Study guide For a printer-friendly PDF version of this guide, click here This guide explains how sentences are constructed and how different types of sentences are formed.
Although it may be only in school that you are asked to write a specifically descriptive essay, description is an important element in many kinds of writing. Description embedded in an argument paper, for example, may be intended to make a position more persuasive. However, in this TIP Sheet we will discuss the descriptive essay as it is commonly assigned by instructors as an exercise in organizing sensory information and choosing vivid details.
If you choose "showing" words, those that supply vivid sensory details appropriate to your subject and purpose, you will succeed in showing rather than telling. The following first example mostly makes statements about what is lacking in the room, whereas the second example describes the sights, textures, smells, and sounds of the empty room: The empty room smelled stale and was devoid of furniture or floor covering; the single window lacked curtains or blinds of any kind.
The apartment smelled of old cooking odors, cabbage, and mildew; our sneakers squeaked sharply against the scuffed wood floors, which reflected a haze of dusty sunlight from the one cobwebbed, gritty window.
Though the writer of the second example does not actually use the word "empty," she nevertheless suggests emptiness and disuse. The suggestion of emptiness in the second example is more vivid than the statement of emptiness in the first.
If you don't think the first example is vague, look at another possible interpretation of that empty room: The sharp odor of fresh paint Essay structure handout purpose of an through the smell of newsprint.
Four stacked cartons of inkjet printer paper sat squarely in the middle of a concrete floor, illuminated by a shaft of morning light from a sparkling chrome-framed window on the opposite wall. Do not mistake explanation for description. Explanation is a kind of telling that interjects background material that does not contain sensory details or contribute to the overall effect—a character's motives or history, for example: The tenants had moved out a week earlier because the house was being sold to a developer.
No one had bothered to dust or clean because they assumed the apartment was going to be knocked down and replaced with single-family homes like those built just a block away.
When description devolves into explanation telling rather than showingit becomes boring. Observing details Once you are ready to abandon the attempt to explain or to tell about, evaluate your subject in terms of visual, auditory, and other sensory details. Think in concrete terms. The more you are interested in and connected to the subject, the easier it will be to interest your reader, so if you describe a person, choose a person whose characteristics stand out to you.
If you describe a place or a thing, choose one that is meaningful to you. You are painting a picture that must be as clear and real as possible, so observe carefully and, preferably, in person. Note what sets this subject apart from others like it.
If the subject is a person, include physical characteristics and mannerisms. Describe abstractions such as personality traits only insofar as you can observe them. For example, do not tell the reader your biology instructor is a neat, meticulous person; show your reader the instructor's "dust-free computer monitor and stacks of papers with corners precisely aligned, each stack sitting exactly three thumb-widths from the edge of the desk.
On the other hand, a subject's life history and world perspective may not be, unless you can infer them, for example, from the photos on his walls or the books on his bookshelf. Similarly, if the subject of your description is an object or a place, you may include not only its physical appearance but also its geographic, historical, or emotional relevance-as long as you show or suggest it using sensory details, and avoid explaining.
Deciding on a purpose Even description for description's sake should have a purpose. Is there an important overall impression you wish to convey? A central theme or general point?
This is your thesis; organize your essay around it. Or, you might describe your car as an immaculate, beautiful, pampered woman on whom you lavish attention and money. Just don't describe your car in cold, clinical detail, front to back or bottom to top, or inside to outside without having in mind the purpose, the overall impression you want to create.
To achieve this impression, you should not necessarily include all details; use only those that suit your purpose. Avoid telling a story unless it is of central importance to the description or an understanding of it.
Keep background information to an absolute minimum or avoid it altogether. Organizing Extended description that lacks organization has a confusing, surreal quality and easily loses readers' interest, so choose an organizational plan. Use whatever progression seems logical—left to right, inside to outside, top to bottom-and stick to it.
For example, it does not make sense to describe a person's facial features and hair, then his sonorous voice and impressive vocabulary, and then return to details about his eyebrows and glasses. A quote from your subject or a brief anecdote about him or her may provide an interesting introduction or conclusion ; dialogue can be a great way to add interest to a descriptive essay.
In your introduction, you might be permitted to make general, abstract statements tell about your subject or supply background information, as long as you demonstrate these points concretely later in the body of your essay. Use vivid nouns, verbs, and adjectives, and appropriate metaphors, similes, comparisons, and contrasts.However, flexibility is important.
While keeping this basic essay format in mind, let the topic and specific assignment guide the writing and organization. (See the Thesis Statements handout.) Body The body of the essay supports the main points presented in the thesis.
topic sentence, and a concluding sentence. The paragraph’s purpose. The Basic Outline of a Paper The following outline shows a basic format for most academic papers. No matter what length the paper needs to be, it should still follow the format of .
The Classical Argument.
Adapted from Walter Beale, Real Writing, 2 nd edition, One of the oldest organizing devices in rhetoric is the classical argument, which incorporates the five parts of a discourse that ancient teachers of rhetoric believed were necessary for persuasion, especially when the audience included a mixture of reactions from favorable to hostile.
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handouts on the Critical and Persuasive Essays to see which one is a better match for your writing purpose. When writing any paper, you will most likely have to follow these six steps.
This handout takes you through all six steps in the process of writing an Expository Essay. Step 1. Organizing your Thoughts (Brainstorming) Step 2. What this handout is about.
This handout provides definitions and examples of the two main types of abstracts: descriptive and informative. It also provides guidelines for constructing an abstract and general tips for you to keep in mind when drafting.