a little like a list of facts.

Individual attributes are in disconnected sentences and seemingly have nothing to do with each other. But when you look closely, they do relate; we just need to show the reader that more effectively.

He’s in his mid-thirties, and he’s carrying a cane. Presumably, therefore, this tells us about the character’s class rather than a physical need. If we connect those two points, it becomes more obvious while still avoiding over-telling the reader:

“ Though he was in his mid-thirties, he held an engraved gold walking cane.”

Doing this also makes a descriptive paragraph flow naturally and feel more active.

Now, the paragraph looks like this:

His outfit was as flashy and ornate as his entrance. A dark-red vest with gold buttons under a tan tweed overcoat fitted his tall, slim build perfectly. A modest, black top hat covered his medium-length, wavy brown hair, and-though he was only in his mid-thirties-he held an engraved, gold walking cane topped with a bright emerald in his right hand. In his left, he dragged an upright antique chest wrapped excessively in chains and locks.

I’ve changed very little, the writer had done all the hard work already, but these small tweaks of the descriptive text make a big difference.

Next, I gave Derek an option for a heavier edit that removes more adjectives and descriptive words that might not be necessary. At this point, editing often becomes more subjective, and it’s up to the author how many cuts they want to make and up to me to try and give them an option that improves their work without taking away from their style.

Along with a quick proofread, here’s what it looked like:

His outfit was as flashy and ornate as his entrance. Under a tweed overcoat, aA dark-red vest with gold buttons under a tan tweed overcoat fitted his tall, slim build perfectly. A modest, black top hat covered his medium-length wavy brown hair, and-though he was only in his mid-thirties-he held an engraved, gold walking cane topped with a bright emerald in his right hand. In his left, he dragged an upright antique chest wrapped excessively in chains and locks.

The Rules for Descriptive Writing

Don’t worry. We all have a slight addiction to instant gratification. For those scanners who overlooked the main meal, here is your dessert.

how to write a Descriptive paragraph

How to write a descriptive paragraph

  • Consider why you’re describing
  • Let go of the idea that it’s to convey an exact picture
  • Respect your reader as a co-creator
  • Avoid cliches and formulaic writing
  • Don’t over-do it with your adjectives, metaphors, or showing off your writing skills
  • Remember your genre
  • Integrate your description with the rest of the scene
  • Read more! Learn from good and bad examples of descriptive writing

We hope you learned a few new things about how to write a descriptive paragraph. And for heaven’s sake, try to avoid purple prose. The overuse of sensory language, descriptive adjectives, and specific details might impress your fifth-grade teacher but certainly not the average reader.

Still feeling stuck?  We provide 1:1 coaching and support to writers just like you.

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PS: You can grow your fanbase through well-written reader magnets. The use of reader magnets can help new authors expose their talents to new readers before even launching their first book. Be sure to check out our article on reader magnets to learn more about this useful marketing tool. 

what to write a descriptive paragraph about

About the author 

Mairead Beeson

Mairead is an award-winning editor whose passion for writing started at a young age. And it was cemented when she received a personal response letter from her favorite author Darren Shan after writing to him. Although her passions have now multiplied to include various “very British” leisure pursuits (football, awful 80s slasher movies, Indian food, cycling, comedy, etc.), she still can’t resist making time for a good book…or three.

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Writing Descriptive Paragraphs

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Writing descriptive paragraphs can be successful as one of the first writing activities for students. Start by helping students understand the difference between simple and complex sentences , and move on to practice writing complex sentences . Students should also be familiar with a wide range of descriptive adjectives . Start by having students answer basic questions below. Next, use the writing exercise to expand the answers into a well-formed descriptive paragraph.

Descriptive paragraphs are often used to describe what a person looks and acts like. Read this example descriptive paragraph, notice how descriptive paragraphs are arranged by putting together all the sentences about the same thing.

Here is an example of a descriptive paragraph :

I am forty years old, rather tall and I have blue eyes and short black hair. I wear casual clothes as I teach students in a relaxed atmosphere. I enjoy my job because I get to meet and help so many different people from all over the world. During my spare time, I like playing tennis which I play at least three times a week. I also love listening to classical music and I must admit that I spend a lot of money on buying new CDs! I live in a pretty seaside town on the Italian coast. I enjoy eating great Italian food and laughing with the likable people who live here.

Written Exercise I

Answer these questions about yourself on a piece of paper.

  • How old are you?
  • What do you look like?
  • What kind of clothes do you wear? Why?
  • What kind of job do you do? Do you like it?
  • What are your favorite hobbies? Why do you like them?
  • Where do you live?
  • Do you like living there? Why or why not?

Written Exercise II

Now that you have the information about yourself ready. Fill in the gaps in to complete this descriptive paragraph about yourself.

I am _________ years old, I _________________ (your looks). I wear ________________ because ______________. I am a ______________. I like / don't like my job because _____________________. I enjoy ______________. I often _____________ (describe how often you do your hobby). I also like ________________ (write about another hobby) because ________________. I live in ____________. People in ____________ are ________________ . I enjoy / don't enjoy living in ______________ because ____________.

Ask your friends the same questions as in Exercise I and write paragraphs about them.

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Descriptive Writing

The primary purpose of descriptive writing is to describe a person, place or thing in such a way that a picture is formed in the reader’s mind. Capturing an event through descriptive writing involves paying close attention to the details by using all of your five senses. Teaching students to write more descriptively will improve their writing by making it more interesting and engaging to read.

Key Information

Appropriate group size, what is descriptive writing.

Descriptive writing helps the reader visualize the person, place, thing, or situation being described. When a text conjures a vivid, sensory impression in the reader’s mind, not only does it make the writing more interesting to read; it helps the reader understand the text better and recognize the author’s intention more clearly.

Why teach descriptive writing?

  • It helps students make their writing more interesting and engaging to read.
  • It creates opportunities for students to practice using new words in meaningful contexts, a key strategy for building vocabulary.
  • Descriptive writing tends to include figurative language, such as simile, metaphor, and onomatopoeia. Noticing figurative language in mentor texts and incorporating it into their own writing help students build critical verbal reasoning skills. To find out more about verbal reasoning and other components of language comprehension, see the “In Depth” section from the Comprehension module of our Reading 101 Course.
  • It encourages students to learn from—and be metacognitive about—the techniques other authors use to write vivid descriptions.  
  • It can help students clarify their understanding of new subject matter material and remember more of what they learn.

How to teach descriptive writing

If only descriptive writing were as simple as “show, don’t tell”! Descriptive writing is a skill — and a craft — that takes instruction, practice, and time to learn. The good news is that it can be explicitly taught. An understanding of the characteristics of effective descriptive writing, combined with a toolkit of structures and strategies to scaffold learning and practice, can enhance students’ development as authors of vivid, evocative writing.

What effective descriptive writing looks like

Authors of descriptive writing use a variety of styles and techniques to connect with readers, but effective descriptive writing often shares these characteristics:

  • Vivid details. Specific details paint a picture in the reader’s mind and appeal to the reader’s senses. Descriptive writing may also go beyond creating a strong sensory impression to give the reader a “picture” of the feelings the description evokes in the writer.
  • Figurative language. Tools of the writer’s craft such as analogy, simile, and metaphor  add depth to authors’ descriptions.
  • Precise language. General adjectives, nouns, and passive verbs are used sparingly. Instead, specific adjectives and nouns and strong action verbs give life to the picture being painted in the reader’s mind.
  • Thoughtful organization. Some ways to organize descriptive writing include: chronological (time), spatial (location), and order of importance. Descriptive writing about a person might begin with a physical description, followed by how the person thinks, feels and acts.

What effective instruction in descriptive writing looks like

There isn’t one right approach to teaching descriptive writing, but effective instruction often includes:

  • Mentor texts. Reading aloud and analyzing high-quality mentor texts to help students understand how authors use descriptive writing to connect with readers.
  • Focus on the five senses. Helping students make the connection between sensory input (sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch) and descriptive writing.
  • Teacher modeling. Modeling different ways to generate descriptive writing.
  • Guided practice. Repeated, structured practice scaffolded to meet students’ needs.
  • Feedback and revision. Cycles of constructive teacher and peer feedback followed by thoughtful revision. 

Watch a demonstration: show NOT tell using your 5 senses

In this virtual lesson, the teacher models generating written descriptions of a hot day using the five senses as a framework.

Watch a classroom lesson: five senses graphic organizer

Students use their five senses and a graphic organizer to brainstorm ideas for writing a report on a recent school event and to help them think about interesting words to include in their report. See the lesson plan (opens in a new window) .

Watch a classroom discussion: writer’s workshop

Writer’s Workshop connects great children’s literature with children’s own writing experiences. In this video clip from our Launching Young Readers PBS series , Lynn Reichle’s second graders practice their use of descriptive writing.

Collect resources

Here are some routines and structures for teaching descriptive writing:

The RAFT strategy encourages descriptive writing and supports writing in general by encouraging students to think through the writer’s Role, the Audience, the Format, and the Topic. ReadWriteThink offers this RAFT Writing Template .

This Sense Chart (opens in a new window)  — organized into sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch categories — helps students capture sensory details related to a topic. The Describing Wheel (opens in a new window) offers a more open-ended format for capturing and organizing descriptive language.

The Show-Me Sentences (opens in a new window) lesson plan from ReadWriteThink was created for students in grades 6-12. However, elementary teachers can modify the Show-Me sentences to make them interesting for younger students.

This lesson plan from Utah Education Network (opens in a new window) guides students through the process of writing about a favorite place using descriptive language. 

This lesson plan from the Philadelphia Museum of Art (opens in a new window) has students work collaboratively to generate descriptive writing about works of art. It is intended for upper elementary and middle grades but can be adapted for lower grades.

Teacher Laura Torres created a lesson plan that uses images to jumpstart vivid writing: Three Descriptive Writing Picture Prompts .

