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Descriptive Essay Topics, Format, and Guideline of the Writing Process

Image of male student in a library working on various Descriptive Essay Topics

As the name suggests, this essay provides a description of an object, an experience, a person, an emotion, a place, or a situation. Using illustrative words, the writer makes the reader feel, see, or hear what is being described. Descriptive essay writing involves less research effort than other types of academic writing assignments. It is an opportunity for the writer to put their creativity to work to bring any topic to life. It is also a pretty open task that does not have many rules to follow. When assigned such a task, students are usually required to describe an experience, person, feeling, place, object, or situation.

A descriptive essay can be an easy task to complete. However, for someone who has not mastered the art of descriptive writing, coming up with a good essay can be an uphill task. Luckily, this guide provides enough resources to help you learn how to write a descriptive essay.

Let us look at the structure of a good descriptive essay.

Writing Structure When You Already Have Descriptive Essay Topics to Work With

As previously stated, there aren’t a lot of rules to be followed in descriptive essay writing. The subject and the mood you wish to create often dictate the format. Some rules do exist, the most notable being that you need to start with the general before going into the specifics. An important aspect of good descriptive essay writing is how the essay is structured since it makes it easier for the reader to read and understand the essay. The standard descriptive essay outline thus consists of:

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An Introduction

In this section, the descriptive essay’s main topic is introduced to the reader. It should start with a strong opening sentence or quote that will catch attention. At the end of the introductory paragraph, a thesis statement should be presented. This section is concerned with giving the readers a general idea of what the essay is about. The body of the essay follows the introduction section.

The Body

student working on Descriptive Essay Topics

In the body section, you need to provide details about your topic.  This part is presented artistically with vivid language rich in adverbs and adjectives. This section is organized into paragraphs as follows:

The first paragraph: Vividly describes the object, person, or the event itself, providing the necessary details. For instance, if you are writing a descriptive essay about a place, you will describe the place under the body. For example, when writing a descriptive essay about the beach, begin by describing the beach itself. Tell your readers about the waves and the appearance of the water and the sand. Tell them what you smelt on the beach, how the sand felt on your feet, and the sounds made by the water. Always remember to use good descriptive words.

The second paragraph: You discuss the surroundings of the subject of the essay. For the beach scenario, you could talk about the sun, birds, clouds, people and their activities, and other objects of interest in the surrounding.

The third paragraph: You bring the essay to life with a sensual description using your senses of touch, taste, sight, smell, and sound to paint a vivid picture. The main focus here will be on the emotions the subject invokes. In both the description of the surroundings and the emotion, similes and metaphors are often used. Once you have exhausted your ideas for the body section, you can then conclude the essay.

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The Conclusion

In the conclusion section, summarize the main points, including your physical and emotional attitude and views on the topic of your descriptive essay. This section is based largely on your imagination and an analysis of the essay topic. The descriptive essay thesis statement is also reframed.

Now that you know how to structure the essay, the next thing we will look at is how to go about writing your descriptive essay.

The Writing Process

Step 1: Picking Descriptive Essay Topics

The first step to writing a descriptive essay is selecting a topic if you have not been assigned a specific topic. The problem is that students often find it challenging to pick a topic. As with any essay, you need to pick a subject that is not too narrow. A narrow subject will make it difficult for you to meet the required essay length. You may also need to consider a number of descriptive essay topics before you finally settle on one. The topic doesn’t necessarily have to be unique as long as you can paint a vivid picture of it and give it life. Here are some descriptive essay topics to help you figure out what to write about. I’ll get ahead of myself here a bit to give a few things to note when writing each of these categories of descriptive essays.

Descriptive Essay About a Person

The subject of your descriptive essay can be your favorite person, such as a family member. It can also be a friend, a neighbor, or a famous person. You could also describe yourself. Whichever person you write about should be someone that you know well. As you write the essay, remember to describe other aspects in addition to the physical characteristics. Otherwise, your descriptive essay won’t be considered good. Include personality traits in your description in a creative way. You will probably have to pick a few traits to discuss in the body paragraphs. It is also possible for a student to struggle with writing a conclusion paragraph for this category of essays. In the conclusion paragraph, summarize those traits to explain how complex or interesting the person is. Use it to explain your experience and sentiments about interacting or living with that person.

Descriptive Essay About a Place

Places are a common subject for descriptive essays. You could describe a place you love, your bedroom, your favorite classroom, or your favorite store. You could also go against the tide and choose less common places to write about. Cemeteries, construction sites, hospitals, or amusement parks are not commonly selected as descriptive essay topics. The places are not limited to these, so feel free to consider more. It could be a real or imagined place. What’s important is that you describe the place, its surroundings, and your emotions about it well.

Descriptive Essay About a Memory

You can base your essay on a vivid memory that you have. This can be the most embarrassing moment, your saddest or happiest memories, a memorable trip, or a concert you attended. Search your memories and find one you can vividly describe in your essay.

Descriptive Essay Topics About an Experience

Descriptive essays can be written about everyday experiences such as graduation. However, you can select other descriptive essay topics, such as a frightening experience you had, and provide descriptive details about what happened, where, when, and how you felt. Don’t forget to use your five senses. You can also write about your first day in class regarding aspects such as the classroom, the people, and how you felt.

Descriptive Essay About an Object

For this type of descriptive essay, any object can be the topic. You can write about your couch if you believe you can fascinatingly portray the couch and make the essay interesting. Unfortunately, that would be a mean feat for many. If you are not confident about your ability to write a good descriptive essay on the everyday items before you, go for less orthodox choices. Choose descriptive essay topics that are simple, such as a painting, your favorite childhood toy, a tattoo, or a street.

