Descriptive Writing
 A descriptive essay tells what something looks
like or what it feels like, sounds like, smells like
or tastes like. You can use language to create a
vivid impression for your readers.
 Your descriptions help to create a dominant
impression - mood or quality – for your writing.
 Your descriptions may be objective or subjective.
Objective Descriptions
•Focus on object itself rather than your personal reaction to it.
•Is objectivity completely possible?
•Achieved through word choices
•Use Denotations/ more direct, less emotional language.
•Also achieved through selection of details to describe.
•Exercise: Spend the next five minutes writing in
your journal an objective description of your day today.
Be prepared to share your results with the class.
Subjective Description:
•Conveys your personal emotions and response to your subject
•Not expressed necessarily directly, but through your word
choices and selection of details.
•Should indicate the significance of the subject.
•Use subjective language: connotations (emotional associations
of words)
•Use figures of speech to compare dissimilar things: Simile
(something is like something else)
•Metaphor (something is something else).
•Personification: giving human characteristics to objects or
•Allusion: reference to a person, place, event or quotation that
you assume the reader understands.
Exercise: For the next five minutes, write a subjective version of your
previous essay on your day today. Again, be prepared to share your work
with the class.
Selecting Details:
In both objective and subjective writing, select specific details to
You might say, “He looked angry.”
Or, you might say, “His face flushed, and one corner of his mouth
twitched as he tried to control his anger.”
Imagery: describe using details that appeal to the five senses.
Exercise: Look about the room: in your journal write for five
minutes and describe this room. Give as many specific details as
you can, and use imagery. You may decide whether to write
objectively or subjectively. Be prepared to share your work with
the class.
Organizing a descriptive essay
 Options:
 Spatial order: describe an object or space as you
move around or through it, from each perspective.
 Order of impression: what do you notice first, second,
 Order of importance: what is the least important
detail, what is the most?
 Whatever scheme you choose, remember that it must
serve to support your thesis.
Use Transitions
 Look at the list of transitional words and
phrases on page 43 of your textbook.
Professional model: Descriptive Writing
From “The Chrysanthemums” by John Steinbeck
The high grey-flannel fog of winter closed off the
Salinas Valley from the sky and from all the rest of the
world. On every side it sat like a lid on the mountains and
made of the great valley a closed pot.
On the broad, level land floor the
gang plows bit deep and left
the black earth shining like
metal where the shares had
cut. On the foothill ranches
across the Salinas River, the
yellow stubble fields seemed
to be bathed in pale cold
sunshine, but there was no
sunshine in the valley now in
The thick willow scrub
along the river flamed
with sharp and
positive yellow leaves.
It was a time of
quiet and waiting.
The air was cold and
tender. A light wind
blew up from the
southwest so that
the farmers were
mildly hopeful of a
good rain before
long; but fog and
rain do not go
Copyright © 2004 by Bedford/St. Martin’s
Peer-Editing Worksheet: Description
1. What is the essay’s dominant impression or thesis?
2. What points does the writer emphasize in the introduction? Should any
other points be included? If so, which ones?
3. Would you characterize the essay as primarily an objective or subjective
description? What leads you to your conclusions?
4. Point out some examples of figures of speech. Could the writer use
figures of speech in other places? If so, where?
5. What specific details does the writer use to help readers visualize what
he or she is describing? Are there any places where the writer could use
more details?
5. What specific details does the writer use to help readers visualize what he
or she is describing? Are there any places where the writer could use more
6. Are all the details necessary? Do any seem excessive or redundant? Are
there enough details to support the thesis or reinforce the dominant
7. How is the essay organized? Would another arrangement be clearer or more
8. List some transitional words and phrases that the writer uses to help
readers follow his or her discussion. Do any sentences need transitional words
or phrases to link them to other sentences?
9. Copy down an example of a particularly clear sentence. Are any sentences
wordy or choppy? If so, which ones?
10. How effective is the essay’s conclusion? Does the conclusion reinforce the
dominant impression?

Descriptive Writing