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Description

 When you describe someone, you give a picture in words to your readers.  To make the word picture as vivid and real as possible, you must write specific details that appeal to your readers' senses (sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch).  More than any other paragraph, a descriptive paper needs sharp, colorful details.

 Example

Here is a paragraph written by a student describing her mother.

The young woman in the picture has a face that resembles my own in many ways.  Her face is a bit more oval than mine, but the softly waving brown hair around it is identical.  The small, straight nose is the same model I was born with.  My mother's mouth is closed, yet there is just the slightest hint of a smile on her full lips.  I know that if she had smiled, she would have shown the same wide grin and down curving "smile lines" that appear in my own snapshots.  The most haunting features in the photo, however, are my mother's eyes.  They are exact duplicates of my own large, dark brown ones.  Her brows are plucked into thin lines, which are like two pencil strokes added to highlight those fine, luminous eyes.

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Describing a Person

 
Size
            is about - approximately
                     is tall
                        short
                        of medium height
                        thin
                        slender
                       
Eyes, Hair and Shin                  is a blonde
           has brown eyes               is a redhead
            blue EYES              
            black eyes
            green
            dark
           
            has black hair
            brown
            blond
            dark
            light
            straight
            curly
            short
 
has a light complexion                 is light-skinned
dark                                           is dark skinned
fair
freckled
smooth
tanned
 
Other Characteristics              is attractive
           
            has a mustache   
            clean-shaven
            has a beard                                                   
            a small nose                                        
            freckles
            high cheekbones                        
           
The Descriptive Essay                         

When you describe something, you give your readers a picture in words. You need to observe specific details that may appeal to your readers.  A descriptive paper needs sharp and colorful details.

When you are describing the way something looks, physical appearance and space -not time - is what you should focus on. Therefore, you should arrange your sentences and details according to where the objects being described are located.  This type of organization is referred to as spatial organization.  In a descriptive paragraph or essay, you must make very clear the location of the objects you are describing. Also note that the arrangement of the details in a descriptive paper depends on the subject and the purpose.

Writing Descriptions 

Because description is a mode of expository writing which is relied upon in other expository modes, we sometimes find difficulty in imagining a purely descriptive essay. In a narrative, for example, description can make the setting of characters more vivid; in a process paper it can insure that the audience understands the finished product. Regardless of how we use description, it is easy to see that it strengthens an essay considerably.

Principles

Students often ask, "But how do I write a purely descriptive essay? What's the point of description? What's so different about it?" There are three characteristics of a purely descriptive essay which are worthy of remembering.

  • a descriptive essay has one, clear dominant impression. If, for example you are describing a snowfall, it is important for you to decide and to let your reader know if it is threatening or lovely; in order to have one dominant impression it cannot be both. The dominant impression guides the author's selection of detail and is thereby made clear to the reader in the thesis sentence.
  • a descriptive essay can be objective or subjective, giving the author a wide choice of tone, diction and attitude. For instance, an objective description of one's dog would mention such facts as height, weight, coloring and so forth. A subjective description would include the above details, but would also stress the author's feeling toward the dog, as well as its personality and habits.
  • the purpose of a purely descriptive essay is to involve the reader enough to help him to actually visualize the things being described. A description essay deals with the distinctiveness of the object or scene.

Conventions

  • The descriptive essay relies on concrete, sensory detail to communicate its point. Remember, we have five senses, not one or two.
  • The author of a descriptive essay must carefully select his details to support the dominant impression. 
  • Description very often relies on emotion to convey its point. Because of this, verbs, adverbs, and adjectives convey more to the reader than do nouns.
  • Unless the description is objective, you must be sure that the dominant impression conveys an attitude.

Strategies

  • Try giving all the details first; the dominant impression then is built from these details.
  • Check your details to be sure that they are consistent with the dominant impression. You might even want to write down the five senses on a scratch piece of paper and check to see that you have covered them all.
  • Try moving your reader through space and time chronologically. For instance, you might want to describe a train ride from start to destination, or a stream from its source to the point at which it joins the river.
  • Use a then-and-now approach to show decay, change or improvement. The house where you grew up might now be a rambling shack. The variations on this strategy are endless.
  • Select an emotion and try to describe it. It might be more difficult to get started, but it can be worthwhile.