Writing Handout E-7:
Structuring a Descriptive Essay
A descriptive essay simply describes something or someone by appealing to the reader’s senses:
sight, sound, touch, smell and taste. Here are the basic steps to writing an effective descriptive
1. Select a subject
Observation is the key to writing a good description. For example, if you are writing about a place, go there
and take notes on the sights, sounds, and smells. A descriptive essay paints a picture for the reader, using
descriptive devices and the senses. Create a thesis statement that informs the reader who or what you are
describing. Examples: “The wooden roller coaster in Coney Island is a work of art.” “My bedroom is an
2. Select dominant details
Select only the details that support the dominant impression (your thesis statement).
3. Organize details
The paragraphs in a descriptive essay can be structured spatially (from top to bottom or from near to far) or
chronologically (time order) or from general to specific. Descriptive essays can also use other patterns of
organization such as narrative or exemplification.
4. Use descriptive words
Do not use vague words or generalities (such as good, nice, bad, or beautiful). Be specific and use sensory,
descriptive words (adjectives). For example:
I ate a good dinner.
I devoured a steaming hot, cheese-filled pepperoni pizza for dinner.
Provide sensory details:
Smells that are in the air (the aroma of freshly brewed coffee)
Sounds (traffic, honking horns)
Sights (“The sun scattered tiny diamonds across dew-covered grass as it peeked out from beyond the
Touch (“The texture of the adobe hut’s walls resembled coarse sandpaper.”)
Taste: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, tart (“Giant goose bumps formed on my tongue when I accidently
bit into a sliver of lemon.”)
5. Draw a logical conclusion
The conclusion may also use descriptive words; however, make certain the...