Enable readers to visualize your message by appealing to the five senses and using specific details.

Description is an important feature of all writing genres. Writers use description to support arguments and illustrate concepts and theories. They try to invoke mental pictures of a place so readers can imagine it in their minds.

Occasionally writers organize an entire document according to a topic’s physical characteristics. Frequently, however, description plays a part in an essay that has a broader purpose.For example, an engineer conducting an analysis of a bridge might organize a section of his report by describing what the bridge looks like, identifying its type, daily load, or year built. A doctor might describe a patient’s physical characteristics, perhaps noting her weight, height, and family history. A teacher describing a class might mention the class title, course content, number of students, and semester.

Three Tips for Creating Descriptive Writing

Writers create and organize vivid, descriptive documents by:

  1. Appealing to the five senses (sight, smell, touch, taste, hearing).
  2. Providing specific details.
  3. Comparing the topic to other topics using similes and metaphors.
    • A simile is a comparison of topics using like or as: “She used her intelligence like a sword, cutting through dense concepts like a knife cuts through butter”.
    • A metaphor is a comparison of two different things by likening them to each other, but without using the words like or as. A metaphor can be an entire story or a part of speech or phrase: “Education is a lifetime journey.”

Example Metaphoric Story (Author Unknown)

The professor picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. ‘Now,’ said the professor, ‘I want you to recognize that this is your life. The rocks are the important things — your family, your partner, your health, your children — things that if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full. The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house, your car. The sand is everything else. The small stuff. If you put the sand into the jar first, there is no room for the pebbles or the rocks. The same goes for your life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that really matter. Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Play with your children. Take time to get medical checkups. Take your partner out dancing. There will always be time to go to work, clean the house, give a dinner party and fix the disposal. Take care of the rocks first — the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.'”

One very common complaint of writing teachers is that their students’ essays are vague and underdeveloped. As a result, teachers frequently ask students to write descriptive passages.