The Descriptive Essay: What Does The Reader See?



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The Descriptive Essay: What Does The Reader See?

  • Catherine Wishart
  • Literacy Coach
  • Adjunct Instructor,
  • Burlington County College
  • http://www.easyliteracy.com

“Seeing” Through All the Senses”

  • Make sure that the reader’s senses are involved in the description, even the description of a person:
    • Can the reader see the person?
    • Can the reader hear the person?
    • Can the reader smell a special perfume or after-shave worn by the person?
  • Obviously, when describing a person, certain senses are not possible, such as touch and taste.

Use Descriptive Words

  • When something is described, the writer usually has had an emotional response to the object or person being described.
    • An emotional response is called a cathartic response.
  • Make sure you know what your own emotional response is and stick to it. Don’t vacillate between nice and mean, heroic and charlatan. Is the person nice or not? Is the person ethical or not?
  • To describe the emotional response, use verbs, adverbs, and adjectives. These words will make the writing deeper and more meaningful than mere nouns will.

Prove Your Descriptive Words

  • Can you back up what you said about the person? Did you use examples to prove what you are saying is true?
  • When telling a story about the person, did you tell the story in chronological order?
  • Does the reader understand why you feel the way you do?

Avoid Passive Language

  • Make sure that you use words that convince the reader you are correct in your description:
    • Avoid “would,” “should,” or “could.”
    • Use “will,” “can,” and “is.”

Avoid Second Person

  • In a descriptive essay, the words “you,” “your,” and “you’re” are not acceptable. These words are too informal for a descriptive essay.
  • Use only first person – “I,” “we,” “me,” “our,” or third person – “he,” “she,” “it,” “they.”

The Dominant Impression

  • Make sure that you leave the reader with one dominant impression of the person you are describing.
    • Again, don’t vacillate – choose how the person is and stick to your point.
    • Sometimes you may have points that are contradictory – make it clear that your dominant point is this is a person full of contradictions.

Let’s Put It Into Practice

  • Steps to Plan the Essay:
    • Prewrite – brainstorming is a good choice when trying to describe a person. Take the time to brainstorm a list of words that describe the person:
      • The way the person looks
      • The way the person talks
      • The way the person makes you feel
      • The way the person acts
    • Organize and Write the Outline (another brainstorm?)
      • Choose type of hook for introduction and type of conclusion
    • Draft (another brainstorm?)
    • Revise and Edit
    • Final Copy

Example: My Grandson Drew – Brainstorm List

  • Smart
  • Toddler
  • Athletic
  • Huge for age
  • Loves “The Incredibles”
  • Has a twin
  • Loves to eat
  • Tunes everything out when watching TV
  • Loves books
  • Plays soccer
  • Has temper tantrums
  • A good eater
  • Says amazing things
  • Doesn’t like to help fix things
  • Likes to cook
  • Loves his parents
  • Great vocabulary
  • Brown hair
  • Blue eyes
  • Huge smile
  • Loves his dog
  • Gets jealous of brothers
  • Has asthma
  • Born with hole in lung
  • A real fighter
  • Healthy now
  • Loves Harry Potter but not the scary parts
  • Has “twin speak” with his brother

Write the Thesis Statement

  • In the case of a 5-paragraph essay, choose three things that you as the writer find most fascinating about the person.
  • Write a thesis statement that previews the main points.
  • Make sure the thesis statement is in parallel form.

What About Drew Impresses Me Most?

  • Drew has an amazing vocabulary
  • Drew is athletic
  • Drew has a huge capacity to love
    • All these points are taken from the brainstorm list. I had to choose the three most important ones to me, the writer
  • And the thesis statement is: What makes me admire Drew the most is his vocabulary, his athleticism, and his ability to love.

But…. Is That Parallel?

  • NO! – Let’s fix it.
  • “ability to love” uses a noun and an infinitive verb, but “vocabulary and “athleticism” are both nouns.
  • If I change “ability to love” to “loving nature,” it is closer, but “loving is an adjective. What adjectives can I use to describe “vocabulary” and “athleticism” so this is parallel? Mini-brainstorm time.
  • And the thesis statement is: What makes me admire Drew the most is his bountiful vocabulary, his agile athleticism, and his loving nature.
  • Now it’s parallel.

