Descriptive Essay

Definition of descriptive essay.

A descriptive essay , as the name implies, is a form of essay that describes something. In this genre , students are assigned the task of describing objects, things, places, experiences, persons, and situations. The students use sensory information to enable readers to use their five senses of touch, taste, smell, hearing, and sight to understand the topic of the essay.

Qualities of a Descriptive Essay

  • Clear and Concise
  • Use of Images
  • Use of Five Senses

As far as clear and concise language is concerned, it is necessary to describe things precisely. Imagery is used to make things seem real and remarkable. The use of the five senses creates the imagery, or a mental picture, for each reader.

Difference Between a Description and a Descriptive Essay

A description could be just a paragraph, or it could be longer, as needed to fully describe the thing. However, a descriptive essay has five paragraphs. It is written in a coherent way with a good thesis statement at the end of the introduction , three body paragraphs , and a conclusion .

Examples of Descriptive Essays in Literature

Example #1:  the corner store (by eudora welty).

“Our Little Store rose right up from the sidewalk; standing in a street of family houses, it alone hadn’t any yard in front, any tree or flower bed. It was a plain frame building covered over with brick. Above the door, a little railed porch ran across on an upstairs level and four windows with shades were looking out. But I didn’t catch on to those. Running in out of the sun, you met what seemed total obscurity inside. There were almost tangible smells — licorice recently sucked in a child’s cheek, dill pickle brine1 that had leaked through a paper sack in a fresh trail across the wooden floor, ammonia-loaded ice that had been hoisted from wet croker sacks and slammed into the icebox with its sweet butter at the door, and perhaps the smell of still untrapped mice.”

This description of the “Little Store” is not only clear and concise, but also has images and sensory information about the store building.

Example #2: And the Orchestra Played On (by Joanne Lipman)

“The hinges creaked when I opened the decrepit case. I was greeted by a cascade of loose horsehair — my bow a victim of mites, the repairman later explained. It was pure agony to twist my fingers into position. But to my astonishment and that of my teenage children — who had never heard me play — I could still manage a sound. “It turned out, a few days later, that there were 100 people just like me. When I showed up at a local school for rehearsal, there they were: five decades worth of former students. There were doctors and accountants, engineers and college professors. There were people who hadn’t played in decades, sitting alongside professionals like Mr. K.’s daughter Melanie, now a violinist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. There were generations of music teachers.”

In the first paragraph of this descriptive excerpt, the author clearly describes the decrepit nature of the violin case, as well as the damage time has done to the bow. The second paragraph is a description of the characters , and their similarities.  Both use sensory information for effective descriptions.

Example #3: Yarn (by Koyoko Mori)

“The yellow mittens I made in seventh-grade home economics proved that I dreamed in color. For the unit on knitting, we were 1 supposed to turn in a pair of mittens. The two hands had to be precisely the same size so that when we held them together, palm to palm, no extra stitches would stick out from the thumb, the tip of the fingers, or the cuff. Somewhere between making the fourth and the fifth mitten to fulfill this requirement, I dreamed that the ball of yellow yarn in my bag had turned green. Chartreuse, leaf, Granny Smith, lime, neon, acid green. The brightness was electric. I woke up knowing that I was, once again, doomed for a D in home ec.”

See the use of colors in this paragraph by Koyoko Mori. This is called “pure description,” in that the description appeals to the senses. The use of word “brightness” in the last line is striking one.

Example #4: The Taj Mahal (by Salman Rushdie)

“And this, finally, is why the Taj Mahal must be seen: to remind us that the world is real, that the sound is truer than the echo, the original more forceful than its image in a mirror. The beauty of beautiful things is still able, in these image-saturated times, to transcend imitations. And the Taj Mahal is, beyond the power of words to say it, a lovely thing, perhaps the loveliest of things.”

Check this short description of the Taj Mahal by Salman Rushdie. This description presents a different picture of the Taj Mahal.

Function of Descriptive Essay

A descriptive essay presents a person, place, or thing, in a way that readers feel as if it is in front of their eyes, or that they are tasting it, or that they can hear it, or that they can smell it. Writers use sensory information to describe object . The object of the writer is to present a picture of something as honestly as he can.

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  • Definition Essay
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  • Analytical Essay
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  • Cause and Effect Essay
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description essay literary definition

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10.3 Description

Learning objectives.

  • Determine the purpose and structure of the description essay.
  • Understand how to write a description essay.

The Purpose of Description in Writing

Writers use description in writing to make sure that their audience is fully immersed in the words on the page. This requires a concerted effort by the writer to describe his or her world through the use of sensory details.

