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Prewriting For A Descriptive Essay

Tips on Writing a Descriptive Essay

Writers use the descriptive essay to create a vivid picture of a person, place, or thing. Unlike a narrative essay, which reveals meaning through a personal story, the purpose of a descriptive essay is to reveal the meaning of a subject through detailed, sensory observation. The descriptive essay employs the power of language and all the human senses to bring a subject to life for the reader.

If readers come away from a descriptive essay with the feeling that they have really met a person, gone to a particular place, or held a certain object, the writer has done a good job. If readers also feel an emotional connection and deep appreciation for the subject’s significance, the writer has done a great job.

The Five-Step Writing Process for Descriptive Essays
Professional writers know one thing: Writing takes work. Understanding and following the proven steps of the writing process helps all writers, including students. Here are descriptive essay writing tips for each phase of the writing process:

1. Prewriting for the Descriptive Essay
In the prewriting phase of descriptive essay writing, students should take time to think about who or what they want to describe and why. Do they want to write about a person of significance in their lives, or an object or place that holds meaning? The topic doesn’t have to be famous or unusual. The person could be a grandparent, the object, a favorite toy, and the place, a tree house.

Once a topic is chosen, students should spend time thinking about the qualities they want to describe. Brainstorm about all the details associated with the topic. Even when not writing about a place, reflect on the surroundings. Where is the object located? Where does the person live? Consider not just physical characteristics, but also what memories, feelings, and ideas the subject evokes. Memory and emotion play an important role in conveying the subject’s significance. Plan the focus of each paragraph and create an outline that puts these details into a logical sequence.

2. Drafting a Descriptive Essay
When creating the initial draft of a descriptive essay, follow the outline, but remember, the goal is to give the reader a rich experience of the subject. Keep in mind, the most important watchword of writing a descriptive essay is show, don’t tell. One of the best ways to show is to involve all of the senses—not just sight, but also hearing, touch, smell, and taste. Write so the reader will see the sunset, hear the song, smell the flowers, taste the pie, or feel the touch of a hand.

Don’t Tell…Show!

Use descriptive and figurative language, as well as concrete images to describe the subject. Similes and metaphors work well. Here are some examples:

Telling

The house was old.

Showing

The house frowned with a wrinkled brow, and inside it creaked with each step, releasing a scent of neglected laundry.

If you had to pick a study buddy, you would pick this guy.

The clock had been in our family for years.

The clock stood by our family, faithfully marking the minutes and hours of our lives.

Enjoy the process of describing the subject—it can be a rewarding experience. A descriptive essay doesn’t rely on facts and examples, but on the writer’s ability to create a mental picture for the reader.

3. Revising a Descriptive Essay
In the revision phase, students review, modify, and reorganize their work with the goal of making it the best it can be. In revising a descriptive essay, students should reread their work with these considerations in mind:

  • Does the essay unfold in a way that helps the reader fully appreciate the subject? Do any paragraphs confuse more than describe?
  • Does the word choice and figurative language involve the five senses and convey emotion and meaning?
  • Are there enough details to give the reader a complete picture?
  • Has a connection been made between the description and its meaning to the writer? Will the reader be able to identify with the conclusion made?

Always keep the reader in mind from opening to concluding paragraph. A descriptive essay must be precise in its detail, yet not get ahead of itself. It’s better to go from the general to the specific. Otherwise, the reader will have trouble building the image in their mind’s eye. For example, don’t describe a glossy coat of fur before telling the reader the essay is about a dog!

4. Editing a Descriptive Essay
At this point in the writing process, writers proofread and correct errors in grammar and mechanics. It’s also the time to improve style and clarity. Watch out for clichés and loading up on adjectives and adverbs. Having a friend read the essay helps writers see trouble spots and edit with a fresh perspective.

5. Publishing a Descriptive Essay
Sharing a descriptive essay with the rest of the class can be both exciting and a bit scary. Remember, there isn’t a writer on earth who isn’t sensitive about his or her own work. The important thing is to learn from the experience and take whatever feedback is given to make the next essay even better.

Time4Writing Teaches Descriptive Essay Writing
Time4Writing essay writing courses offer a highly effective way to learn how to write the types of essays required for school, standardized tests, and college applications. A unique online writing program for elementary, middle school, and high school students, Time4Writing breaks down the writing process into manageable chunks, easily digested by young writers. Students steadily build writing skills and confidence, guided by one-on-one instruction with a dedicated, certified teacher. Our middle school Welcome to the Essay and Advanced Essay courses teach students the fundamentals of writing well-constructed essays, including the descriptive essay. The high school Exciting Essay Writing course focuses in depth on the essay writing process with preparation for college as the goal. The courses also cover how to interpret essay writing prompts in testing situations. Read what parents are saying about their children’s writing progress in Time4Writing courses.


For this assignment, you will work through the prewriting and drafting stages of your writing process in a descriptive essay about a place that is meaningful to you.

Directions:

1. Review the grading rubric as listed on this page.

2. Review the writing prompt:

Descriptive Essay: Significant Place

Recall a single, significant place that means something to you. Use sensory details to describe the place. Try to make sure that readers feel as though they are "with you," and can respond emotionally to the place you have selected.

3. Create a prewriting for the essay.

    • To try something different, you may like to visit the Write page and experiment with TelescopicText.
    • Begin with the sentence "I went to (wherever your place is)."

*You cannot use Internet Explorer to use the TelescopicText. To download an alternate browser, visit this web browser listing, choose your operating system, and download to your computer (you'll need administrative permissions on your computer to download).

4. Develop a draft according to the following:

    • 4-5 typed, double-spaced pages (about 1000 words), 12 pt font size;
    • MLA formatting (see the Style Formatting Of Papers page as needed); and
    • submitted as either a .doc, .docx, .rtf file.

*Papers submitted that do not meet the requirements will be returned to you ungraded.

Be sure to:

    • recount and examine ONE place only (not several);
    • includesensory details: what do you hear? what do you see? what do you smell? what might you taste? how does the special place make you feel?
    • develop an enticing title;
    • use the introduction to pull the reader into your singular experience;
    • avoid addressing the assignment directly (don't write "I am going to write about my most special place" - this takes the fun out of reading the work!);
    • let the story reflect your own voice (is your voice serious, humorous, matter-of-fact?);
    • order the essay in such a way that your reader moves in and out of the space in a manner that is orderly and logical; and
    • remember: telling an audience what happens is not your goal; stay away from recounting plot; show your reader the subject and your attitudes toward the subject through description.

5. Select  in the upper right of the page.

6. Submit your prewriting and draft as a single file upload.

*If you developed your prewriting by hand on paper, scan or take a picture of your prewriting, load the image onto your computer, and then insert the image on a separate page after your draft.


This page is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License and contains content from a variety of sources published under a variety of open licenses, including:
  • Content created by Daryl Smith O' Hare and Susan C. Hines of Chadron State College for Kaleidoscope Open Course Initiative under a Creative Commons Attribution License
  • Original content contributed by Lumen Learning

If you believe that a portion of this Open Course Framework infringes another's copyright, contact us.

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