Differentiated instruction

For second language learners, students of varying reading skill, and younger learners.

  • Use dictation as a way to help capture students thoughts and ideas.
  • Provide sentence frames for writing descriptive sentences or paragraphs.
  • Use pictures and other sensory prompts.
  • Provide budding writers with real-life or virtual experiences that give them something to write about. Trips to a relative’s house, playground or grocery store provide real-life experiences that can be recorded by a new writer.
  • Encourage students to work with a buddy or in a small group to develop first drafts .
  • Work with students to brainstorm a word bank of interesting and descriptive words students can incorporate into their writing.

Extend the learning

This resource from Greenville County Schools in South Carolina provides several ideas for writing in math class . Writing and mathematics are similar in that they both require gathering, organizing, and clarifying thoughts. Writing can support math instruction by helping students make sense of important concepts and procedures.

Descriptive writing in science can help students capture observations and scientific phenomena with greater precision, and can help them comprehend new material by explaining it in their own words. Fazio and Gallagher propose two instructional strategies to assist teachers and student when writing in science: a mnemonic acronym (POWER) and an editing checklist.

Social Studies

In social studies, descriptive writing can help students describe an important historical figure or event more clearly. Writing rich in detail will create vivid depictions of people and places and help make history come alive.

Related strategies

  • RAFT helps students understand their roles as writers, the audience they will address, the varied formats for writing, and the topic they’ll be writing about.
  • Revision teaches students about the characteristics of good writing, which will carry over into their future writing. Revision skills complement reading skills; revision requires that writers distance themselves from the writing and critically evaluate a text.
  • Writing Conferences give students a chance to share their writing and and receive feedback from peers or the teacher.
  • Think-alouds can be used for writing as well as reading instruction

Learn more about building writing skills in our self-paced module Reading 101: Writing .

See the research that supports this strategy

Akerson, V. L., & Young, T.A. (2005). Science the ‘write’ way. Science and Children , 43(3), 38-41.

MacArthur, C., Graham, S., & Fitzgerald, J. (2016). Handbook of research on writing (2nd Edition). NY: Guilford.

Miller, R.G., & Calfee, R.C. (2004). Making thinking visible: A method to encourage science writing in upper elementary grades. Science and Children , (42)3, 20-25.

Mitchell, D. (1996). Writing to learn across the curriculum and the English teacher. English Journal , 85, 93-97.

Children’s books to use with this strategy

Science Verse

This boy’s curse begins when his teacher suggests that the “poetry of science” can be heard everywhere. From Moore to Frost, familiar poems are parodied and turned into science verse. Again art and illustration are inseparable as are the laughs in this offbeat look at science.

Science Verse

The Mysterious Tadpole

When Louis’ uncle sends a tadpole from a certain lake in Scotland, the small tadpole grows to enormous proportions. With the help of a resourceful librarian, Louis figures out a way to feed his large and ever-hungry Alphonse as well as determine a permanent solution. Humor abounds in this contemporary classic.

The Mysterious Tadpole

Martin's Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr. grew up fascinated by big words. He would later go on to use these words to inspire a nation and call people to action. In this award-winning book, powerful portraits of King show how he used words, not weapons, to fight injustice.

Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

10 Minutes Till Bedtime

At One Hoppin’ Place, the countdown to bedtime is about to begin when a family of hamsters — a mother and father with nine kids and a baby all wearing numbered striped jerseys — arrives at the front door.

10 Minutes Till Bedtime

One World, One Day

Every day children around the world awake to begin their days having breakfast, going to school, coming home to families. A poetic text combines with photographs from myriad countries to visually highlight the richness of the world and its people.

One World, One Day

If America Were a Village: A Book About the People of the United States

If all of the 300 million people were simply one village of 100 people, its diversity is easier to understand. That’s just what the author has done to make the complex make-up of the U.S. residents (in terms of languages spoken, ages, and more). Colorful illustrations accompany the understandable text. Additional resources complete the book. If the World Were a Village: A Book About the World’s People (opens in a new window) , also by Smith, looks at the inhabitants of the world as a village to allow its diversity to become more understandable for adults and children.

If America Were a Village: A Book About the People of the United States

Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11

Relive the journey of the Apollo 11 where the first people stepped on the Moon’s surface and saw Earth from a very different perspective. Eloquent language and illustrations combine to present this historical event in a unique, unforgettable way.

Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11

The Boy Who Invented TV: The Story of Philo Farnsworth

Two machines captivated young Philo Farnsworth: a telephone and a phonograph. Both had cranks and both connected people with others (one in real time, the other through music). These and other inspirations motivated young Philo to invent what was to become known as the television. His early story is fascinatingly told and well illustrated.

The Boy Who Invented TV: The Story of Philo Farnsworth

No Easy Way: The Story of Ted Williams and the Last .400 Season

Ted Williams never flinched at hard work or a challenge. In his last season with the Boston Red Sox, Williams had to decide if he wanted to take the chance and lose his rare .400 average or go to bat. Williams’ decision creates a riveting read in this handsome and thoughtful look at one man’s ethics and the times in which he lived.

No Easy Way: The Story of Ted Williams and the Last .400 Season

Soup Day

A mother and her child get the ingredients for soup on a snowy day and then add everything to the pot. The pair plays snug and warm while the soup simmers until Dad comes home when they enjoy soup together. Crisp collage and a simple text make for a cozy read.

Jack and the Beanstalk

The traditional tale of a boy who planted magic beans is reimagined as a city story of a spell broken. Illustrations are photographs that have been manipulated for good effect.

Jack and the Beanstalk

Benny's Pennies

Benny’s Pennies

I Face the Wind

Children are encouraged to observe as experiment as they learn about wind and air as well as practice science writing by describing their findings.

I Face the Wind

26 Letters and 99 Cents

26 Letters and 99 Cents

A Drop of Water: A Book of Science and Wonder

Arresting photographs of water in various states not only introduces water but also weather, solids and liquids, and more. The sophisticated text further encourages experimentation and observation, although is not necessary to use the entire book with younger children.

A Drop of Water: A Book of Science and Wonder

Each Orange Had 8 Slices: A Counting Book

Each Orange Had 8 Slices: A Counting Book

Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal: A Worldwide Cinderella

Cinderella stories are found around the world; here, they have been fused into one tale with special characteristics in text and illustrations that reflect the different origins. Expand parts of the story to echo the traditions of the culture and its history from which it comes. It may be possible to develop a map of tales (e.g., ancient vs. modern countries, or as a visual as to where it is/was told).

Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal: A Worldwide Cinderella

Read a Rhyme, Write a Rhyme 

Read a Rhyme, Write a Rhyme 

The Little Red Hen (Makes a Pizza) 

The Little Red Hen (Makes a Pizza) 

Squids Will Be Squids

Scieszka and Smith set sights on creating fresh fables — short traditional tales intended to teach a moral lesson. With humorous twists and take-offs, new, different and wacky fables are presented for readers’ edification and amusement.

Squids Will Be Squids

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Descriptive Paragraph Guide With 5 Effective Tips

Table of Contents

A descriptive paragraph gives the reader a vivid description and a detail-rich account of something. The writer appeals to the reader’s senses by using descriptive language, such as adjectives.

Descriptive writing isn’t based on experience, personal feelings, and thoughts alone; it sometimes relies on the writer’s imagination.

Descriptive paragraphs provide engaging and detailed records of a person, an event, a place, or an object. Such writings aim to show, not tell. This guide discusses what goes into crafting a compelling descriptive paragraph.

How to Write A Descriptive Paragraph

A good description incorporates words that mentally teleport the reader to the scene, allowing them see and feel what you’re describing.

In writing a compelling description, you must study your topic extensively and learn as much as possible about it. Spend time creating descriptions that will embed your readers into your story and move them emotionally.

Make a list of details you observe and organize them into a logical structure. Here are the steps to follow when writing a description.

Find a Topic

First, identify a suitable topic. You may pick topics you care about and have adequate knowledge of. This will help you create a detail-rich and well-organized description.

Another excellent choice is an object that doesn’t need much explanation. If you already have a topic, maybe you were given one to write about as an assignment, you can begin brainstorming.

Examine and Explore Your Topic

After settling on a topic, take out time to study the details. Examine your topic and view it from every angle considering the five senses. If you’re supposed to describe an object, consider the following.

What does the object feel, look, sound, smell, and taste like? Do you have any memories or associations with it? If you do, examine your experience and sensations of it.

Focus on writing every single detail that comes to mind. You can write whole sentences and arrange the details into logical paragraphs in the later phase.

Organize Your Information

With your list of descriptive details, start arranging the points into paragraphs. While you do this, keep in mind the goal of your descriptive paragraph and focus on it.

What message do you want your description to convey? Which details amongst those you’ve gathered best convey this message? These are a few questions to ponder on before assembling your paragraphs.

Every descriptive paragraph will have its unique form, but a typical descriptive paragraph follows this model.

  • A topic sentence that introduces the topic and concisely explains its relevance.
  • Supporting sentences that vividly and specifically describe the topic, using the details gathered during the brainstorming stage.
  • A concluding sentence that briefly shows the readers the relevance of the topic, including specific details that backs up your claim.

Show, Not Tell

A description aims to ‘show’ the readers rather than ‘tell’ them. Your topic and concluding sentences should provide the readers with a detailed yet convincing explanation of the topic . Do this by using powerful words and ordering your information in a way that paints a rich and complete story.

Edit and Proofread

The last phase of your writing process is proofreading and editing your paragraph. Keep in mind the goal of your description and ensure that your piece conveys the message you want to express. Read it aloud to check for awkward use of words.

Make sure that every word is clear and that your diction is appropriate. Invite a teacher or friend to read and assess your paragraph. You can use a grammar and check tool to fine-tune your content before its final submission.

How to Write A Description about A Person: 5 Effective Tips

1. begin with a general topic sentence .