As mentioned earlier in this chapter, sensory details are descriptions that appeal to our sense of sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. Your descriptions should try to focus on the five senses because we all rely on these senses to experience the world. The use of sensory details, then, provides you the greatest possibility of relating to your audience and thus engaging them in your writing, making descriptive writing important not only during your education but also during everyday situations.

Avoid empty descriptors if possible. Empty descriptors are adjectives that can mean different things to different people. Good , beautiful , terrific , and nice are examples. The use of such words in descriptions can lead to misreads and confusion. A good day , for instance, can mean far different things depending on one’s age, personality, or tastes.

Writing at Work

Whether you are presenting a new product or service to a client, training new employees, or brainstorming ideas with colleagues, the use of clear, evocative detail is crucial. Make an effort to use details that express your thoughts in a way that will register with others. Sharp, concise details are always impressive.

On a separate sheet of paper, describe the following five items in a short paragraph. Use at least three of the five senses for each description.

The Structure of a Description Essay

Description essays typically describe a person, a place, or an object using sensory details. The structure of a descriptive essay is more flexible than in some of the other rhetorical modes. The introduction of a description essay should set up the tone and point of the essay. The thesis should convey the writer’s overall impression of the person, place, or object described in the body paragraphs.

The organization of the essay may best follow spatial order , an arrangement of ideas according to physical characteristics or appearance. Depending on what the writer describes, the organization could move from top to bottom, left to right, near to far, warm to cold, frightening to inviting, and so on.

For example, if the subject were a client’s kitchen in the midst of renovation, you might start at one side of the room and move slowly across to the other end, describing appliances, cabinetry, and so on. Or you might choose to start with older remnants of the kitchen and progress to the new installations. Maybe start with the floor and move up toward the ceiling.

On a separate sheet of paper, choose an organizing strategy and then execute it in a short paragraph for three of the following six items:

  • Train station
  • Your office
  • A coffee shop
  • Lobby of a movie theater

Mystery Option*

*Choose an object to describe but do not indicate it. Describe it, but preserve the mystery.

Writing a Description Essay

Choosing a subject is the first step in writing a description essay. Once you have chosen the person, place, or object you want to describe, your challenge is to write an effective thesis statement to guide your essay.

The remainder of your essay describes your subject in a way that best expresses your thesis. Remember, you should have a strong sense of how you will organize your essay. Choose a strategy and stick to it.

Every part of your essay should use vivid sensory details. The more you can appeal to your readers’ senses, the more they will be engaged in your essay. See Chapter 15 “Readings: Examples of Essays” to read a sample description essay.

On a separate sheet of paper, choose one of the topics that you started in Note 10.37 “Exercise 2” , and expand it into a five-paragraph essay. Expanding on ideas in greater detail can be difficult. Sometimes it is helpful to look closely at each of the sentences in a summary paragraph. Those sentences can often serve as topic sentences to larger paragraphs.

Mystery Option: Here is an opportunity to collaborate. Please share with a classmate and compare your thoughts on the mystery descriptions. Did your classmate correctly guess your mystery topic? If not, how could you provide more detail to describe it and lead them to the correct conclusion?

Key Takeaways

  • Description essays should describe something vividly to the reader using strong sensory details.
  • Sensory details appeal to the five human senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch.
  • A description essay should start with the writer’s main impression of a person, a place, or an object.
  • Use spatial order to organize your descriptive writing.

Writing for Success Copyright © 2015 by University of Minnesota is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

Table of Contents

Ai, ethics & human agency, collaboration, information literacy, writing process, description.

  • © 2023 by Joseph M. Moxley - University of South Florida , Jenifer Paquette - Hillsborough Community College

Learn, when composing so that you can access the readability of your work or the work of others.

description essay literary definition

What is Description?

Description is

  • the use of prose —especially concrete, sensory language and figurative language —to describe events, people, ideas, concepts
  • Description plays a role in all genres. In fact, it’s commonplace for writers to describe the context that informs their text , including a discussion of ongoing scholarly conversations
  • a dominant mode of discourse
  • an attribute of reader-based discourse .

Description in multimodal compositions uses visual language to supplement or replace alphabetic language . When appropriate in light of the exigency that discourse, writers, speakers, knowledge workers . . . use data visualizations , photographs, table, graphs, and so on to show rather than tell.

Related Concepts: Given to New Contract ; Register ; Vague Language ; Writer-Based Prose Style

Why Does Description Matter?

