One of the keys to writing a descriptive essay is to create a picture in your reading audience’s mind by engaging all five of their senses – smell, sight, touch, taste and sound. If you can do this, then your essay is a success, if not, then you have a lot of work to do. The first steps in writing a descriptive essay will lay the groundwork for the entire piece.
Step 1: Choose a topic
A descriptive essay will usually focus on a single event, a person, a location or an item. When you write your essay, it is your job to convey your idea about that topic through your description of that topic and the way that you lay things out for your reader. You need to show your reader (not tell them) what you are trying to describe by illustrating a picture in their mind’s eye very carefully.
Your essay needs to be structured in a manner that helps your topic to make sense. If you are describing an event, you will need to write your paragraphs in chronological order. If you are writing about a person or a place you need to order the paragraphs so that you start off in a general manner and then write more specific details later. Your introductory paragraph sets the tone for the rest of the essay, so it needs to set out all of the main ideas that you are going to cover in your essay.
Step 2: Create a statement
The next step is to create a thesis statement. This is a single idea that will be prominent throughout your essay. It not only sets out the purpose of the essay, but regulates the way that the information is conveyed in the writing of that essay. This is an introductory paragraph that sets out your topic framework.
Step 3: Get the senses right
Next, create five labelled columns on a sheet of paper, each one having a different of the five senses. This labelled list will help you to sort out your thoughts as you describe your topic – the taste, sight, touch, smell and sound of your topic can be sketched out among the columns. List out in the columns any sensation or feeling that you associate with the topic that you are writing about. You need to provide full sensory details that help to support the thesis. You can utilize literary tools such as metaphors, similes, personification and descriptive adjectives.
Once you have the columns laid out you can start to fill them with details that help to support your thesis. These should be the most interesting items that you have noted in your columns and will the details that you flesh out into the paragraphs of the body of your essay. Topics are set out in each separate paragraph and a topic sentence begins that paragraph and need to relate to your introductory paragraph and your thesis.
Step 4: Create an outline
The next step is to create an outline listing the details of the discussion of each paragraph. Students in high school are generally asked to write a five paragraph essay while college students are given more freedom with the length of their piece. The standard five paragraph essay has a particular structure including the introductory paragraph with the inclusion of a thesis statement, followed by three body paragraphs which prove that statement.
Step 5: Write the conclusion
Finally, the conclusion paragraph makes a summary of the entirety of your essay. This conclusion also needs to reaffirm your thesis (if necessary). Your conclusion needs to be well written because it is the final thing to be read by your reader and will remain on their mind the longest after they have read the remainder of your essay.
Step 6: Review your essay
It is important to take a break from your writing once you have completed the work. By stepping away from the work for a short time you can clear your mind and take a short rest. You can then take a look at the essay with fresh eyes and view it in much the same way that a person reading it will when they first see the piece.
After you have taken a short break or a walk (or whatever the case may be), read the entire essay again thinking about your reader. You should ask yourself if you were the reader, would the essay make sense to you? Is it easy to read so that anyone can understand what the topic of the essay is? Do any of the paragraphs need to be rewritten because they are confusing and need to be better written to be descriptive?
Your choice of words and language need to convey what you are trying to describe when you talk about a particular topic. The details that you have provided should give your reader enough information that they can form a complete picture. Any details in the essay should help a reader to understand the meaning of the topic from the writer’s point of view.
Read your entire essay over again, out loud this time. Sometimes reading something out loud can help to identify any issues that should be worked out. Read the essay again to a friend or family member and have them give you any criticisms that they might have. Have someone else ready your essay and then ask them if anything needs to be clarified or if they received a clear picture from the details given in the essay.
Step 7: Finish it up
Finally, read your essay again very carefully and check for any grammar, punctuation or spelling errors that are obvious within the essay. If you find any clichés, be sure to delete them, they certainly do not belong in your essay. If there are any parts that are not completely descriptive or don’t make as much sense as you would like them to, rewrite them once again and then follow the proof reading and reading aloud process again to ensure that the final product is exactly as expected. You can never be too thorough when it comes to reading the essay over again and checking for any areas that need to be reworked.