Organizing the Essay Around the Thesis

  • Write an outline
  • Choose examples that prove the parts of the thesis
  • Decide on what type of hook to use
  • Decide on what type of conclusion to use

Writing My Outline and Choosing Examples

  • Thesis: What makes me admire Drew the most is his bountiful vocabulary, his agile athleticism, and his loving nature.
  • Outline:
  • I. Introduction – Quote about children
  • II. Vocabulary:
  • III. Athlete
  • A. Playing soccer
  • B. Playing catch
  • IV. Loving – Angel sick
  • V. Conclusion – reflect on quote

My Draft: The Introduction Using a Quotation as a Hook

  • While each of us has been a child, in reality, we do not often recall the joys and amazement of childhood. One of the greatest joys of childhood is realizing one’s own uniqueness. As author Pablo Casals said, “The child must know that he is a miracle, that since the beginning of the world there hasn't been, and until the end of the world there will not be, another child like him.” So, how is my grandson Drew unique? What makes him so special to me? What makes me admire Drew the most is his bountiful vocabulary, his agile athleticism, and his loving nature.

My Draft: Proving the Thesis Statement

  • Watching any child develop a vocabulary is always fun, but Drew’s vocabulary amazes me. Drew is only three years old, but he uses words that are mature. For example, last week Drew went to the grocery store. While he was there, a woman banged into the cart and then just kept going. In response, Drew shook his head and said, “Oblivious.” I was shocked when he used such a word, and I was even more surprised when he used the word correctly. Again last night, Drew proved his vocabulary. He was watching Are You Being Served? on television. This British comedy uses coloquialisms from England and presents a dry sense of humor. Drew started laughing at the show and exclaimed, “This is so funny. It really cracks me up!”

Revising and Editing My Draft– Adding Words for Clarity and Checking Grammar

  • Watching any child develop a vocabulary is always fun, but Drew’s robust vocabulary continues to amaze me. Drew is only three years old, but he uses words that are mature. For example, last week Drew went to the grocery store with his mother. Shop Rite just took over another store, so there were crowds of people swarming the aisles. While Drew and his mother were there, a stout, frazzled woman banged into the cart and then just kept going. In response, Drew shook his little head and muttered, “Oblivious.” I was shocked that he had used such an adult word, and I was even more surprised that he used the word correctly. Again last night, Drew proved his adult vocabulary skills. He was watching Are You Being Served? on television with his family. This British comedy uses colloquialisms from England and also uses a dry sense of humor that plays on the meanings of words. When Mr. Rumbold, the supervisor said, “How am I going to get down?” and Mrs. Spooner answered, “Jump off the parapet and flap your ears,” Drew started laughing and exclaimed, “This is so funny. It really cracks me up!” He understood that a parapet meant the ledge by the window and flapping ears meant trying to fly like a bird.

Paragraphs 3 and 4

  • Complete them just as paragraph 2 was completed.
  • Make sure to add words so the reader can see and hear the scenes.
  • Make sure to stay focused on the dominant impression you feel.
  • Add adjectives, adverbs, and verbs to paint the pictures you see in your own head.
  • Go back and revise and edit the paragraphs for clarity, detail, and grammar.

The Conclusion – The Last Chance to Impress

  • There are many different ways to write an effective conclusion.
  • Every good conclusion will reflect on the hook in the introduction.
  • Every good conclusion will restate the thesis statement in a creative way.
  • Many good conclusions will comment about the future.

Is This Conclusion Effective?

  • Yes, my grandson Drew is amazing. He has a huge vocabulary that he uses all the time. He also is an athlete. Finally, he is a loving child.

Revising and Editing the Weak Conclusion

  • My grandson Drew continues to impress and amaze me. Just as, according to Casals, every child knows there will never be another child like him, I know that Drew is irreplaceable. His wonderful word knowledge, fabulous dexterity, and profound caring demonstrate how special he is. What does the future hold for Drew? If he continues along the path he has chosen, I am sure that he will only continue to impress and amaze me more and more in the future.

Reviewing Some Important Steps In Putting a Picture Into Words – A Descriptive Essay

  • Use descriptive words, such as verbs, adverbs, and adjectives.
  • Make sure to prewrite.
  • Use an outline to stay organized.
  • Use words that allow the reader to use his/her senses.
  • Revise and edit to add clarity, depth, and correctness to your writing.


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