Writers, speakers, knowledge workers . . . need to provide description to help audiences visualize and understand a message.

Interpretation is incredibly difficult. Writers and readers come to texts with different perspectives , points of view , literary histories. Even a single emotional connotation associated with a single word can so disrupt the tone , voice , and persona of a text that readers will become confused.

Description plays a vital role in human communication: Descriptive details, especially concrete details and sensory language , help writers and readers communicate: it gives them a common ground .

Readers, listeners, users . . .

  • need sensory language to better empathize with and imagine the writer’s experiences, point of view, and arguments
  • need concrete, specific language to understand and empathize with a writers, speakers, knowledge workers’ . . . observations, arguments, and stories.
  • need figurative language to understand new concepts, to relate old information with new information

How Can I Learn to Write More Descriptively?

The first step toward incorporating descriptive detail into your prose is determining your purpose : you only want to detail critical information. If you detail everything, the reader, listener, user . . . will become confused.

So, you need to engage in the intellectual processes of rhetorical analysis and rhetorical reasoning in order to ascertain the level of detail you need to provide.

Once you’ve settled on your rhetorical stance, you are ready to take on your document, word-by-word.

3 Strategies for Developing Descriptive Detail

  • Appeal to the five senses (sight, smell, touch, taste, hearing).
  • Provide concrete, specific details.
  • 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.'”

Recommended Resources

Ohmann, Richard (December  1979). “Use Definite, Specific, Concrete Language.” College English 41(4), 390-97.

Plain Language: Beyond a Movement .

Brevity - Say More with Less

Brevity - Say More with Less

Clarity (in Speech and Writing)

Clarity (in Speech and Writing)

Coherence - How to Achieve Coherence in Writing

Coherence - How to Achieve Coherence in Writing

Diction

Flow - How to Create Flow in Writing

Inclusivity - Inclusive Language

Inclusivity - Inclusive Language

Simplicity

The Elements of Style - The DNA of Powerful Writing

Unity

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What Is a Descriptive Essay? Definition & 10+ Examples

Have you ever experienced a story so vividly that you felt like you were living in it? Welcome to the world of descriptive essays! These unique pieces are not just about telling a story but immersing readers in a multi-sensory experience.

With the right choice of words, descriptive essays allow readers to see, touch, taste, smell, and hear the story unfold, transporting them from the mundanity of reality into an exciting new world.

Get ready to explore the power of detailed descriptions and their ability to evoke emotions, create vivid images, and establish deep connections.

Table of Contents

Defining Descriptive Essay

A “Descriptive Essay” is a type of written composition that focuses on creating a detailed depiction of a person, place, object, event, or experience. It employs meticulous, vivid language and sensory details to paint a comprehensive and immersive picture in the reader’s mind.

A well-crafted descriptive essay doesn’t merely tell the reader what happened; instead, it draws them into the narrative, making them feel as if they’re part of the story.

This form of essay emphasizes the power of language to capture and convey not just the tangible aspects of the subject but also the intangible elements, such as emotions , impressions , and memories . It is a powerful literary tool that allows the writer to communicate a profound, personal perspective on the world around them.

Origin of Descriptive Essay

In the world of literature, various genres have been shaping the way we express ourselves through writing. One such genre is the descriptive essay. You may wonder about its historical roots and how it evolved over time. This brief account will provide you with an engaging and reader-friendly overview of the origin of descriptive essays, while being confident, knowledgeable, and clear.

Dating back to ancient civilizations, descriptive writing has often been utilized as a means of sharing stories and conveying emotions.

In ancient Greece , philosophers like Aristotle used descriptive language to explain complex theories and ideas. Meanwhile, travelogues from Marco Polo and Ibn Battuta were some of the earliest examples of non-fiction descriptive writing, providing readers with vivid impressions of the lands they journeyed through.

As literacy rates rose during the Renaissance period in Europe, the art of descriptive essay writing began to thrive. Notable authors, such as Michel de Montaigne and Francis Bacon, employed this technique to explore various aspects of human nature and society. They would use descriptive language to create a detailed and engaging picture for their readers.

Montaigne is especially known for his essays, where he shared his thoughts on various topics, including education, societies, and individual beliefs.

By the 18th and 19th centuries , descriptive essays had become a popular form of writing. The Romantic Movement, with authors like William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and John Keats, heavily relied on descriptive language to explore the beauty of nature and evoke emotions in their readers.

These masterful works pushed the boundaries of descriptive essay writing and influenced future generations of writers.