Enjoyed this post? Here’s what you can do next:
- Language Arts
- Family Life
Write a character sketch about somebody you know well.
- use a graphic organizer to help them discuss a model character sketch and organize/write one of their own.
- write an interesting sketch that includes the proper elements of a character sketch.
characterization, character sketch, writing, expository writing, character, graphic organizer
- a "model" character sketch -- text provided below (a copy for each student, or an overhead projector to display the model to the entire class)
In this lesson, students write a character sketch about somebody they know well -- for example, a parent, best friend, relative, or neighbor. After they have mastered the art of writing a character sketch of somebody familiar, they can transfer their character-sketch writing skills to a character sketch about a character in a novel or another piece of literature.
Explain to students what a character sketch is: A character sketch highlights several important characteristics or personality traits of a person -- a real person, a person in literature, or an imagined person. A good character sketch provides support detail for each identified trait.
Share with students the model character sketch that appears below. You might cut and paste it into a Word document and provide a copy for each student, or print out this lesson and photocopy the sketch below onto an overhead transparency.
My friend Liz is a true best friend. She always supports me in everything I want to do. When I wanted to go up North, she said she thought it would be a great experience and that it would help me develop my sense of adventure.
Liz is not only a great supporter. She also trusts me to give her my honest opinion and to say what I feel. When she was upset with her sister one time, she asked what I thought about it and I said she should wait and then she would find out the real reason why her sister was mad at her. And it happened that way. She knew she could trust me.
Liz can be a barrel of fun when she is in the mood. I really like when she does silly things. One night, we rented three movies and watched all three while we ate popcorn, cheese and crackers, and a whole box of chocolates. We gabbed about everything and even imagined what it would be like to live like some of the characters in the movies.
Since my best friend is now living over 500 miles away, I miss all the laughter she brought to my life and the times I could ask her opinion on things that troubled me. But I can still hear the sound of her voice and ask her opinion on the telephone!
Point out that in the character sketch above, the writer highlighted what he or she felt were some of Liz's best qualities or character traits. For each trait or characteristic, the writer provided at least one detail that supported -- served as proof -- that Liz possessed that trait. The character sketch form below provides a simple outline for a character sketch. Have students work on their own or in small groups as they use the form to discuss the character sketch above. The form will help them identify
- the qualities/character traits that the writer likes most about Liz.
- details/examples to support those traits.
Character Sketch Format/Graphic Organizer
Topic Sentence: ____________________________________________________
Trait #1 _________________________________
Trait #2 _________________________________
Trait #3 _________________________________
Concluding Sentence: ____________________________________________________
Set aside time for students to share their work. Ask: What traits did the writer admire in Liz?
Then invite students to share some other traits people might have that would be worthy of inclusion in a character sketch. (You might do this as a class activity or have students first brainstorm traits in their small groups.) Write of list of those traits as students identify them. Some traits might include loyalty, kindness, and determination.
Have students use a graphic organizer form similar to the one above to formulate ideas for a character sketch about someone they know well; the form will help them organize their thinking before writing. Emphasize the importance of providing good, strong supporting details for each characteristic. Help students who seem to be having difficulty identifying traits or providing supporting details. After they have filled in the spaces on the graphic organizer, students are ready to write their sketches.
This is a good activity to do around holiday time, Mother's Day, or Father's Day. You might have students laminate their completed sketches to present as gifts to the subject of their sketches.
When you are comfortable that students have mastered the concept of a character sketch, have them use the format to create a character sketch of a character from a book, story, poem, play, or other piece of literature.
Students write a character sketch that includes all the important elements defined in the lesson above.
Pauline Finlay, Holy Trinity Elementary School, Torbay, Newfoundland (Canada)
Copyright © 2004 Education World
Originally published 04/23/2004
Last updated 07/25/2017