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Descriptive Essay

What is a descriptive essay?

A descriptive essay is a piece of writing that should describe something to the intended audience. The essay should describe or illustrate in detail a scene, place, person, object, event or story. Descriptive essays need to include very specific and concrete details to allow for the reader to clearly form an impression of what you are describing. A descriptive essay usually uses the five senses (smell, taste, sight, touch, sound) as a basis of the descriptions.

Example topic questions:
- Write about one of the following topics:
o Environmental degradation caused by human activity
o Your favourite character in the Lord of the Rings novel
Brainstorming ideas for your descriptive essay Structure of a descriptive essay
Before beginning to write your essay it is important that you brainstorm all the ideas that you will describe in your essay.

There are many ways in which you can brainstorm or gather your ideas – mind maps, taking notes etc. The most important point is that you know what you want to share with the reader.

Below is an example of how to brainstorm ideas using a mind map.

Topic: Description of my favourite city

Below is an example of how to brainstorm ideas using a table.

Sensory details How you feel when you eat? (before and after) How you came across this meal? Details of place?
Delicious tasting food (main course /dessert) – sweet, scrumptious, tasty Emotions – happy, delightful, good memories 21st birthday Five star hotel- Italian restaurant
Smells super good – flowery/fruity fragrant Sad to leave – will visit again very soon Celebration with friends Expensive
Dessert – foamy Soup – smooth Friend recommendation High end
Visually very well presented Chandelier Western décor
There are several organisational patterns you can follow to write a descriptive essay. You may choose to organise what you are planning to describe by time, location or another order of importance.

Refer to the table below for a general guideline of what you should include in your essay.

  • The introduction should provide the background information of the topic of the essay
  • The introduction should be strong, concise and interesting to capture the readers interest
Main body
  • The information should be structured in a logical manner
  • Remember to include a variety of details
  • You should include your thoughts and feelings in your description
  • You may include a brief summary or overview of what you have described in great detail
  • The conclusion should remind the readers of what you have discussed and why it is important
Possible organisation of a descriptive essay

Chronological – organising the details of your essay in their order of occurrence in time. This organisation strategy is mostly used when describing an event or a series of events.

For example:

Topic: My hectic exam day

Introduction – introduce the topic to the reader (a hectic day)

Paragraph 1 – the morning of the exam (waking up early, last minute studying at home, breakfast, packing for exam

Paragraph 2 – arriving at the exam location (last minute preparations, emotions/feelings before exam

Paragraph 3 – after the exam (emotions or feelings after completion of exam, how to celebrate end of exams)

Conclusion – round up your essay

Spatial – organising details of your essay according to ‘space’. In other words, if you are describing your car you will organise it into front/back, inside/outside etc. This organisation strategy is mostly used when describing an object item or place.

For example:

Topic: My new apartment

Introduction – introduce the topic to the reader (new apartment)

Paragraph 1 – apartment building (location/area/what it looks like etc)

Paragraph 2 – inside apartment

Paragraph 3 – outside apartment

Conclusion – round up your essay
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Language for descriptive essay Marking Criteria
Descriptive words

As descriptive essays are written to describe someone, something or an event in great detail, it is important that you use a good amount of descriptive words so that the reader will be able to able to clearly ‘see the picture’.

You should avoid using vague words (such as good, nice, wonderful). Instead you should be specific and use sensory descriptive words. Refer to the list below of sensory descriptive words.

Sight Sound Taste Smell Touch
shiny high sour strong rough
colourful low sweet fresh smooth
bright loud bitter musty hot
dark quiet sweet dishy cold
round squeaky spicy smoky frosty
pointed growl tasteless stale elastic
glistening gurgling ripe stinky cuddly
distinct hiss juicy fragrant soft
murky hoarse delicious burning uneven
misty crunching sticky putrid sweat
unusual mutter creamy rich slimy
translucent whisper acidic rotten downy

Concrete vs. Abstract terms

Abstract terms refer to ideas or concepts that are intangible and not available to the senses meaning they are not things that you can see, hear, smell, taste or touch.

Examples of abstract language:

love truth childhood
anger courage kindness
envy beauty envy
freedom honor sanity
hope hate disappointment

Take ‘love’ as an example – we cannot see it, hear it, smell it, taste it or touch it. Love is therefore intangible. It is a concept or feeling only.

Concrete terms refer to ideas, objects or things that are available to the senses. Concrete terms are things that you can see, smell, touch, feel or hear.

When writing descriptive essays it is important for you to use concrete language rather than abstract language to communicate your ideas. This is because by using concrete language you are essentially giving the reader information that is easily understandable and relatable. In doing so what you are describing will become clearer to the reader.

Therefore, be sure to avoid using abstract language as it will make it more difficult for the readers to connect and understand your writing.