Over time, different writing styles and schools of thought emerged, but the essence of descriptive essay writing remains the same: to paint a vivid picture using words, enabling the reader to visualize and connect with the subject matter .

Even today , it remains a vital literary technique that showcases the power of human creativity and our ability to share experiences through the written word.

Functions of Descriptive Essay

Descriptive essay captures the reader’s imagination.

A well-written descriptive essay captures the reader’s imagination by creating vivid images in their mind. By using precise language and rich sensory details, you can paint a picture of an experience, person, or setting that is both engaging and memorable.

Providing intriguing facts and trivia within your essay can further stimulate the reader’s curiosity.

To be successful, consider what aspects of your topic will be most interesting to your reader, and focus on those elements. Convey emotion and mood through your writing, immersing the reader in the moment.

Remember, your goal is to render the experience so vividly that the reader feels as though they were right there with you.

Descriptive Essay Enhances Emotional Engagement

A descriptive essay goes beyond merely recounting events or facts; it seeks to evoke an emotional response from the reader. By crafting your descriptions and using choice words, you can effectively elicit emotions, creating intimacy between reader and subject.

Your essay should provide tips that help the reader relate to the subject and better understand the emotions being experienced.

Emotional engagement in your essay can make the reader care about the subject or the story being told. By investing emotionally, the reader is more likely to continue reading and feel a connection to the material.

Carefully choosing language and descriptions can shape the mood of your essay, drawing the reader in as they vicariously experience what you describe.

Descriptive Essay Facilitates Better Understanding

With a descriptive essay, your goal is not only to entertain but also to help your reader better understand the topic. By offering detailed descriptions and portraying elements from various perspectives, the reader can grasp difficult concepts or visualize complex settings.

Make sure to explain aspects of your topic that may be challenging for a reader to envision. Convey the most important features or ideas by providing clear, succinct descriptions. Use analogies or comparisons if necessary to break down complex ideas for your reader.

Your goal is to educate while keeping the essay engaging and enjoyable to read.

Descriptive Essay Provides Personal Insight

Through a descriptive essay, you can provide personal insight and share your unique perspective on the subject. Your individual style and tone can make an impression on the reader and impact their perception of the topic.

As you express your thoughts and emotions, your reader can gain an understanding of your personal connection to the subject.

It is essential to reflect on your own experiences and feelings, and consider how they resonate with your reader. Remember to balance the sharing of your own thoughts with the detailed descriptions that create a complete picture for your reader.

By doing so, you offer them both intimacy and a well-rounded understanding of the subject matter.

Descriptive Essay Acts as A Tool for Exploring Ideas

A descriptive essay can be a valuable tool for exploring ideas and examining various perspectives. In writing a descriptive essay, you may discover new aspects or perspectives on the topic as you delve into details and reflect on the meaning and implications they hold.

When exploring ideas and viewpoints, it is essential to remain open to different interpretations and keep a neutral tone. This will allow your reader to engage critically with your text and consider multiple possibilities when interpreting the subject matter.

By fostering an environment for thoughtful discourse, your descriptive essay can inspire further discussion and contemplation among readers.

Characteristics of Descriptive Essay

Descriptive essay utilizes sensory details.

A key quality of descriptive essays is that they rely on sensory details. By employing the use of the five senses – sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch — you can create a vivid and engaging experience for your readers. For instance, instead of simply stating that you enjoy the scent of coffee, describe it as the warm, rich aroma that permeates the air.

Utilize these sensory details to evoke emotions and paint a picture in the reader’s mind. Remember, the primary goal is to create an immersive experience for your audience.

A tip when using sensory details is to be selective and purposeful. Choose descriptions that add depth to your essay and contribute to the overall narrative. Strive to maintain a balance between providing enough information to engage the reader and overwhelming them with excessive details fully.

Descriptive Essay Contains Precise Language

In a descriptive essay, choosing the right language is essential. Using precise language allows you to convey your thoughts and ideas to your reader effectively. Vivid and figurative language can add depth to your descriptions, making them more engaging and memorable.

To achieve precise language, you can employ various techniques such as metaphors, similes, and personification, which can provide a more engaging and clear picture for the reader. Pay attention to your word choice and avoid vague or ambiguous language that can confuse or mislead your readers.

Descriptive Essay Organizes Thoughts Coherently

A well-organized descriptive essay creates a seamless reading experience. To achieve this, you should arrange your thoughts and ideas into logical sections or paragraphs that flow smoothly.

Start by deciding which aspects of your subject you want to describe, and then organize your thoughts into an outline before you begin writing.

