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How to Write a Descriptive Essay About a Person or Place

As a professional in the education industry for over 10 years, I believe knowledge should be made available to all willing students.

Before you start writing, learn about the 5 Ws, writing to feelings and emotion, and the three-part essay structure.

Before you start writing, learn about the 5 Ws, writing to feelings and emotion, and the three-part essay structure.

What Is a Descriptive Essay?

At some point in your academic or professional career, you may be asked to write a descriptive essay about a person or a place. A descriptive essay is essentially a short piece of writing in which the author describes a person or place using words that engage all five senses: sight, touch, smell, sound and taste.

As the author, you will be required to convey the physical and, more importantly, the emotional attributes of the person or the place you are describing. To grab your reader’s attention for your essay, your descriptions have to be interesting. But don’t forget about the structure of the essay itself. It is crucial that it has a captivating introduction, meaty body and strong, concise conclusion.

Below are tips to ensure your essay gets the attention of your readers and remains engaging throughout.

The 5 Ws: Who? What? Where? When? Why?

The 5 Ws: Who? What? Where? When? Why?

Descriptive Essay About a Person

People often find that writing a descriptive essay about a person is surprisingly difficult. You may be asked to describe some of the following:

  • A family member or extended relative,
  • A close friend or colleague with whom you've lost contact, or
  • A celebrity or athlete that you admire.

How Does the Character Feel?

This writing can focus on describing the character physically, but it's important that you explore the character’s personality, state of mind and current emotion. Anyone can describe the size, colour or shape of a physical object. However, a good writer gets inside a character's head, conveying their personality and making you feel their emotions.

Show, Don't Tell

One way to demonstrate a character’s personality is through actions. Their behaviour will communicate anger or sadness or anxiety. Don't tell us they're funny. Have them be funny. Show, don't tell. When you can describe in detail what they're doing and why they're doing it, you leverage the reader’s imagination.

The more you can describe, the better your essay will be. For example, here are two sentences that describe similar things. They're both grammatically correct. The difference is one is good enough and the other is excellent.

  • The man had a short temper and was easily angered.
  • The tall man frowned, his wrinkled skin weathered after years of toiling in the sun. A simple comment was all that it took to disrupt the man, who then stormed off in short strides.
Good writing is about feeling, not seeing.

Good writing is about feeling, not seeing.

Descriptive Essay About a Place

A descriptive essay about a place is often easier to write as the author is able to rely on his or her memory—or a memory of a similar place. This may be a memory of your school or a recent local festival. Unfortunately, as a result of this, descriptions of places tend to gravitate towards physical senses, such as sight.

How Does a Place Make You Feel?

Remember, there is more than just what we see. Instead of simply describing the physical attributes of a place, describe how the place made you feel. For example, you can describe the whistle of the wind as it brushes past the mountain walls, or the refreshing salty breeze while you stand on the scorching beach sand.

Furthermore, though you may be assigned to write a description of a place, you should not be limited to a physical location. As an author, look to describe abstract locations, like a place in the past.

How Did an Event Make You Feel?

If you describe how it felt to be nervous giving a speech or the many reasons your prom night was a disaster, you'll be able to leverage the emotions of your readers because there's a high likelihood they've experienced similar situations in their personal lives.

The three parts of an essay: Intro, Body and Conclusion.

The three parts of an essay: Intro, Body and Conclusion.

Remember the Three-Part Structure

Choosing the right topic and angle for your essay is crucial. We've discussed how to invest emotions in your descriptive essay, whether about a person or a place. However, let us not forget the importance of structuring your essay. There are three fundamental components.

Introduction

First and foremost, you need to establish the thesis of your essay. What are you going to be describing? This is your introduction, and it will set the tone for your essay.

Body

The second element is the most obvious: the body of the essay. If your descriptive essay is about your first pet, the body of the essay will discuss how you acquired the pet, all the things that made him or her distinctive (good and bad) and finally, how and when your first pet passed away, ran away or left the family for whatever reason.

Conclusion

The third and final element of a well-written descriptive essay is a strong conclusion. If the introduction was about setting up what you're going to describe, the conclusion is about telling us for the final time what you described. This is the final paragraph or two and the last impression a reader will have of your essay. It should be strong.

Be mindful of the 5 Ws, emotion and structure and you can tell any story.

Be mindful of the 5 Ws, emotion and structure and you can tell any story.

© 2018 Alex Hills