Start your paragraph with a concise introduction of the person. Use powerful words that grab the reader’s attention and fix their gaze on the person you’re about to describe.

Focus on one aspect of the character’s appearance, so you don’t overwhelm your reader with too many details. Keep it clear and concise.

2. State their most striking feature

A statement of the most striking part of the character’s appearance should follow your general introduction. This is typically the first thing you notice when you see this person.

Carefully choose descriptive words that let you paint a vivid picture of the person, giving the reader a sense of who they are. Use powerful resonant words to get your point across.

3. Include key details to give a vivid picture of the person

Ensure that your reader has an explicit understanding and a good sense of the person’s appearance.

You may want to include details about critical aspects of their body and clothing, including their face, to get the reader more interested. Let your creativity take control, and use unusual, striking words and phrases to hook your reader’s attention.

4. Use figurative language and strong adjectives

Paint a vivid picture of the person’s personality using metaphors, similes, and descriptive language. You want your readers to feel like they’re looking at this person — so use potent words and phrases. Use words in a new way to bring out unique aspects of your character’s personality.

5. End the paragraph with a resonant conclusion

Your paragraph’s end is what will stick in your reader’s mind. Make it an interesting and memorable one. Do this by including an unexpected description or summarizing the person’s personality uniquely and surprisingly.

black fountain pen crafting text on white black-lined paper

Final Thoughts

There’s no better way to keep your reader engaged in an essay or story than with a vivid description.

Your paragraphs will stand out when you let your creative juices flow, using adjectives and unusual, striking phrases to grab your reader’s attention. Whatever you’re describing, use powerful words that make your readers feel like they’re right there, experiencing the moment firsthand.

Descriptive Paragraph Guide With 5 Effective Tips

Abir Ghenaiet

Abir is a data analyst and researcher. Among her interests are artificial intelligence, machine learning, and natural language processing. As a humanitarian and educator, she actively supports women in tech and promotes diversity.

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What Is a Descriptive Paragraph?

Kimberley McGee

How to Write a Descripitive Paragraph

Captivating and engaging, a descriptive paragraph is a pleasure to peruse for readers. Creating a well-crafted descriptive paragraph is a breeze with the right tools in place. It vividly describes the subject so that the person, place or thing blooms in the reader’s mind. A short piece of descriptive writing can have a big impact.

Definition of a Descriptive Paragraph

A descriptive paragraph is a collection of multiple sentences to convey a distinct message of a single person, place or thing. It begins with a descriptive sentence that clearly states the topic that will be rolled out in the following sentences. A well-written descriptive paragraph pulls in all five senses to engage the reader. The use of smell, sight, touch, sound and taste in expressive language captivates the reader on many levels. If done well, your short piece of descriptive writing will have the opportunity to leave a strong impression on the reader.

Create the Thesis Statement

Writing a descriptive essay starts with a strong sentence, the thesis statement. The thesis statement is what the descriptive paragraph hangs its hat on. It is the basis for the best part of the paragraph you are crafting. The thesis statement is a single idea that will be prominent when writing a descriptive essay. A well-written thesis statement will allow the writer to easily thread the main idea throughout the descriptive paragraph.

Adding Body to the Paragraph

The body of the paragraph should immerse the reader in the subject of the descriptive paragraph. Consider the person, how they look, their hair or the width of their shoulders when writing about an individual. For a place, consider what the breeze brings to the nose or how the sun sets on the buildings. For a thing, describe its texture or weight. There are many ways to bring the reader into the world you create in a few sentences. If writer’s block has you stymied, list the five senses on a piece of paper and brainstorm under each subject. Look for words that fall under each category and choose those that best describe the person, place or thing you have chosen as your topic.

Types of Descriptive Paragraphs

A short piece of descriptive writing can go a few ways, depending on the writer’s intentions. There are mainly two types to consider when writing a descriptive essay. An objective description typically relies on neutral words that don’t arouse strong emotions in the reader. A subjective description reels the reader into the subject by evoking emotions through clear, concise copy with strong descriptions.

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  • Ablongman: The Descriptive Paragraph -- What's the Point of Descriptive ?

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How to Write a Descriptive Paragraph About a Person (With Examples)

How to Write a Descriptive Paragraph About a Person (With Examples)

  • 4-minute read
  • 7th January 2023

Describing a person or character is difficult for even the most successful authors. It requires a balance of words to make sure they shine through without the language being too heavy. In this article, we’ll look at how to write a descriptive paragraph about a person, share some examples, and talk about different strategies.

1.   Brainstorm Your Ideas

Brainstorming is crucial to any writing process. It’s the process in which you think of ideas for what you’d like to write about. In this case, you’re writing a descriptive paragraph about a person. It’s important to use adjectives to describe the features or characteristics you want to focus on.

One way to come up with ideas for a descriptive paragraph about a person is to go through the five senses. Use the questions below to get some ideas for what you want to highlight about your person.

Appeal to your reader’s senses – smell, taste, sound, sight, and touch

Smell: How does the person smell? Do they wear perfume? Are they doing an activity that would make them have a certain smell?

Taste: Do you associate a certain food with this person? Does it make you think of a specific taste? Can you taste something due to a certain smell they have?

Sound: Do they have a unique voice or laugh? Are they doing an activity that has distinctive sounds?

Sight: What prominent features do they have? For example, think about their dressing style, their smile, or their surroundings. What do you see them doing in your mind when you see a photo of them? What memories do you have of this person? Does this person remind you of something or someone?

Touch: What textures do you see? For example, imagine their skin or clothing. How does it feel if you hug them?

2.   Begin With a Short and Snappy Sentence

Like with any type of writing, you want to hook your reader so that they want to continue reading. In this case, you can use a topic sentence, if appropriate, to introduce your reader to the person. For example:

Or, if you want to be more creative, you can reel them in with a short and snappy sentence about this person. This is called a writing hook . This sentence should focus on a stand-out detail or characteristic about the person you’re describing. For example:

3.   Describe the Person

Now, this is the hard part. But, if you’ve brainstormed plenty of ideas and know which ones you want to focus on, it will be easier. Let’s look at some examples to get a better idea of how to write a descriptive paragraph about a person using the prompt “describe a person you admire.”

Comments: This paragraph is pretty typical of most students. It gives lots of visual details of the person and uses a simile or two (“ Her eyes are like the color of honey” and “Her smile shines like the sun” ). While this strategy gets the job done, it’s not very exciting to read. In fact, it can be quite boring!

Let’s look at how we can rewrite this to make it more exciting.

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Comments: In this example, we focused on one defining characteristic of the person we are describing — her laugh. This strategy places more focus on the person you’re describing, rather than the adjectives you use to describe them.

4.   Edit and Revise

After you write your descriptive paragraph, be sure to read it over. Read it out loud. Read it in a funny voice. Doing this will help you to hear the words and identify which parts do not work or sound awkward.

5.   General Tips for Descriptive Writing

●  Avoid using too many descriptive words.

●  Remember to show the reader, not tell.

●  Appeal to the reader’s five senses – smell, touch, taste, sight, and sound.

●  Focus on a striking or defining characteristic.

●  Use contrasting details from other people or surroundings for emphasis.

●  Use literary devices (metaphors, similes etc.) sparingly and with intention.

●  Use a hook to reel your reader in.

●  Use a variety of short and long sentences.

●  Practice creative writing exercises to improve your descriptive writing skills.

●  Always edit and revise your writing.

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How To Write A Descriptive Essay?

26 April, 2020

11 minutes read

Author:  Tomas White

Descriptive essay is one of the hardest forms of writing. To master descriptive writing, you must be creative and craft a scene that all readers can picture with words alone. This freedom and creativity can make it one of the most rewarding and fun essays to write. It is the backbone of all artful writing like poetry, novels, and even television scripts. We prepared this guide for You to learn all you need to know about descriptive writing. Let's start!

Descriptive Essay

What is a Descriptive Essay?

The goal of a descriptive essay is simple, choose a subject and describe it. The subject could be anything:

A descriptive essay is all about describing the subject in great detail. Being a type of expository writing , it gives you great freedom to paint a picture with your words, shares a once in a lifetime event with the reader or makes them feel something.  It is better to choose a descriptive essay topic that has lots of qualities to discuss for example a person might have a more interesting feature to describe than a paper towel. Choose a subject you connect with emotionally or have a personal history with. The best descriptions come from retelling an experience.

The Difference Between Descriptive and Narrative Essays

The main difference between descriptive and narrative essays lies in the structure and purpose of the essay. A descriptive essay is used to describe a subject to present a clear picture of it. As such, it only requires you to describe the item in a logic fashion. A narrative essay’s purpose is to tell a story. As such, it requires a plot and logical progression to an outcome. A person’s face can be the subject of a descriptive essay. But it would be hard to write a narrative piece that follows the person’s face as the central plot of a story.

Showing VS Telling

A descriptive essay values details over facts. This is also known as showing vs. telling. To  show  something is to describe using the five senses, how it looks, how it smells, how it tastes, how it feels and how it sounds. Imagine the reader as an alien, who has never experienced the subject for themselves. How would you describe it then?

To give you an understanding of how to differentiate between showing and telling I’ll write an example of a descriptive paper that describes my favorite place.

The above example tells you, as it doesn’t evoke any of your senses. It is a senseless description . It’s vague and hard to imagine.

This description is more detail and easier to imagine because of the following changes:

  • The choice of words like ‘haven’ instead of ‘like’ add a showing element as it is showing in what way I like the library.
  • Putting describers before items like ‘brightly colored’ books makes it easier to see.
  • And choosing words with more like ‘towering’ instead of ‘tall’ makes the description less full.
  • The description of the books shows what they do, not what they are. These are important points to consider when writing a descriptive essay.