When structuring your essay, use clear transitions and link words between paragraphs to guide your reader and maintain the logical flow. Keep your descriptions coherent, ensuring that all details and descriptions work together to create a complete and immersive experience.

Keep sentences and paragraphs concise and focused, avoiding unrelated or extraneous information that might distract the reader.

Descriptive Essay Showcases Creativity

Descriptive essays are a perfect opportunity for you to showcase your creativity. By using imaginative and unique descriptions, you can captivate your readers and hold their attention throughout the essay. Experiment with different stylistic techniques and explore various narrative styles.

Find innovative ways to describe common objects or experiences, surprising the reader and encouraging them to view the subject from a different perspective.

Descriptive Essay Contains a Dominant Impression

One of the most crucial aspects of a descriptive essay is the dominant impression. This refers to the overall effect or feeling that your essay should leave the reader with. The dominant impression serves as the unifying theme throughout your essay, guiding your choice of words, descriptions, and sensory details.

To create a dominant impression, determine the primary emotion or message you want to convey, and then use your descriptions and language choices to reinforce this theme.

Consistency is crucial––maintaining a coherent and focused narrative helps to ensure that your readers finish your essay with a clear understanding of the intended impression.

Remember, in a descriptive essay, confident and knowledgeable writing can make all the difference. By utilizing sensory details, precise language, coherent organization, creative techniques, and a strong dominant impression, your writing will not only engage but also captivate your readers.

Elements of A Descriptive Essay

Sensory details.

In a descriptive essay, your main goal is to create a vivid experience for the reader. One essential way to achieve this is by using sensory details. Sensory details help to paint a clear picture for the reader by engaging their five senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch.

When composing your essay, try to think of specific moments, situations, or objects that evoke strong feelings and memories. Describe these experiences in such a way that your reader can almost see, hear, smell, taste, or feel them as well.

Don’t forget to occasionally give some facts or trivia to keep the reader engaged and interested in the subject matter.

Figurative Language

Another critical element to include in a descriptive essay is figurative language. This form of language makes use of words and expressions that go beyond their literal meanings to convey complex or vivid ideas. Some common types of figurative language are metaphors, similes, and personification.

Metaphors make comparisons between two, unlike things, while similes compare using “like” or “as.” Personification attributes human qualities to non-human entities. Here, you can provide some quick tips on how to use these literary devices in your writing effectively.

The figurative language will help give your essay a unique and enriching style that captures the reader’s attention.

Dominant Impression

In a descriptive essay, you want to create a dominant impression — that is, a central theme or overarching idea that holds the entire piece together. A good dominant impression helps the reader understand and connect with your description. It becomes the lens through which they view the rest of your essay.

To achieve this, try to focus on one specific aspect, quality, or emotion you want to convey. Then, use sensory details and figurative language to support and expand on that central theme consistently. Consciously consider the tone of your writing to maintain a confident, knowledgeable, and clear voice throughout.

Precise Vocabulary

Descriptive essays call for specific and precise vocabulary to paint a clear and vivid picture for the reader. In order to make your essay stand out and effectively communicate the experiences you are trying to portray, choose your words carefully.

Opt for terms that have strong connotations and vivid imagery, as this will help to engage the reader’s senses and imagination. Always strive to use the best-suited word for the context, and avoid clichés or overused expressions.

Objective and Subjective Description

Descriptive essays can take on both objective and subjective perspectives. Objective descriptions, as the name suggests, present facts and observations without the writer’s personal feelings or opinions.

Subjective descriptions, on the other hand, allow the writer to share their emotions, thoughts, and opinions, thus giving the essay a more personal touch. When writing your essay, consider the balance between objective and subjective content. This decision will depend on your purpose, the topic, and the intended audience.

Emotional Resonance

A successful descriptive essay evokes strong emotions in the reader. To achieve emotional resonance, use sensory details, figurative language, and a dominant impression that resonates with your audience.

Be mindful of your readers’ feelings, as your essay’s subject matter and tone should be relatable and provoke a deep emotional response. Don’t forget to occasionally provide trivia or interesting facts to keep the reader engaged.

Chronological or Spatial Order

Consider using chronological or spatial order when crafting your descriptive essay. Chronological order refers to explaining events or situations in the sequence that they occurred, while spatial order describes the layout or arrangement of physical space.

This structure will help to organize your essay, making it easier for your reader to follow and understand your points. Decide which organizing principle best suits the topic and approach of your essay, and keep this organization consistent throughout your writing.

Structure of A Descriptive Essay

Introduction.

