Login
Copyright

Descriptive Essay: Definition, Examples & Characteristics

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: Informative Essay: Definition, Examples & Structure

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
 Replay
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:06 Defining a Descriptive Essay
  • 0:35 Using the Five Senses
  • 2:06 Showing Vs. Telling
  • 4:11 Organizing
  • 6:19 Lesson Summary
Add to Add to Add to

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Login or Sign up

Timeline
Autoplay
Autoplay
Create an account to start this course today
Try it free for 5 days!
Create An Account

Recommended Lessons and Courses for You

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kelly Roach

Kelly earned her Master of Mass Communication from Arizona State and has taught consumer behavior and communication courses at the undergraduate level.

A descriptive essay allows you to paint a picture for your reader in words. Watch this video to learn more about the techniques and elements that can help you fill the picture with lots of great details.

Defining a Descriptive Essay

When you hear the word 'describe,' what does it mean to you? For most people, describing is a way of illustrating something with words. You can describe a feeling, a sound, or even an emotion.

Descriptive essays are just the same: they help you illustrate something in a way that your reader can see, feel, or hear whatever it is you're talking about. A descriptive essay allows a reader to understand the essay's subject using illustrative language.

Using the Five Senses

Descriptive essays are great because, in a sense (pun intended), they can help us see places we might not be able to go ourselves, hear new things, taste different flavors, smell foreign smells, or touch different textures. Descriptive essays do this through the use of more concrete concepts, which most often include our five senses.

Behold, the power of using the five senses in a descriptive essay:

'As the waves leisurely collided with the shore, I could hear the delicate lapping of the water as it met the sand. The smell of salt air and a warm afternoon wafted through the sky. Slowly, I awoke from my slumber, cuddled in a hammock that surrounded me like a cocoon. The warm sun brightly shone on my face and greeted me, 'Good afternoon'.'

Based on this paragraph, where is the author? What is going on? Thanks to the five senses, you can gather that he or she is just waking up from what seems like a really peaceful nap in a hammock on a beach somewhere. How do we gather this?

Based on the description, we can see waves hitting the shore as the tide comes in, hear the water as it hits the sand, smell the salty air, and feel the warm sun. See how the senses use concrete things we've all probably experienced to some degree in our own lives to help you visualize a new scene? This is how a descriptive essay uses things we are familiar with - in this case, our five senses - to take us to a tropical paradise.

Showing vs. Telling

Even more, the description helps set a mood by using more vivid language to complement the sensory-based description. The author shows us, rather than tells us, what the afternoon on a beach is like.

Rather than saying, 'I heard the waves as the tide came in,' the author says, 'As the waves leisurely collided with the shore, I could hear the delicate lapping of the water as it met the sand.' The extra detail really helps us visualize the scene that the author is trying to create. He or she shows us what it's like to be out there on the beach when the tide comes in during the afternoon, rather than just giving us a play-by-play.

The same vivid language also helps the author to create a mood for this description. We can begin to experience the same peacefulness through the use of words like 'leisurely' and 'delicate.' Again, rather than just telling us it was a really relaxing and peaceful day, he or she lets the descriptive language show us.

Another useful technique for setting a mood with your descriptive writing is to use similes and metaphors. A simile is a phrase comparing two unlikely things using 'like' or 'as' in order to make a description more vivid. You've probably heard the phrase, 'running like the wind' before. This is an example of a simile. Rather than saying, 'running really fast,' you replace the speed with something that might represent running quickly, like the wind.

A metaphor has the same function as a simile, but the comparison between objects is implicit, meaning there is no 'like' or 'as' used to signal the comparison. Here's an example of a metaphor from good old Shakespeare: 'All the world's a stage and the men and women merely players.' Rather than saying life is just like a play, he compares the world to where a play is acted out.

As you can see, similes and metaphors are another tool to help make your descriptions more vivid. They paint a more detailed picture for your reader, making it easier for them to understand what you're saying, not to mention more interesting, because you are showing them what you have in your mind's eye, rather than just telling them.

Organizing

By now, you probably get the idea that the style choice for your descriptive essay is pretty open. The subject of your essay and the mood you want to create really dictates how your essay is structured. Really, the only rule is to make sure you describe your subject as vividly as possible, using the five senses and showing versus telling.

There are, however, a few ways you can organize your descriptive essay to make it even easier for the reader to follow what you're saying and visualize your subject.

One option is to organize your essay from general to particular. For example, if you were describing the new Big Tex at the State Fair of Texas, you might start out by describing the setting - the smell of the corn dogs frying, the crowds of people, the happy children dodging in and out of the midway games - then get into his grandiose size - after all, everything is bigger in Texas, right? After that, you describe the details: his new crisp, white, pearl snap shirt, his blue jeans tucked into cowboy boots, adorned up top with his signature belt buckle, and so on.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account

Register for a free trial

Are you a student or a teacher?
I am a teacher
What is your educational goal?
 Back

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 10 million people use Study.com

Become a Study.com member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 95 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 2,000 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? Study.com has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it free for 5 days!
Create An Account
Support