Descriptive Essay About a Movie

You can pick your favorite movie and give a descriptive account of its plot, favorite character, context, and cinematography, among others. You can also compare the movie you are describing to another movie. It is important to first watch the movie comprehensively to come up with a good description. The American horror movie, Final Destination, was widely talked about when it was released in 2000. If you choose to write a descriptive essay about such a movie, you can narrow your description to just one series of the movie.

Descriptive Essay About a Book

Just like movies, it is important to read a book first before getting down to writing a descriptive essay about it. Again, like in movies, you can describe the book’s plot, main characters, context, and rhetorical and stylistic devices used. You can also settle for a chapter of a book, the main character, or salient stylistic devices. The novel Fifth Business, authored by Robertson Davies, is a book that most professors ask their students to read in their literature classes. The book is rich in plot and characters and can form a good basis for writing a descriptive essay about a book. After reading it, you can write a descriptive essay about the plot or the main characters, such as Boy (Percy Boyd) Staunton, Mrs. Mary Dempster, and Dunstan Ramsay.

Step 2: Plan

Once you’ve settled on the general topic, you need to consider what characteristics/aspects you want to include in the essay. Brainstorm all the details about the subject, its surroundings, and the emotions it invokes. Not all of the ideas you come up with here will end up in the essay but include them anyway. You will filter out the unnecessary ones later as you continue to plan the essay and create an outline.

Step 3: Draft the Essay 

Guided by the outline you developed in the first step, write the essay describing the subject and structure it accordingly. The standard descriptive essay format described above will guide you on what to include in each section. Also, remember the general guidelines for writing a descriptive essay and ensure a logical flow in the descriptive paragraphs and throughout the essay. Some of these guidelines include:


Step 4: Revise

Once you are done creating the draft, you should go through the essay again, reorganizing and modifying it as you deem necessary to ensure that the entire essay has a logical flow. As you do these, you need to keep a few things in mind:

  • The paragraphs should describe the subject and unfold in such a way that allows easy reading and appreciation of the subject. It should not confuse the reader.
  • The language and word choice should involve the five senses and portray emotion and meaning.
  • The details provided should be enough to give readers a clear, comprehensive picture.
  • The reader should identify with the conclusion.

Step 5: Edit

Go through the essay removing grammatical mistakes and errors in mechanics, clichés, and overuse of adjectives and adverbs. Another pair of eyes can help you identify and correct these issues. Once done with this step, you should have a good, error-free descriptive essay ready for submission.

Hopefully, after going through this article, you have an idea about how to write a good essay based on the various descriptive essay topics mentioned. You’ll also find many descriptive essay examples online to further assist you in writing your essay. Additionally, you can get assistance in the form of quality custom essays to use as a descriptive essay sample from

Writing Guidelines After Choosing Descriptive Essay Topics

  • Appeal to the senses

When writing a descriptive essay, you need to embellish it with senses. Sight, touch, smell, hearing, and taste are key senses to include in your essay. If, for instance, you are describing the new eatery you just visited, talk about what it looked like, but also include what the place smelled like (e.g., if there was a sweet aroma of food or if the air was smoke-filled and stuffy). You could also talk about the sounds you heard while there (e.g., if there was soft music or trucks passing outside were the only thing you could hear).

  • Tap into your reservoir

A connection with the reader of your essay can only be effectively established if you can adequately describe the emotions. Therefore, when writing a descriptive essay, think about what you felt (i.e., if you are describing an experience). Tap into the feelings of joy, loss, or complacency to write descriptively and effectively create the image you want in the readers’ minds.

  • Do not just tell, show

As the descriptive essay definition indicates, the aim is to paint a picture using words. You can achieve this by using vivid language, which will help you show the reader what you are talking about. Choose your words carefully when writing the essay. Avoid vague words. In their place, use more specific words that paint a clearer picture of what you are describing. For instance, rather than simply using ‘horse,’ opt for words that paint a stronger, clearer image, such as a ‘swift stallion.’ This gives the reader the picture of a courser.  It’s not enough to say ‘the woman wore old clothes.’ That is simply telling. Show by including more details, such as ‘the woman wore a faded dress that was torn on one side and looked as though a rat had made a meal out of the hem.’

There are many good descriptive words that you can use to make the picture you want to create clear. These include adverbs such as angrily, quickly, and lazily; adjectives such as smart, brave, grim, mellow, luxurious, and agreeable; and gerunds such as running, walking, and grazing. Similes and metaphors will also feature in a good descriptive essay. Just remember that the descriptive words you use should flow freely.

  • Be clear and concise

A key requirement for writing a good descriptive essay is being concise. The level of conciseness is not as high as that of other essays since you have the freedom to add descriptive words. However, that freedom doesn’t mean you should go overboard. Most importantly, the details included in the essay should be relevant to the essay’s subject.  As with any other essay or written literature, the reader won’t necessarily appreciate all the details you provide. In fact, if you fill the essay with unnecessary things, the reader might get bored. Descriptive doesn’t mean that you should go on and on describing a single thing or something that is not crucial to the topic. For instance, if you are describing a surprise party you had, it’s not necessary to tell the reader about the three tiled stairs at the door. You should also purpose to use words that are relevant to paint the picture you want to present clearly. Remember to describe without being too wordy and leave the clichés out of your essay.

  • Be organized

A great descriptive essay idea can be turned into a boring, impossible-to-read piece of writing when it lacks organization. As you write your descriptive essay, be careful not to rumble incoherently. This is an easy trap to fall into and should be avoided at all costs. Furnish your essay with a logical, organized description that will give the reader a clear picture of what you are trying to describe.

The aim should be to leave a strong appreciation for whatever you are describing in the readers’ minds. If you can make the readers feel as though they were the ones relaxing or walking down the beach you just described or crave the pizza you just wrote about, you are on your way to being a great descriptive writer.


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