When writing a descriptive essay, your introduction should effectively capture your reader’s attention. It’s essential to start with a hook, a captivating sentence that pulls readers into your essay. After the hook, provide some context or background information on the subject you’ll be describing.

The last part of your introduction is the thesis statement, which acts as the main idea of your essay. This statement should be clear and concise, setting the tone for the rest of your piece.

Body Paragraphs

The body paragraphs of your descriptive essay are where the bulk of the information is presented. Each paragraph should focus on a specific aspect of the subject, with a strong topic sentence that clearly shows the concept being discussed.

Make sure each paragraph is relevant to your thesis statement and stays focused on that particular subject. When it comes to presenting your information, remember that variety is key – mix facts, trivia, and lesser-known details to maintain reader interest.

In a descriptive essay, sensory details are key. They engage all five senses, painting a rich, vivid picture that pulls the reader into the scene. It’s not just saying, “The room was cold,” but making you feel the icy chill, see your breath misting in the air. Each paragraph zooms in on a specific sense, keeping the essay organized and immersive.

One moment you’re absorbing the vibrant colors of a scene; next, you’re attuned to the soundscape or feeling textures. By dedicating sections to different senses, the essay delivers a full sensory experience, making you not just a reader but a participant in the narrative.

Incorporating figurative language can enhance your descriptive essay further. This includes using metaphors, similes, and personification to bring your prose to life. Figurative language can help to create a more engaging experience for readers and assist in conveying complex ideas more easily.

The conclusion of your descriptive essay should leave a lasting impression on your reader. This is achieved by summarizing the key points raised in the body paragraphs while connecting them to the thesis statement. Make sure to tie everything together, bringing your essay to a logical and satisfying end.

Remember to avoid introducing any new ideas in your conclusion; at this point, your goal is to bring closure to the essay.

Transitions

To ensure your descriptive essay flows smoothly, make good use of transitions. Transitions are words and phrases that connect ideas and create a cohesive reading experience. They serve to guide your reader from one point to the next, making sure there are no abrupt jumps or gaps in your writing.

Varied Sentence Structure

An effective descriptive essay should feature varied sentence structures. This means alternating between simple and complex sentences, as well as modifying the length and rhythm of your sentences. Variety helps to keep your reader engaged and maintains the overall flow of your essay.

Just like mixing facts and trivia, varying your sentence structure adds depth and interest to your writing. By incorporating these elements into your descriptive essay, you can confidently create a piece that is both informative and captivating.

Types of Descriptive Essays

Person descriptive essay.

In a person descriptive essay, you focus on describing a person’s physical appearance, character traits, and behaviors. It is essential to capture the essence of the individual being described, relying on precise details and vivid language. In doing so, create a clear image of the person in the reader’s mind.

Remember to be confident in your descriptions and avoid exaggeration . A helpful tip for this type of essay is to observe the person closely, noting their unique features and mannerisms.

In addition to their appearance, try to convey the person’s character and qualities. Describe how they interact with others, their beliefs, hobbies, and values. When presenting information about the person, maintain a knowledgeable and neutral tone, providing factual information instead of biased opinion.

This approach ensures a clear and accurate portrayal of the person, leaving the reader with a comprehensive understanding of the individual.

Place Descriptive Essay

A place descriptive essay requires you to describe the location’s physical aspects, such as landscape, architecture, and any prominent landmarks. Aim to evoke the reader’s senses by providing vibrant details of the environment and atmosphere.

It is crucial to remain neutral and factual in your descriptions, avoiding any personal judgments or biases. A handy tip for describing a place is to imagine yourself as a tour guide, providing relevant information for visitors.

Besides the physical characteristics, emphasize the place’s unique features or trivia to make the description more engaging. Discuss the cultural or historical significance, if applicable, and any noteworthy activities happening in the area.

Your overall goal in a place a descriptive essay is to transport the reader to the location, allowing them to experience its essence through your writing.

Object Descriptive Essay

An object descriptive essay focuses on describing a specific object’s physical properties and functions. You should offer a detailed description of the item’s appearance, including its shape, size, color, texture, and any distinctive elements.

Remember to maintain a neutral tone and rely on factual information, avoiding any exaggerated claims or embellishments.

In addition to the object’s appearance, discuss its use or purpose. Explain its importance or value, whether sentimental, practical, or historical. By providing comprehensive information about the object, you offer the reader a thorough understanding of its significance and context.

Event Descriptive Essay

When writing an event descriptive essay, you should describe a particular event or occurrence in detail. Explain the event’s circumstances, including its purpose, participants, and any notable outcomes. Ensure your account remains clear and factual, avoiding any personal biases or embellishments.

