How to Write a Descriptive Essay

A descriptive essay is one of several forms of writing you may be required to use in college, with the other forms being the argumentative, narrative and expository forms. When you write your essay you should create a written account of a particular experience or describe a person, emotion, and situation or place so vividly that your readers feel like they can almost reach out and touch it. As such, the descriptive form allows for a great deal of artistic freedom and focuses less on facts and statistics than many other forms of writing you will do while in college.

What is the purpose of your essay?

Think about a topic that has many interesting features you can present in a descriptive way. Combine that with a strong understanding of what are you trying to convey to your readers and why. For example, what details can you include to ensure that your readers will gain a vivid impression that is infused with your emotion or perspective? What sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures are important for developing your description? What feelings will you convey and why? The ΓÇ£whyΓÇ¥ will focus the other details you will include and how you will write about them.

Include as many detailed images as possible and use all your senses.

To get the clearest picture in their mind, your readers want to know all about the event or object you are describing, so be sure to provide everything that the reader would use to understand your subject if they were to experience it for themselves. For example, if your essay is about cars, make a list of details, like the horn, upholstery, bumpers, lights etc. Once you have written them down, you can compile a descriptive list for each of them. When you are writing your essay, think in terms of ΓÇ£showingΓÇ¥ and not just ΓÇ£tellingΓÇ¥. You are painting a picture with words so it is important to describe it fully.

Narrow and refine your descriptions.

It is important to keep in mind that every object, person or event can be experienced form many different perspectives. Start from some general characteristics of the subject and then proceed to specific and striking ones. Define the unique qualities of the subject that cannot be found in other persons, places or things.

A descriptive essay can be the most liberating and pleasurable essay to write. You are writing something as you see it and you can elaborate in your own language. However, make sure that you keep to the point — your ΓÇ£whyΓÇ¥ — and donΓÇÖt get lost in unnecessary details that can diminish the impact of your writing and distract your readers from the purpose. Keep your original intentions in mind when you review what you have written. DonΓÇÖt be afraid to edit until your words convey exactly what you want to your readers.

What format should I use?

When writing a descriptive essay, you will often use the MLA format. However, depending on your assignment and your professor, you may need to format in a different style. You have to make sure that your reader will be able to confirm your references, so be sure to cite them accurately. Formatting software can guarantee accuracy to the MLA format or other styles. It will ensure your grade does not suffer for formatting errors. Additionally, you can save time during the editing process. This will allow you to focus on the quality of your college essay, which is the thing that matters most to you.

David Plaut is the founder of Reference Point Software (RPS). RPS offers a complete suite of easy-to-use formatting template products featuring MLA and APA style templates, freeing up time to focus on substance while ensuring formatting accuracy. For more information, log onto or write to:
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Reference Point Software is not associated with, endorsed by, or affiliated with the American Psychological Association (APA) or with the Modern Language Association (MLA).

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