A good exercise for descriptive writing and is to read descriptive essay examples and pick out the words that do the four points outlined above. Analyzing other’s descriptive writing will make your own descriptive work stronger. Can you pick out another place in the descriptive essay example above where those four changes occur and what it lends to the description?

Still having problems with your descriptive paper? All you need is to request help from our top-notch essay writing service and our essay writer make it for you !

How to Choose a Descriptive Essay Topic?

When deciding what to highlight about your topic, take a step back and look at what draws you to it. A campfire has bright, flickering colors, a satisfying crackling sound, and a sort of flow as it moves from the bottom to the tip of the flame. Place yourself in proximity to the subject and describe the parts that stimulate your senses the most.

Title Examples of Descriptive Essays

Here are some examples of descriptive essay topics that are fun to write:

Pick something you can see right now and think about how you’d describe that.

Related Posts: Argumentative essay topics | Compare&Contrast essay topics

How to Set Up a Proper Description?

Slow down and think about what you want to invoke. Don’t rush into a description or you’ll likely end up with something weaker than you could have. Take your topic aside and write some sentences describing how it charms each sense – the five senses being:

Keep a thesaurus on hand to switch some of the more basic words out. If you can read your paragraph back and vividly imagine the item you’ve described, you’ve done it.

How to write a Descriptive Essay Outline

Starting your descriptive essay without a plan can lead to a messy and sprawling description.  Learning to outline your ideas is just as important as knowing how to write them.

Related Posts: How to write an Essay outline  | How to write an Essay introduction  

 Creating an Introduction for a Descriptive Writing

Once you have chosen the subject to write you need to plan the introduction for your descriptive paper. An introduction needs to include a thesis statement and three features of the thing you are describing.   The introduction should start with a thesis statement that states how you feel about your topic. This should then be supported with three qualities defining those feelings.

These thesis statements aren’t meant to be complex. All they’re meant to do is to set up your reader for your descriptions. It is important to include three reasons that you can expand on describe in great detail as they will form the paragraphs of your descriptive paper.

Planning and Writing the Body of a Descriptive Essay

Looking at your thesis statement, take those three reasons and break them down into their own paragraphs. Describe hanging out with your friends at the beach, talk about the food you’d eat, the activities you’d participate in. Detail what huskies do when they’re energetic, what shows that they get along with other dogs?

It helps to write about each way you can describe an item on a separate sheet of paper. Use that sheet as your descriptive essay outline. Take each item and write what sense you can use to describe the item in each paragraph.

For example, if you want to talk about eating a popsicle on the beach you could include how cold against your tongue for touch, that it smelt and tasted like raspberries, it was a bright red, and shaped like a rocket for sight, and the sound you made it as you bit on it, or the sound you made as it rocketed into your mouth. Expand this into a paragraph keeping the most vivid description.

Force your reader to imagine these objects in their head. Help them visualize it, pour your vision into the paper and focus on both the small and the big details. Just don’t go overboard. It’s important to have a few great descriptors rather than a ton of average ones.

When describing an object, go about it in a practical sense. Don’t just throw details on the page, talk about them in order. Describe a mountain from its peak to it’s middle all the way down to its base. You wouldn’t go from the middle to the base to the peak, would you? This way, you’re keeping your reader engaged with the topic.

Concluding a Descriptive Essay

Concluding descriptive writing is easy. All you have to show why the subject you described is important to you. All you have to do is show the reader what you implied. Show why it has meaning, and why they should care.

Descriptive Essay Example

Drafting your essay.

Where the organization comes to fruition. When writing your essay, keep the reader in your head at all times. Constantly as yourself: “Is this vivid enough?” Don’t focus much on grammar, get the content onto the paper.

Questions to Ask Yourself

Once you’ve finished writing your essay, read it back and make sure it responds positively to each of these questions:

  • Are these descriptions making my writing visual? Could I make them more vivid?
  • Have I used these descriptions to detail my emotions to the reader?
  • Do these descriptions convey each of the five senses?
  • Have I gone into enough details in each paragraph?
  • Are my descriptions in an orderly fashion?

If you believe your essay fits these criteria, then you’re good to go on the content side.

Perfecting the Essay

Read it through a couple more times. Take some time away from it and then come back with a fresh mindset.  Correct any grammar issues you see, and double check that it answers all of the questions mentioned above. Once that’s done, you’ll have an essay worthy of an A+ grade.

From Our Writers: Tips on How to Write a Good Descriptive Essay

  • Be sensitive. Some writers are scared to show their true selves, but the point of a descriptive essay is to talk about how an object affects your senses and emotions. Keep this in mind during all stages of the essay.
  • Put effort into unique descriptions. Don’t settle for standard words, spend some time searching out alternatives to common descriptive words. It will only help the reader envision your thoughts.
  • Write about something that you care about. If you choose something you don’t have much personal experience with, you can’t truly write from the heart.

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  • Descriptive Essay Example
  • How to Write an A-Grade Descriptive Essay Example + 40 Topics

How to Write an A-Grade Descriptive Essay Example + 40 Topics

The Best Descriptive Essay Topics Collection

10 descriptive essay topics for grade 8, 10 topics for descriptive essays high school, 10 descriptive essay topics for middle school, 10 descriptive essay topics for college, the best tips on how to write a descriptive essay, the introduction of a descriptive essay: how to get started, how to craft a powerful descriptive essay thesis, tips on how to write a conclusion for a descriptive essay, descriptive essay examples: check the correct one before getting started.

  • “ The Woman I've Seen Once”

A Descriptive Essay Outline Sample

Advice from an expert on how to write a descriptive essay example, our professionals craft the perfect essay worth a+.

A descriptive piece of writing is your chance to offer the reader see the picture with his own eyes.  Working on a descriptive essay examples , you are going to provide your target audience with the perception through 5 senses. If you manage to do this the best way, your paper will be evaluated highly. If not, you are likely to get a low grade. Some students consider this piece of writing an interesting task to do. Others think it is much more difficult than any other written assignment. Are there any reasons to think so?

Almost every day, you describe things with the aim to help other people imagine what you are talking about. Sometimes, listening to your description, the person understands what you mean from the 1st time. There are situations when it is extremely difficult to draw pictures using words.

Not everyone has an ability to describe things in a bright clear manner.  This doesn't mean that you should just give up! No, never! This guide on how to compose a descriptive essay example will help you to learn writing basics. Follow the most effective tips for completing a paper that will 100% stand out!

Before you get started with the descriptive essay example writing , you should take several steps. The 1st one will be the selection of a topic, like a compare contrast essay . Choosing from descriptive essay topics, be guided by the rule to give preference to the topic you are familiar with and feel passionate about. It is very important for any type of paper, especially for this piece of writing.

How can you describe the person you have never seen, the event you haven't attended, the phenomenon you haven't heard about? It is obvious that only being familiar with the main features and distinctive characteristics of the object/subject of your description, you'll be able to provide readers with a clear picture of this thing. Do you experience difficulties with the topic selection? Check descriptive essay topics and choose the one that sounds best.

Pick the topic you find the most interesting one:

  • The portrait of my mother
  • My best friend and me: common features we have
  • The bird I like the most
  • The perfect day of my life
  • My favorite author
  • My first school teacher
  • How do I see my family dream house?
  • What is my perfect weekend?
  • What does the forest look like in winter?
  • What makes my room unique?

Check a topics collection aimed at high-school students:

  • What do I like/dislike in my appearance?
  • Whom do you consider beautiful among celebrities?
  • Describe the most interesting dream you have seen
  • How should the best cup of coffee taste?
  • Describe the best present in your life
  • Do you believe that pets look similar to their owners? Describe your pet
  • My room and the room of my sister/brother
  • My father's character
  • The smartphone of my dream
  • Innovative characteristics of Apple gadget.

Check the collection of easy topics ideas:

  • Which season do you consider best for traveling?
  • What was your impression unwrapping birthday gifts?
  • My favorite holiday celebration
  • What kind of clothing style do you prefer?
  • Describe the most beautiful sunset you have seen
  • Which feelings does a person have going somewhere by plane?
  • The prettiest girl/boy in my class
  • The portrait of my grandparents
  • My favorite food
  • The best day of my life so far

Have a look at descriptive essay topics that can be used by students studying at a college below:

  • The mountain lake description
  • How do you imagine the most romantic wedding day?
  • Describe the feelings of a person who has fallen in love
  • The person I love the most
  • What kind of rest do I like?
  • The worst summer holidays in my life
  • Describe any labor activity
  • Describe the process of writing a letter to a friend
  • How do you choose gifts for your friends?
  • Describe the process of work (your dad is repairing his car in the garage)

Have you chosen the best topic? It is high time to learn how to structure this kind of paper the correct way. This genre doesn't differ much from other papers. Like any other one, it starts with an introduction, followed by the main body, and finally, there is the conclusion. Sure that this genre has its own distinctive features you should take into account. Don't you learn how to write a descriptive essay on A-grade? Check helpful tips for crafting a worthy descriptive paper that will impress your teacher.

  • Offer the reader plunge into the world of your sensations. If two people are given a task to describe the same thing, they will do this differently. Every person perceives the world and everything that happens through his/her own vision. Being assigned to write a paper describing something, you should use a great opportunity to show how you see this/that object/person/event using the bright language rich in literary devices, which play a significant role in the reflecting atmosphere.
  • Make your paper vivid. The key to success is to sound expressive. Your task is to help readers see the whole picture reading your paper. Words can work miracles being not less bright than a photograph.
  • Help the reader understand the work’s purpose. Any paper topic has its purpose. The writer’s task is to provide readers with a clear understanding of what it is.
  • Convey information following the outline. Making an outline is a must if you want to create a good work. A detailed plan will help not to miss any detail. Following the correct structure, there are all chances to craft a valuable piece of writing.

If you aren't good at writing essays according to the structure , you are welcome to check how to write essay parts. Step by step, create a description that will sound real.

