The goal in a descriptive essay is to describe an object, person, place, thing, moment, experience, emotion, event, or situation. Descriptive essays are often subjective, creative, and personal.

The goal is to evoke the senses and effectively depict an image that is vivid and moving in the mind of the reader. As such, it allows for a great deal more room for artistic freedom. A little specificity goes a long way here. If you can weave in a few choice details that hook the reader, you are on the right track.

Guiding Principles for the Descriptive Essay

Be clear, concise, and specific. Even one well chosen detail goes a long way, and the more vivid you can be in painting a picture for your reader, the more impact your essay will have. Be careful not to go off on tangents, though. Everything you include should directly support the overall goal of your essay.

Show, Don’t Tell

Take the time to come up with descriptive words and images. Metaphors and similes can come in particularly handy. Here are some examples:



Try to have fun with it. This kind of essay works best when it creates a vivid picture in the mind of the reader, and coming up with good details about a person, place, or thing can be an enjoyable part of the writing process, even when you are away from your draft.

Evoke all five senses



Our five senses – sight, sounds, taste, touch, and smell – are the way we experience the world. To really draw your reader in, do your best to represent all of the senses, not just sight, which is the crutch most people tend to lean on. Our sense of smell can be particularly evocative and is closely tied to our memory.


Go deep

If you can describe an emotional connection to your topic, you can draw your reader in. We all have experience with the same feelings in life – joy, sadness, loneliness, worry – and if you can successfully evoke or even just describe these feelings, you create a reading experience that will leave a strong impression on the reader.

Stay focused

Just because this kind of essay hinges on personal experience doesn’t mean that it can be a random gush or thoughts and ideas. Structure is still vital here and a clear organizing principle is still needed. You must strive to present an organized and logical description if the reader is to come away from the essay with a cogent sense of what it is you are attempting to describe.

Example Descriptive Essays

Now that you’ve learned how to write an effective essay, check out our Sample Essays so you can see how they are done in practice.