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Tips on Writing Descriptive Paragraphs

by John Jeremy Dean

Great descriptions create vivid images in the mind of the reader, making them fun and memorable to read. To give students practice in this important skill, writing teachers assign descriptive paragraphs. Here are some tips on how to make those paragraphs shine.

Choose a Meaningful Object

Before you can write a great description, you must be extremely familiar with the subject of your description. Therefore, it is best to choose an object, person or place that has deep significance or personal meaning for you, such as a favorite childhood toy or frequently visited vacation destination. This will help ensure that you don't overlook important details as you create your description. The emotional attachment you feel for your subject will also fuel your drive to describe it in the best possible light.

Make Unique Observations

The descriptive writer's first job is that of observer. When observing your subject, look for the unseen. Search for the detail that others may miss, like a flower painted a slightly different color than the others on a figurine. Include the significance of that detail, how it shows the artisan displayed originality, even though she is painting a mass-produced item. Then incorporate these details into your description. This will give your descriptive paragraph deeper meaning, and give your reader something to consider after they have finished your piece.

Engage the Senses

You experience your world through an array of senses. All of those senses should be represented in your descriptive writing. When describing a day at the beach, nearly everyone will mention seeing the sun and the sand, but don't stop there. Instead, describe textures, like the grittiness of the sand as it envelops your feet. Describe the song the ocean sings as the waves beat against the shore. Include the sight of the sea foam rising on the crests of the waves, and don't neglect the salty smells that foam stirs into the air. Write about the object in the same way your reader would experience it had they encountered it in real life. Then you will have a clear description that will engage your reader.

Include Figurative Language

Good descriptive writing should feel poetic to the reader, even though it is written in prose. This is accomplished with the inclusion of well placed bits of figurative language. When describing your crazy uncle, use a funny hyperbole like "his voice had the tenor of ten Mac trucks revving their engines." Use sentimental metaphors to enhance your description of grandma's quilt which she stitched together with more memories than thread. When including figurative language, try to avoid cliche. Come up with your own way to express the idea. It is a little extra work, but it is worth the effort.

Form a Pattern

Ultimately, your goal as a descriptive writer is to recreate your subject inside your reader's mind. To do this they will need a spatial pattern of how the subject is organized or designed. Sometimes that pattern is obvious, such as describing a building top to bottom or a room from left to right. If there is a logical pattern, go with it. That will keep things clear for the reader. If there is not, consider the subject's dominant features. If you are describing a photograph or a painting, start with the main subject then focus on interesting details in the background.

About the Author

Based in central Florida, J. Jeremy Dean has written for 16 years and has written news and entertainment articles for "The Daily Commercial" in Leesburg, Fla. In 2002, he won the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors award for criticism. Dean holds a professional writing bachelor's degree from Glenville State College and a master's of education degree from National Louis University.

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