Some students spend hours brainstorming ideas on how to get started. Are you one of them? If you don't understand how to write a descriptive essay intro , start with a life story from your personal experience able to engage the reader. Your story should touch all 5 senses. Choose which one to start with. For example, describing a wedding day, start with the description of the atmosphere, music, decoration, etc. Make the reader guess what celebration it is. Creating intrigue works effectively.

A thesis statement is an obligatory part of your work. The purpose of this sentence is to introduce the key topic idea. The thesis should be clear and concise. It should be one informative paragraph.   Focus on the major idea, exclude everything that doesn't matter writing about the purpose and the way you are going to reach the goal.

The end of the work should include the writer’s standpoint and the main points’ brief summary. Conclude the paper not leaving readers with questions left. Make it powerful because it has been proven that the reader's memory is organized in a way that implies he/she remembers the last words better than the main body’s information. Wonder how to write a descriptive essay conclusion? Check the example!

Is this the first time you need to craft a description? Check descriptive essay examples for you to understand how to do this the best way. Have a look at the example below.

“ The Woman I've Seen Once” Every day we see a lot of strangers passing them by without paying attention but that woman in the red dress stood out from the crowd. She was extremely beautiful. She knew about this and even felt proud of being like a model from the fashion magazine. She has long black hair, big black eyes that it was possible to dive into them and get lost forever like in the ocean. However, on their surface, I noticed waves of sorrow. The woman was standing silently.  The entire nature of hers was ready to scream from pain. Her eyes were full of tears looking at me - those were tears of sadness mixed with happiness. I wanted to come to her to ask what had happened. Unfortunately, something prevented me from this. I turned back, understood that she had disappeared. I did my best to find her seeing her nowhere. It was so strange because it seemed that her perfume was left in that park forever. I smelled it - it seemed so familiar to the one my mom had. She died when I was five. I wanted to find her seeing her in everyone. I will never forget the woman who looked so similar to my mom because she had such a sad face. I think that there are no meetings, which take place by chance. I am sure, that one has been planned by someone. Who was she? This has remained a secret. This doesn't matter because her appearance gave me a chance to see the image of my mom once again and feel her love wherever she is now”.

Depending on what you are going to write about, your outline will differ. Describe a person's appearance, an event, a process, a natural phenomenon, a picture, etc. In each case, the outline’s content will differ while the main structural elements we have already discussed above will remain. Check the descriptive essay outline sample that you can use describing a person.

I. Introduction:

  • The overall impression
  • The features you have noticed 1st

II.          Main Body:

  • The description of the face/body parameters
  • The description of the clothes
  • The behavior of the person

III.       Conclusion:

  • Does the character of the person suit the appearance?
  • What kind of features helped to find out what kind of personality the person has?
  • The personal observations
Write your work only after checking successful descriptive essay examples. Keep in mind that to complete a good essay of this genre, you need to be very careful with details. Don't make a big mistake considering details not very important for the overall impression. If writing about the person, analyze both the appearance/character, find out what the face features, clothes can tell about the personality. Describing any person/animal/not alive object, remember that you should have a clear picture of the topic to impress the reader with your detailed story. Use senses to help the reader see, smell, taste, hear, touch what you are writing about. Prof. Mary K., online essay writer from EssayPro

Have checked the descriptive essay example being unsure you can write this type of work on A+? Our professionals with years of experience will give a helping hand! Share the topic/the teacher's guidelines and we will do our best to exceed his/her expectations. We have a team of reliable writers treating the process of crafting essays as an opportunity to realize their potential.

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what to write a descriptive paragraph about

How to Write a Descriptive Essay: Full Guide With Tips

what to write a descriptive paragraph about

In this article, we examine the descriptive essay and present a step-by-step writing guide. Stick around for helpful writing tips near the end! Also, check out custom writers at EssayPro — political science essay service, if you need private tutoring or essay editing.

What is a Descriptive Essay?

The definition of a descriptive essay is a type of composition or paper which describes an object, person, process, or event. The writer’s goal is to create a vivid reading experience, or to show instead of tell (metaphorically).

Descriptive writing usually appeals to the five senses: taste, touch, smell, hearing, and sight. (Ex: Jack’s coffee mug exploded into tiny shards of glass, catching the attention of everyone at the office.) Always appealing to the senses is key to writing a good descriptive essay.

When writing a descriptive essay, your goal will be to paint a comprehensive picture for the reader by appealing to the five senses. Last but not least, your work should have a purpose. It could be anything from a lesson you learned from an experience, to a story of how an object impacted your life. It’s all about making your bright ideas come to life.

Difference Between a Description and a Descriptive Essay

When writing this type of paper, you should know the difference between a description and a descriptive essay. A description can be just a simple paragraph, or several ones with no specific structure, meanwhile, a descriptive essay has five or more paragraphs and a clear and complete structure. A descriptive essay is usually written coherently, has a good thesis statement at the end of the introduction, three body paragraphs, and a conclusion. A description however, does not necessarily have a structure. Its main purpose is to just describe an object, or something else, without having any extra academic layers.

The Issues that Could be Described in Your Paper

  • A person. In this paper, you can talk about a person. It can range from simply writing about their appearance to more complex descriptions like actions, behaviours, mood, and qualities of your chosen individual.
  • A place. The main thing you should do when describing a place in your work is to describe it interestingly and originally. Your reader(s) should feel, for example, the beauty of your chosen cities—perhaps New York or Rome.
  • An event. Here you need to describe the story of what happened. It can be your last vacation, concert, wedding, anniversary, summer music festival, graduation day, or so on.
  • An animal. In this type, you need to describe the animal. It may be its appearance, behaviour, or biology.
  • An occupation. Here you need to write about a job or occupation.
  • A behaviour. This is the type of descriptive writing you should go for if you would like to write about someone’s behaviour. Perhaps you want to describe the strange behaviour of your friend, or highlight how certain people act under different conditions.

Two Classic Approaches to the Descriptive Essay


1. Personal Essay

Here you need to describe an experience using your feelings and responses. This work can awake empathy in readers. It can also be vague and disorganized. If you want to write a good personal essay, you should try to focus only on those aspects that most fully express your experience. Do not shy away from vivid, evocative language in this type of assignment.

A few examples of personal essay topics might be:

  • Describing the experience of swimming in the azure sea in summer
  • Explaining your favourite movie and its impact on you
  • Reflecting on your birthday and all the things that have shaped you in the past

2. Formal Description

This type of descriptive writing resembles an argumentative essay. Your main goal should be communicating a set of key points or describing something in detail—according to a clear structure. Rather than focusing on your own experience, you need to use specific categories of information to provide the fullest possible portrait of what you are describing. This approach can also be engaging, especially when the reader is more curious about the subject of the paper than the writer's response to it. Still, try not to make it dull with too formal language.

Topics for formal descriptions can include:

  • A descriptive essay about climate change, politics, or historical events.
  • A news story that provides a summary of an event or information about the place where it occurred.

Descriptive Essay Topics & Ideas

Finding descriptive essay topics isn’t hard. You can describe pretty much anything—from your favourite car to today’s weather. We’ve gathered some ideas to help you get started. Hopefully, you’ll find good descriptive essay topics to spark your imagination.


Describe a Person

Pick a person who you know well—doing so gives you a lot to write about. Choose from family members, friends, teachers, etc. You can even write about a celebrity who exposes most of their private life to the media: The Kardashians, Kanye West, or Taylor Swift for instance. A famous superhero like Spider-Man is also interesting. Such fictional figures have undergone many character studies from both academic and non-academic perspectives.

Examples: Why my father is my favourite person. How Kim Kardashian changed my life.

Describe an Object or a Place

You may also describe an object or a place with which you have a special connection. This could be your high school, a playground, or a toy which used to scare you as a kid. Fictional places also count!

Examples: My native city – Paris My trip to London

Describe an Emotion

Remember the most sincere emotion you’ve experienced and turn it into a descriptive essay writing. You may choose a strong feeling like anger, happiness, loss, desire, or rage. It doesn’t have to be a personal emotion, it could be an observed one.

Examples: How love changed me Hatred and love – how they are similar

You can also write a descriptive essay about anything you can describe according to human senses: touch, sight, taste, smell, or hearing.

Creating a Descriptive Essay Outline

When thinking about descriptive essay writing, remember that a structured paper outline is your golden ticket. Not only does it help you organize thoughts, but it will also help your essays flow better.

A descriptive essay outline is composed of the following:

  • An introduction
  • Hook sentence
  • Context/Background information
  • Thesis statement
  • Body paragraphs
  • Topic sentence
  • Sensory details
  • Actual details
  • A conclusion
  • Summary of all main points
  • Clincher Statement

It is important to spend enough time considering the victim of description because all of your illustrations will be based around it.

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The introduction serves to introduce your subject to the reader and give them enough context to fully understand your work—but keep it brief and interesting for the reader(s). When learning how to write a descriptive essay introduction, remember – the first paragraph of your paper is the part that can make your descriptive essay stand out from the others.

As with any college paper, a descriptive essay introduction must contain the following points:

  • Hook Sentence: Although the entire paper should be full of exciting and vivid descriptions, grabbing the reader's attention from the very beginning is ideal.
  • Context/Background Information: Tell the reader what you’re about to describe and explain why it is crucial to you. Give them a brief context for your paper.
  • Thesis Statement: The descriptive essay thesis should be a short yet concise summary of the work. It must include the subject of your description, and your purpose for describing it.

For further information on how to write a thesis for a descriptive essay, check out the examples below.

Place. If you were to write about Buckingham Palace: “Even though the monarchy is long gone, Buckingham Palace serves to remind us of the aesthetic beauty which that era had built.” Person. For describing Spider-Man: “The defining characteristics of Spider-Man are his youthfulness, New York City, and the fact that he talks to himself more than Hamlet.” Emotion. A piece about a personal experience of fear: “For many reasons, the dark forest is my greatest fear, though not a fear which I would necessarily like to venture into.”