Similes and Metaphors

The main purpose of a descriptive essay is to provide readers enough details to allow them to visualise or connect with what you are writing. Similes and metaphors are very often incorporated into descriptive writing because they can help to communicate specific messages or ideas more effectively.

Simile – A figure of speech involving the comparison between two things that are generally not alike by using the words ‘like’ or ‘as’.


1. verb + like + noun
- He plays + like + a professional

2. as + adjective + as + noun
- She is as + tall + as + a giant

Examples of simile use in sentences:

- Her baby cute as a kitten.
- Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.
- His room is as smelly as my feet.
- You were as brave as a lion.
- Love is like a river. It’s a bumpy ride

Metaphor – A figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or to an action which is not literally applicable. A metaphor creates an image of feeling by making an interesting comparison between two things that at first appear unrelated.

Examples of metaphor use in sentences:

- My heart swelled with a sea of tears.
- The snow is a white blanket.
- Life is a roller coaster.
- She is a peacock.
- The boy’s room is a disaster area.
- Thomas is a shark.

Tips: Questions to ask yourself after completing your descriptive essay
  • Is your essay logical, well-structured and easy to follow?
  • Have you used a fair amount of descriptive words to describe your ideas or themes?
  • Have you provided enough details or description to allow the reader to be grossly absorbed into your account?
  • Does the word choice or the language you have used help the reader understand your topic?
  • Will the reader be engaged by your essay? Is it interesting?
1. Content
- Ideas and content
- Essay includes many specific and concrete details

2. Language
- Grammatical accuracy
- Range of vocabulary use
- Range of sentence structure

3. Organisation
- Logical flow of the essay
- Strong opening introduction
- Main body with details that support your main idea
- A strong conclusion to bring your essay to a close
- Uses transitions between sentences and paragraphs to unify ideas
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Task 1 Task 2 Task 3 Task 4 Task 5 Task 6 Task 7 Rating Form
Task 1: Descriptive Essay Language – Descriptive words

Select the most suitable word to complete the sentence.

  1. My family has always looked forward to leaving Sydney in the _______________ summer months.
    1. sweltering
    2. calm
    3. temperate
    (Correct answers are bolded.)
  2. The trees appear to be touchable, offering _________ leaves which sway in the summer breeze.
    1. brittle
    2. soft
    3. slimy
    (Correct answers are bolded.)
  3. It took us a long while to drive out of the long, __________ road downtown.
    1. safe
    2. narrow
    3. pointed
    (Correct answers are bolded.)
  4. My tractor barely made it out of the bumpy and ___________ fields.
    1. smooth
    2. patchy
    3. rounded
    (Correct answers are bolded.)
  5. In this humid weather it is very important that you be careful not to step on the _____________ moss.
    1. fresh
    2. slippery
    3. soft
    (Correct answers are bolded.)
  6. I love using the dishwasher because I do not need to do the washing manually and also because the dishes come out _____________ clean.
    1. greasy
    2. squeaky
    3. uncharacteristically
    (Correct answers are bolded.)
  7. The sun shone brightly through the __________ window.
    1. spotless
    2. opaque
    3. murky
    (Correct answers are bolded.)
  8. I could not keep myself away from devouring that _____________ looking apple pie.
    1. glistening
    2. deliciously
    3. ripe
    (Correct answers are bolded.)
  9. Nobody even lifted a finger to touch the ___________, half-baked cake.
    1. soggy
    2. sweet
    3. tasty
    (Correct answers are bolded.)
  10. She looked well rested, her cheeks ______________ and her eyes shining.
    1. pointed
    2. chubby
    3. glowing
    (Correct answers are bolded.)
Task 2: Descriptive Vocabulary

Select the answer that it most likely being described by the given vocabulary.

  1. Cold, delicate
    1. ice
    2. hail
    3. snowflake
    (Correct answers are bolded.)
  2. Oval, red and black, small
    1. cherry
    2. ladybird
    3. tree frog
    (Correct answers are bolded.)
  3. Loud, chubby, adorable, angel face, delicate
    1. baby
    2. toddler
    3. puppy
    (Correct answers are bolded.)
  4. Jumpy, soft, cute
    1. kitten
    2. koala
    3. frog
    (Correct answers are bolded.)
  5. Silver, shiny, expensive, circular
    1. ring
    2. pendant
    3. broach
    (Correct answers are bolded.)
  6. Crispy, delicious, hot
    1. potato chips
    2. French fries
    3. potato
    (Correct answers are bolded.)
  7. Round, sweet, fresh, crunchy
    1. orange
    2. apple
    3. melon
    (Correct answers are bolded.)
  8. Small, marble size, smooth, squishy
    1. marble
    2. flower
    3. grape
    (Correct answers are bolded.)
  9. Old, smelly, damp
    1. shoes
    2. hat
    3. tissue
    (Correct answers are bolded.)
  10. Beautiful, noble, old
    1. queen
    2. duke
    3. king
    (Correct answers are bolded.)
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