An interesting fact or trivia about the event can enhance the description, keeping the reader engaged.

Moreover, sets the scene by describing the event’s date, location, and atmosphere. Use vivid language to evoke the reader’s senses and transport them to the moment of the event. By providing a comprehensive account of the event, you allow the reader to experience its essence and understand its impact.

Experience Descriptive Essay

An experience descriptive essay aims to provide readers with an account of a personal experience. This type of essay often requires you to describe emotions, thoughts, and actions related to the event.

While some subjectivity is inherent in this essay, it is essential to provide a balanced perspective by discussing both the positive and negative aspects of the experience.

Paying close attention to detail, describe the events leading up to the experience, the emotions you felt during the event, and any lessons or realizations that resulted from it.

Maintain a clear and confident tone throughout, as well as a neutral perspective, ensuring the reader receives an accurate representation of the experience.

Concept Descriptive Essay

In a concept descriptive essay, you should focus on describing a particular idea or abstract concept. This type of essay requires you to present information about the concept’s origin, development, and significance.

Employ a knowledgeable and neutral tone, emphasizing the importance of the idea and its impact on society or individuals.

It is essential to provide a thorough explanation of the concept, including its various interpretations and applications. When presenting the information, use clear language to ensure the reader’s understanding.

By offering a comprehensive examination of the concept, you grant the reader a solid foundation for further exploration and analysis.

Emotion Descriptive Essay

An emotion-descriptive essay requires you to describe a specific emotion or feeling, focusing on its characteristics and causes. Begin by offering a clear definition of the emotion, explaining any nuances or variations in its meaning.

It is essential to adopt a neutral, confident tone when presenting information, ensuring the reader receives an accurate understanding of the emotion.

In addition to defining the emotion, discuss its potential causes and effects. Describe how the emotion might manifest in a person’s thoughts, actions, and physical sensations.

By providing a comprehensive account of the emotion, you allow the reader to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for its complexities and significance.

Famous Examples of Descriptive Essays

How to write a descriptive essay.

Writing a descriptive essay can be an engaging and rewarding experience. Follow this step-by-step guide to create a piece that captures the essence of a person, place, or object using clear and concise language.

  • Begin by brainstorming the subject matter . Think about the specific details you want to include and how they contribute to the overall impression. Jot down your ideas, considering the five senses: sight, smell, touch, taste, and sound. This will enable you to paint a vivid picture for your readers.
  • Next, organize your ideas into a logical structure . Start with an attention-grabbing introduction that presents the subject of your essay. Then, develop body paragraphs that showcase the details you’ve gathered, using smooth transitions to guide the reader. Aim for a coherent flow, making sure that each paragraph supports the main purpose of your essay.
  • Variety in sentence structure can make your essay more engaging and easier to read. Experiment with different sentence lengths , and don’t be afraid to use descriptive adjectives and figurative language that reveal your subject’s unique qualities. However, be mindful to avoid exaggeration or false claims. Maintaining a confident, knowledgeable, and clear tone will enhance the credibility of your writing.
  • Finally, conclude your essay by briefly summarizing the main points without introducing new information. This will give a sense of closure, leaving a lasting impression on your reader. Keep in mind that proofreading and revising are essential steps for producing a polished piece.

Choosing Descriptive Essay Topics

When selecting a topic for your descriptive essay, it’s essential to pick something that is both interesting and engaging. The topic should be one that you can explore in-depth, providing vivid details, examples, and compelling descriptions.

Remember, your goal is to paint a vivid picture for your reader, so choose a topic that lends itself well to imaginative descriptions.

High school, college, and university students should consider a range of potential topics before settling on one. For instance, you might consider writing about a person who has had a significant impact on your life, a memorable place you’ve visited, or a unique object that holds special meaning for you.

Here are a few tips when selecting descriptive essay topics:

  • Make sure the topic is something you are passionate about or genuinely interested in, as this will make your writing more engaging and enjoyable for both you and the reader.
  • Identify the various elements or details that you can describe vividly, as these will help you create powerful, evocative imagery in your essay.

It can be helpful to look for inspiration from various sources, like books, movies, art, or personal experiences. For instance, you could describe a specific scene from your favorite film, a painting by a renowned artist, or a person you admire greatly.

Don’t forget to use specific details and examples to reinforce your descriptions and make them more vivid.

As a fun fact, many descriptive essays are inspired by real settings, people, or objects. In some cases, writers even draw on elements from their own lives to create authentic, relatable descriptions.