Body Paragraph(s)

There are usually three body paragraphs in a paper. They cover three different points or arguments. How many body paragraphs to include in your descriptive essay is entirely up to you—or your professor. Sometimes it only takes a paragraph to tell a story, while other times it takes books.

How to write a body paragraph:

  • Start with a topic sentence. ex. The orange looks familiar; it is a round citrus fruit whose colour matches its name.
  • Add sensory details. When describing the orange, appeal to relatable senses.
  • Include actual details. Always include descriptive information within your body paragraphs. Finish a body paragraph by introducing the next. Transition sentences are essential because they create immersion within your writing. Your writing will become better and it won’t appear as if you are reading a list of facts.

The descriptive essay is one type of 5 paragraph essay , which is the most common type of essay a student may encounter.

According to the descriptive essay format, your conclusion should be a summary of all of the main points in the body text. It is a good idea to write a final sentence that relates to the main point of your paper. Once this is done, the paper is now complete. We advise that you proofread your descriptive essay to correct any grammatical errors.

Try to incorporate the following into your conclusion:

  • The first thing to do at the end is to reflect on the initial purpose of the work. Spill the beans on why you decided to write about this subject, and how this subject has affected your life. An article about reflection paper may also be helpful to you.
  • Signify the Importance of the Details: Go over some key moments of the paper. Give a summary of what you have covered, and prepare the audience for the clincher statement.
  • Clincher Statement: The clincher is the final sentence that reinforces your paper’s overall purpose or leaves your audience with an intriguing thought, question, or quote. You’ve probably spent a lot of time thinking of a hook to pull the audience in. Do not allow the paper to escape your audience’s thoughts right after they have finish reading it.

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Writing and Reviewing Your Descriptive Paper Writing

Writing the paper consists of the following stages:

  • Pre-writing stage. Here you need to examine all of the sources you have and define if they all offer important information on the topic of your choice.
  • Writing the beginning. You should start your paper with a powerful, engaging hook that will grab the readers' attention. It may include an unusual metaphor or an interesting literary quote.
  • Creating the first draft of your descriptive essay. Here is where you just need to write down all of the words that come to your mind; you'll have a chance to narrow down your ideas later.
  • Adding details to your paper with the help of enriched English vocabulary and online dictionaries. Use your English vocabulary to add missing feelings, like hearing, to help make the descriptive essay leave a lasting impression.
  • Revising and editing the paper with the help of different free online grammar checking tools.

Let’s talk in detail about the final step here: reviewing your paper. After you finish writing, take a break. It’s always best to clear your mind before editing your paper.

When you come back to your descriptive essay, here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Have you provided enough context in the introduction?
  • Is the paper easy to read?
  • Does the thesis relate to the content of the paper?
  • Does the paper feature vivid, descriptive language?
  • Will the clincher statement leave a lasting impact?
  • Are there enough details to make it possible for your readers to obtain a full and vivid perception of your description?
  • Does each section of your work focus on one aspect of your description?
  • Does your paper possess any unnecessary details in your description that can be thrown away or replaced by more meaningful information?
  • Overall, if you were the reader, does this paper make sense to you?
  • Are there any problems with grammar and punctuation?

Sometimes web applications like Grammarly or the Hemingway app can help you sort your grammar. However, it’s always best to master the rules of grammar yourself and become the best writer you can be. Once you’re convinced you have the final draft, read it out loud or give it to a friend to read. Sometimes you need some constructive criticism to tie up loose ends in your writing. You can also trust the professionals and buy cheap essay on EssayPro service.


‍ Descriptive Essay Good Examples

This is a commonly assigned and most opted-for form of an essay. Why not have a look at our written descriptive essay examples. In this section, you can find some of the top examples and quotes followed by some critique.

The writer of this descriptive essay example explains how there was a lot of life before humans existed. The world was full of Blue Jays and North Cardinal birds that most probably ate pansy seeds as a stable diet. In this example, it is clear that the writer has put himself/herself in the perspective of someone in the far future. He/she describes how we were in the 21st century, and how we used the poles as communication portals.
In the eyes of the untrained, a rugby game is just a bunch of huge individuals senselessly fighting one another, struggling to move an oval ball inch by inch down a field full of mud towards the goal line of the opposing team. Players don’t put on pads or get a timeout in the event of injuries. Yet rugby is a different thing, a gentleman’s sport—to those who understand it. While rugby appears rough, its players maintain good respect toward both teammates and opponents.

It may be possible that you are not the expressive word artist in the world. If you are looking for someone to help with dissertation , we have numerous writers that have vivid word lingo flowing through their blood.

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Are you eager to write compelling descriptive essays but don't know how to start? 

A descriptive essay describes something - a person, an event, a place, or a personal experience in detail. The purpose of this essay is to provide enough detail about the topic to enable the reader to picture it.

If you want to learn how to write an excellent descriptive essay, this blog is for you!

Here’s a complete guide to help you write good descriptive essays. Along with a step-by-step guide, you’ll also get impressive example essays to learn from.

So let’s get into it!

What Is a Descriptive Essay?

A descriptive essay gives a detailed description of the topic and paints a picture with words in the reader’s mind. It could be about an object, place, person, emotion, situation, or anything. 

It is used to sharpen the analytical abilities of the students, which is helpful in further education and professional life. Therefore, it is often given to students in high school and college.

According to the descriptive essay definition,

“It is a type of essay that is used to describe an event, a place, a person, or anything in detail.”

This essay encourages the student’s ability to create an image by appealing to the senses of the reader. 

Purpose of a Descriptive Essay

The purpose of writing a descriptive essay is to describe something such as a person, object, place, or situation.

Descriptive speech or essays give readers a clear picture of the essay subject. The writer should make use of vivid language to help the reader understand what the essay is all about.

It does not involve convincing readers or showing factual information to prove something like an  argumentative essay  does. Instead, it aims to show all the important details about the chosen subject to make the reader understand the subject easily.

Here’s a short video that explains descriptive writing:

Types of Descriptive Essay

Descriptive essays can come in two types: formal and personal. 

Personal Descriptive Essay

The personal descriptive essay is a subjective descriptive essay. It aims to describe the writers' own feelings and perceptions of the topic. 

It is often written in a first-person point-of-view, allowing readers to understand the writer's personal experiences.

Here are a few examples of personal essay topics:

  • The moment that changed my life forever.
  • My experience overcoming a fear or phobia.
  • A significant challenge I faced and how I overcame it.
  • My cultural or family background and how it has influenced me.
  • A time I failed and what I learned from the experience.

Formal Descriptive Essay

The formal descriptive essay is an objective descriptive essay. It relies on facts and evidence to describe the object or event – without using any emotion or opinion from the writer. 

These essays are valuable in the sciences or other fields of study where finding accurate information is crucial. They are often used to write academic papers, such as research reports.

Some possible topics for formal descriptions could be:

  • The architecture of a historical building
  • The process of making a traditional dish
  • The unique characteristics of a rare gemstone
  • The layout and features of a city park
  • The cultural significance of a religious monument

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Elements of a Descriptive Essay

There are five basic features of a descriptive essay: 

A descriptive essay involves arousing the emotions of the readers and creating an association with them. Sensory details paint a picture of the subject for the reader and engage their senses like sight, touch, smell, and taste.

Using figurative language is one of the main elements of a descriptive essay. The use of metaphors, similes, adjectives, adverbs, etc. creates the character sketch of the subject. This sketch helps the readers feel what the writer felt about the subject and helps him visualize the subject.

The central theme shapes and directs the essay’s content and helps organize the details. It should be well defined and focused on a single point.

The effect of your essay depends on the type of language that you have used in it. The language should emphasize the main theme and aim of the essay. Therefore, avoid using vague and ambiguous words.

An organized structure is an essential element of this essay. Also, the chronology, spatial location, and order play an important role.

How to Write a Descriptive Essay?

Writing an effective descriptive essay involves topic selection, creating an outline of parts of the descriptive essay, organizing ideas, and adding relevant information to the essay.

The following is the process of descriptive writing.

How to Start a Descriptive Essay 

1. choose a topic.

Choosing a good topic for your essay is important. The essay topic should be attractive so that it compels the reader to stay with you throughout the essay.

2. Create an Outline

Draft a  descriptive essay outline  to organize your information in a proper sequence. It will help you structure your essay and remind you to include all the sensory details.

3. Write a Descriptive Essay Introduction

The essay begins with an introduction. It introduces the main topic and includes a strong opinion that creates the first impression of the essay. The introduction gives a brief overview of what the essay is going to be about.

4. Craft an Informative Thesis Statement

A descriptive essay thesis statement defines the scope and purpose of the essay. It is a narrow subject line, which should be clear and precise. Write the statement in a creative way and choose descriptive words for it.

Creating mystery in your thesis statement attracts the reader to the body of your essay.

Writing the Body Paragraphs

The body paragraphs support the introduction and follow the direction as defined in the thesis statement. Here’s how you write a body paragraph:

  • Use topic sentences as the first sentence of each paragraph. A topic sentence states the main point of a paragraph.
  • Connect the topic sentence to the thesis.
  • Present evidence and explain how it supports your argument in that paragraph.
  • Organize your paragraphs properly in an orderly form, in case of experience and memories.
  • Summarize the key points in each body paragraph.

Finally, make sure that body paragraphs are connected to each other through transition words or phrases.

Ending with a Strong Descriptive Essay Conclusion

The conclusion is the last part of the essay according to the descriptive essay format. This is your last chance to impress the reader.

It summarizes and provides a way forward from the essay. The following steps will help you write an excellent conclusion.

  • Use the appropriate transition words such as “to finish with”, “in conclusion” and ‘lastly’ suggesting an end to the essay. 
  • Summarize the main points of your essay in a clear and concise manner
  • Discuss how the details from the body of your essay support the initial thesis statement.
  • Offer final thoughts on the subject matter that will leave an impression on the reader. It could be food for thought or a call to action.

The last sentence of the essay should finalize the writer’s aim of writing the essay and provide an everlasting effect.

Descriptive Essay Topics

Whether you are writing about a person or a place, your topic should have good supporting points that explain the topic.

Choosing an engaging topic will develop curiosity and hook the reader to the last bit of the essay. Here we have prepared a list of amazing descriptive essay topics for you.

Descriptive Essay About a Place

  • Depict the Lincoln Castle in your own words.
  • What does the house of your dreams look like?
  • Make a description of the Safari Park you visited last week.
  • Describe a conference room situation for your colleagues.
  • Describe how you imagine Niagara falls.

Descriptive Essay About a Memory

  • Describe one of the earliest memories of your childhood.
  • What is the happiest memory in your mind?
  • How you have celebrated your best friend's birthday
  • When I saw the apple plant seed
  • The first time I went abroad

Descriptive Essay About a Person

  • Portray Nelson Mandela as a role model.
  • Explain how you imagine aliens to be like.
  • Write a character sketch of a character from the play Hamlet.
  • Describe one of your family members.
  • A stranger I met in the lobby.

Descriptive Essay About an Object

  • My lucky watch
  • My favorite badminton racket
  • The flask I broke
  • The silk road
  • The thing that you passionately wanted to buy

Descriptive Essay About an Emotion

  • The feeling of love
  • The sense of peace
  • The thrill of fear
  • The power of anger
  • The beauty of joy

Descriptive Essay Topics for University Students

  • Describe the feeling of attending your first college class.
  • Illustrate the effects of living and studying on a college campus.
  • Describe a meaningful experience you had with a professor in college.
  • Illustrate the importance of participating in extracurricular activities during university years. 
  • Describe the impact of financial aid and scholarships on college education.

Want more topics? We’ve got a list of hundreds of descriptive essay topics for you, so be sure to check them out. 

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Descriptive Essay Examples

You should read some good essay examples before writing your own essay. An essay example would help you demonstrate, compile, and organize your essay in a structured form.

Below we have provided some amazing examples to help you know the process.

A School Lunch Hall Descriptive Essay Example

The Weekend Market Descriptive Essay Sample

Descriptive Essay on Historical Place

Descriptive Essay on a Teacher that I Remember

Descriptive Essay on my Village

My Favorite Place Descriptive Essay

5 Paragraph Essay - Descriptive Essay PDF

The ultimate aim of this practice is to identify and learn different techniques for writing an impressive descriptive essay. Find more descriptive essay examples to read and learn from.

Tips for Writing a Descriptive Essay 

Here are some tips for writing a descriptive essay:

  • Choose a specific topic: Your essay should focus on a specific person, place, object, or event that you can vividly describe.
  • Use sensory details: Sensory details are descriptive words and phrases that help your reader experience the subject of your essay through sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch.
  • Organize your essay: Your essay should have a clear introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion. Consider using a chronological or spatial organization to help your reader understand the sequence of events or the layout of the subject.
  • Show, don't tell: Instead of simply telling your reader what you are describing, show them through specific examples and sensory details.
  • Use figurative language: Similes, metaphors, and other forms of figurative language can help you convey the emotions and feelings associated with your subject.

Summing it up,

Descriptive essay writing is a skill that requires thorough practice. It involves the ability to craft an engaging story with vivid descriptions, sounding as realistic as possible.

The above-mentioned steps and examples are a great way for students to learn writing a descriptive essay.

However, if you still need expert help to write a flawless essay, we’ve got your back.

You can hire a custom descriptive essay writer from MyPerfectWords.com . They will make your essay writing process simple and smooth. 

MyPerfectWords.com  provides legitimate essay writing services to help you with your essays. 

Our  descriptive essay writing service  provides non-plagiarized essays and high-quality papers for you. 

Hire our essay writing service  now and get essay help from us at affordable prices.

Caleb S. (Literature, Marketing)

Caleb S. has been providing writing services for over five years and has a Masters degree from Oxford University. He is an expert in his craft and takes great pride in helping students achieve their academic goals. Caleb is a dedicated professional who always puts his clients first.

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How to Write a Descriptive Essay

Last Updated: February 8, 2023 References

This article was co-authored by Jake Adams . Jake Adams is an academic tutor and the owner of Simplifi EDU, a Santa Monica, California based online tutoring business offering learning resources and online tutors for academic subjects K-College, SAT & ACT prep, and college admissions applications. With over 14 years of professional tutoring experience, Jake is dedicated to providing his clients the very best online tutoring experience and access to a network of excellent undergraduate and graduate-level tutors from top colleges all over the nation. Jake holds a BS in International Business and Marketing from Pepperdine University. There are 7 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been viewed 1,481,397 times.

A good descriptive essay creates a vivid picture of the topic in the reader’s mind. You may need to write a descriptive essay as a class assignment or you may decide to write one as a fun writing challenge. Start by brainstorming ideas for the essay. Then, outline and write the essay using vivid sensory details and strong descriptions. Always polish your essay and proofread it so it is at its best.

Brainstorming Ideas for the Essay

Image titled Write a Descriptive Essay Step 1

  • You could also choose a fictional person to write about, such as a character in a book, a story, or a play. You could write about a character on your favorite TV show or video game.

Image titled Write a Descriptive Essay Step 2

  • Another take on this option is to write about a made-up place or object, such as the fantastical school in your favorite book or the magic wand from your favorite TV show.

Image titled Write a Descriptive Essay Step 3

  • You could also choose a more specific emotion, such as brotherly love or self-hatred. These emotions can make for powerful descriptive essays.

Image titled Write a Descriptive Essay Step 4

  • For example, if you were writing about a person like your mother, you may write down under “sound” : “soft voice at night, clack of her shoes on the floor tiles, bang of the spoon when she cooks.”

Writing the Essay

Image titled Write a Descriptive Essay Step 5

  • If you are writing the essay for a class, your instructor should specify if they want a five paragraph essay or if you have the freedom to use sections instead.

Image titled Write a Descriptive Essay Step 6

  • For example, if you were writing a descriptive essay about your mother, you may have a thesis statement like: “In many ways, my mother is the reigning queen of our house, full of contradictions that we are too afraid to question.”

Image titled Write a Descriptive Essay Step 7

  • For example, if you were writing the essay about your mom, you may start with: “My mother is not like other mothers. She is a fierce protector and a mysterious woman to my sisters and I.”
  • If you were writing an essay about an object, you may start with: "Try as I might, I had a hard time keeping my pet rock alive."

Image titled Write a Descriptive Essay Step 8

  • You can also use adjectives that connect to the senses, such “rotting,” “bright,” “hefty,” “rough,” and “pungent.”
  • For example, you may describe your mother as "bright," "tough," and "scented with jasmine."

Image titled Write a Descriptive Essay Step 9

  • You can also use similes, where you use “like” or “as” to compare one thing to another. For example, you may write, “My mother is like a fierce warrior in battle, if the battlefield were PTA meetings and the checkout line at the grocery store.”

Image titled Write a Descriptive Essay Step 10

  • For example, you may write about your complicated feelings about your mother. You may note that you feel sadness about your mother’s sacrifices for the family and joy for the privileges you have in your life because of her.

Image titled Write a Descriptive Essay Step 11

  • For example, you may end a descriptive essay about your mother by noting, “In all that she has sacrificed for us, I see her strength, courage, and fierce love for her family, traits I hope to emulate in my own life.”

Polishing the Essay

Image titled Write a Descriptive Essay Step 12

  • You can also read the essay aloud to others to get their feedback. Ask them to let you know if there are any unclear or vague sentences in the essay.

Image titled Write a Descriptive Essay Step 13

  • Be open to constructive criticism and feedback from others. This will only make your essay stronger.

Image titled Write a Descriptive Essay Step 14

  • If you have a word count requirement for the essay, make sure you meet it. Add more detail to the paper or take unnecessary content out to reach the word count.

Outline for a Descriptive Essay

what to write a descriptive paragraph about

Expert Q&A

Jake Adams

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Write an Essay

  • ↑ http://www.writeexpress.com/descriptive-essay.html
  • ↑ Jake Adams. Academic Tutor & Test Prep Specialist. Expert Interview. 24 July 2020.
  • ↑ https://www.iup.edu/writingcenter/writing-resources/organization-and-structure/descriptive-writing.html
  • ↑ https://spcollege.libguides.com/ld.php?content_id=10168248
  • ↑ http://www.butte.edu/departments/cas/tipsheets/style_purpose_strategy/descriptive_essay.html
  • ↑ https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/general_writing/academic_writing/essay_writing/descriptive_essays.html
  • ↑ https://vln.school.nz/groupcms/view/845349/descriptive-writing

About This Article

Jake Adams

To write a descriptive essay, start by choosing a topic, like a person, place, or specific emotion. Next, write down a list of sensory details about the topic, like how it sounds, smells, and feels. After this brainstorming session, outline the essay, dividing it into an introduction, 3 body paragraphs, and a conclusion. Open with a vivid introduction that uses sensory details, then introduce your thesis statement, which the rest of your essay should support. Strengthen your essay further by using metaphors and similes to describe your topic, and the emotions it evokes. To learn how to put the finishing touches on your essay, keep reading! Did this summary help you? Yes No

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Business owners of color seeking SBA loans now have to write an essay proving their race is a 'social disadvantage' after a judge ruled it isn't enough

  • In July, a federal judge ruled business owners cannot say their race is a disadvantage to receive funding.
  • It challenged the SBA's 8(a) program, which awards money to socially disadvantaged businesses each year.
  • Now, business owners have to write an essay proving why their identity has been the basis of discrimination.

The Supreme Court struck down affirmative action in college admissions — but business owners are also feeling the heat.

In July, a federal judge in Tennessee issued a ruling that challenged the Small Business Administration's 8(a) Business Development program, which was created for the government to give at least 5% of all federal contracting dollars to disadvantaged small businesses each year. The judge's decision struck down a key provision of that program, saying that business owners could no longer say their race is the reason they have faced disadvantage in America.

The judge wrote in the July 19 opinion that "the determination of which groups of Americans are presumptively disadvantaged compared with others necessarily leads to such a determination being underinclusive because certain groups that could qualify will be left out of the presumption." The opinion gave an example that while some minority groups have faced "significant discrimination in a number of areas," they are not considered "presumptively socially disadvantaged."

This ruling prompted the SBA to change the process for small business owners to receive funds though the 8(a) program. According to the new guidance posted in late August, the SBA is now requiring all 8(a) participants to complete a " social disadvantage narrative " if they want to continue receiving awards through the program.

"SBA must determine that the discrimination or bias experienced by an individual is chronic, substantial, and has occurred within American society (not another country)," the guidance said. "Additionally, the discrimination must have negatively impacted the individual's entry or advancement in the business world."

The narrative should indicate which identities are the basis of a social disadvantage and include a description of a time when bias or discrimination occurred because of that identity. The guidance said that "sufficient" narratives are typically three pages long and should include a who, what, where, why, when, and how the discrimination occurred. 

This new guidance comes in the wake of the Supreme Court's decision to strike down affirmative action in college admissions at the end of July, which means that colleges can no longer use race as a factor to determine whether a student should gain admission into the school. This has prompted a number of schools since the decision to change the way they admit students — particularly by removing legacy preference from their admissions processes , which have typically benefitted white and wealthy applicants.

Still, the ruling on the 8(a) program could signal legal challenges down the road for other programs that prioritize minority groups. Edward Blum, who was behind the Supreme Court case challenging affirmative action in college admissions, filed a lawsuit in early August against the Fearless Fund, which gives grants to Black, female entrepreneurs. He also sued two law firms that have fellowships aimed at promoting diversity. 

It's unclear if President Joe Biden's administration will appeal the 8(a) ruling, and SBA Administrator Isabella Guzman said in a statement that "the SBA and Biden-Harris Administration remain committed to supporting this crucial program and the small business owners who have helped drive America's strong economic growth."

what to write a descriptive paragraph about

Watch: Asian-American groups are saying affirmative action hurts their chances to get into Ivy League schools

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Ban or Embrace? Colleges Wrestle With A.I.-Generated Admissions Essays.

A.I. chatbots could facilitate plagiarism on college applications or democratize student access to writing help. Or maybe both.

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Susan Barber speaks to her class underneath a wall of college banners. Students sit at their desks.

By Natasha Singer

Natasha Singer reports on the ways that tech giants and their tools are reshaping education.

Rick Clark, the executive director of undergraduate admission at the Georgia Institute of Technology, and his staff spent weeks this summer pretending to be high school students using A.I. chatbots to fill out college applications.

The admissions officers each took on a different high school persona: swim team captain, Eagle Scout, musical theater performer. Then they fed personal details about the fictional students into ChatGPT, prompting the A.I. chatbot to produce the kind of extracurricular activity lists and personal essays commonly required on college applications.

Mr. Clark said he wanted to get a handle on how A.I. chatbots might reshape the admissions process this fall — the start of the first full academic year that the tools will be widely available to high school seniors — and come up with guidance for students applying to Georgia Tech.

“Students on some level are going to have access to and use A.I.,” Mr. Clark said. “The big question is: How do we want to direct them, knowing that it’s out there and available to them?”

The easy availability of A.I. chatbots like ChatGPT, which can manufacture humanlike text in response to short prompts, is poised to upend the traditional undergraduate application process at selective colleges — ushering in an era of automated plagiarism or of democratized student access to essay-writing help. Or maybe both.

The digital disruption comes at a turning point for institutions of higher education across the United States. After the Supreme Court ruled in June that race-based university admissions programs were illegal, some selective universities and colleges had hoped to rely more on essay questions — about applicants’ upbringing, identities and communities — to help foster diversity on campus.

The personal essay has long been a staple of the application process at elite colleges, not to mention a bane for generations of high school students. Admissions officers have often employed applicants’ essays as a lens into their unique character, pluck, potential and ability to handle adversity. As a result, some former students say they felt tremendous pressure to develop, or at least concoct, a singular personal writing voice.

But new A.I. tools threaten to recast the college application essay as a kind of generic cake mix, which high school students may simply lard or spice up to reflect their own tastes, interests and experiences — casting doubt on the legitimacy of applicants’ writing samples as authentic, individualized admissions yardsticks.

“It makes me sad,” Lee Coffin , the dean of admissions at Dartmouth College, said during a university podcast this year that touched on A.I.-generated application essays. “The idea that this central component of a story could be manufactured by someone other than the applicant is disheartening.”

Some teachers said they were troubled by the idea of students using A.I. tools to produce college essay themes and texts for deeper reasons: Outsourcing writing to bots could hinder students from developing important critical thinking and storytelling skills.

“Part of the process of the college essay is finding your writing voice through all of that drafting and revising,” said Susan Barber, an Advanced Placement English literature teacher at Midtown High School, a public school in Atlanta. “And I think that’s something that ChatGPT would be robbing them of.”

In August, Ms. Barber assigned her 12th-grade students to write college essays. This week, she held class discussions about ChatGPT, cautioning students that using A.I. chatbots to generate ideas or writing could make their college essays sound too generic. She advised them to focus more on their personal views and voices.

Other educators said they hoped the A.I. tools might have a democratizing effect. Wealthier high school students, these experts noted, often have access to resources — alumni parents, family friends, paid writing coaches — to help them brainstorm, draft and edit their college admissions essays. ChatGPT could play a similar role for students who lack such resources, they said, especially those at large high schools where overworked college counselors have little time for individualized essay coaching.

So far, however, very few U.S. universities have published admissions policies on the use of A.I. tools by applicants.

The University of Michigan Law School recently issued guidelines saying that “applicants ought not use ChatGPT or other artificial intelligence tools as part of their drafting process.” But the law school does allow applicants to ask mentors, friends or other humans “for basic proofreading assistance and general feedback and critiques.”

The Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University has taken the opposite stance. The law school’s website says applicants may use A.I. tools to prepare their application materials as long as they “ use this technology responsibly ” and certify that the information they submit is true.

After experimenting with ChatGPT this summer, the admissions team at Georgia Tech chose a third way. The university’s website recently posted guidelines encouraging high school applicants to use A.I. tools as collaborators to “brainstorm, refine and edit” their ideas. At the same time, the site warned applicants that they should “not copy and paste content you did not create directly into your application.”

Mr. Clark, the Georgia Tech admissions official, said ChatGPT could not compete with live writing coaches or savvy parents in providing feedback to high school students on their personal essays. But he hoped it could help many students get started.

“It’s free, it’s accessible and it’s helpful,” Mr. Clark said. “It’s progress toward equity.”

Several high school seniors said in interviews that they had chosen not to use A.I. tools to help draft their essays — partly because they wanted to tell their own personal stories themselves, and partly because many universities have not taken clear stances on applicants’ use of the chatbots.

“The vagueness and ambiguity is kind of hard for us,” said Kevin Jacob, a senior at the Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science and Technology in the Atlanta area. The public high school has a dedicated writing center where students may get feedback on their college essays.

The Common App, a nonprofit group that runs an online system enabling high school students to apply to many colleges and universities at once, has not taken a public stance on the use of A.I. chatbots. The group requires applicants to certify that their writing — and other material they submit as part of their college applications — is their own work . But the group has not updated the academic integrity policy on its website to include artificial intelligence tools.

“This is the first full application cycle where students have the ability to use ChatGPT, and this technology is constantly changing,” Jenny Rickard, the chief executive of the Common App, said in a statement.

“We’re all learning more about these tools, and it’s important for our member institutions and our K-12 partners and counselors to set reasonable parameters on how they can and can’t be used.”

The New York Times emailed more than a dozen universities and colleges — including large state schools, Ivy League schools and small private colleges — asking about their policies on high school applicants using A.I. tools to draft their admissions essays. The majority did not respond or declined to comment.

In a statement sent by email, the Office of Undergraduate Admissions at the University of Michigan said the school was “aware of the new technology” but had “not made any changes to our undergraduate application process, including our essay questions .”

Ritika Vakharia, a senior at the Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science and Technology, said she had tried asking ChatGPT to produce ideas for college admissions essays. But she found the responses too broad and impersonal, even after she gave it details about her extracurricular activities like teaching dance classes to younger students.

Now she said she was working to come up with a more personal college application essay theme.

“I feel a little more pressure to create, like, this super unique, interesting topic,” Ms. Vakharia said, “because a basic one these days could just be generated by ChatGPT.”

Natasha Singer writes about technology, business and society. She is currently reporting on the far-reaching ways that tech companies and their tools are reshaping public schools, higher education and job opportunities. More about Natasha Singer

Explore Our Coverage of Artificial Intelligence

The U.S. Air Force is starting to embrace artificial intelligence, but there are deep concerns about how much autonomy to grant a lethal weapon .

Nvidia has become the most visible winner  of the artificial intelligence boom. The Silicon Valley company achieved its dominance  by becoming a one-stop shop for A.I. development, from chips to software to other services.

The use of A.I. to generate voice deepfakes  has given scammers a potent weapon for trying to trick people into sending them money.

Technology disruption has typically affected blue-collar jobs. But white-collar workers may feel the brunt of the changes  brought on by A.I. systems.

Initially, some school districts raced to block A.I. chatbots like ChatGPT. Now, as the new academic year starts, they are trying to embrace the technology .

In a milestone of neuroscience and A.I., the brain activity of a paralyzed woman is being translated into words spoken by an avatar on a computer screen .


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