By immersing yourself in your topic and relying on your personal experiences, you can craft a truly unique and compelling essay that stands out from the rest. Remember to stay confident, knowledgeable, and clear as you create descriptions that bring your chosen topic to life for your reader.

Impact of Descriptive Essay

Descriptive essay enhances reader’s experience.

When you write a descriptive essay, it significantly improves the reader’s experience by creating vivid mental images in their mind. By using evocative language and key sensory details, you provide them with a more immersive experience that keeps them engaged and interested.

Descriptive essays also encourage readers to form a personal connection with the content, drawing them deeper into the narrative or personal essay you’re presenting. Remember, utilizing precise descriptions and focusing on relatability in your writing can make a substantial difference in how your audience perceives and connects with your work.

Another tip for enhancing the reader’s experience is to incorporate components of storytelling . When applying descriptive elements within a story, you create a deeper sense of involvement for the audience as they become emotionally invested in the characters and plot.

Utilizing a visual and emotive foundation in your writing will make it difficult for readers to put the piece down, making it an unforgettable read.

Descriptive Essay Contributes to Character Development

In your descriptive essay, the effective portrayal of characters is an essential aspect of character development. By providing detailed descriptions of a character’s physical appearance, demeanor, and emotional state, you offer insight into their personality and motivations.

This valuable information can lead your audience to empathize, relate to, or understand the driving factors behind the actions and decisions your subject makes.

When discussing character development, also consider providing trivia on your character. Your audience may find it interesting to know about any unique quirks, habits, or preferences your character possesses.

Integrating such facts help paint a more comprehensive picture, further humanizing and deepening the reader’s connection with the subject.

Descriptive Essay Shapes Plot Development

The narrative structure of your descriptive essay can make a significant impact on the direction and progression of your story or insightful personal essay. Providing rich sensory information on settings, situations, and events in your work can have a dramatic effect on the plot development.

By doing so, you immerse readers in the world you’ve created and help them understand the core elements of your story as it unfolds.

Remember to keep the momentum going in your writing. Offering tips or advice to your audience can contribute to the development of your narrative. For example, showing the consequences of a specific decision or providing a moment of reflection for the character ensures readers remain invested.

Descriptive Essay Influences Mood and Atmosphere

The mood and atmosphere of your descriptive essay can have a significant impact on your readers’ emotional response to your work. By using evocative language, and carefully choosing words and phrases, you can create a particular tone and ambiance throughout your narrative or personal essay.

Whether it’s a melancholic atmosphere or an aura of excitement, your choice of description can make readers feel connected to the emotions you’re presenting.

When establishing a particular mood or atmosphere, you may explore additional literary techniques to enhance the impact of your writing further. Using metaphors , similes , or symbolism can be an effective way to convey the underlying themes and emotions in your essay, making your narrative more immersive and engaging.

Descriptive Essay Adds Aesthetic Appeal to Literature

Descriptive essays contribute an aesthetic appeal to your writing, providing readers with a sense of beauty and artistic depth. Through detailed descriptions, your work can evoke an array of emotions and create feelings of awe, pleasure, or fascination.

This element of aesthetic appeal elevates your writing, turning it into more than just a story or an account of events but rather transforming it into an art form.

Taking your time to choose the perfect, most expressive words is an essential aspect of creating an aesthetically appealing piece. By striving for precision and clarity, your work will not only captivate your audience but also leave a lasting impression, creating a memorable reading experience.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can i improve my descriptive writing.

Improving descriptive writing can be achieved through practice, reading, and expanding your vocabulary. You should also focus on incorporating sensory details, using show-not-tell techniques, employing figurative language, and being precise and specific with your descriptions.

What should I avoid in descriptive writing?

In descriptive writing, you should avoid vague and generic descriptions, overuse of adjectives and adverbs, cliches, and passive voice. You should also avoid providing too many details that don’t contribute to the overall impression or picture you’re trying to create.

How long should a descriptive essay be?

The length of a descriptive essay can vary depending on the assignment or purpose. Typically, a descriptive essay can range from a one-page composition to several pages.

Regardless of length, it’s important to stay focused on the topic and ensure that each word and detail contributes to the overall picture or impression.

In closing, a descriptive essay stands as a powerful tool in the writer’s kit, providing a unique way to bring people, places, experiences, and objects to life. It hinges on painting vivid pictures through words, making it an artistic endeavor as much as an academic one.

With its rich sensory details, thoughtful organization, and expressive language, a descriptive essay not only enhances a reader’s understanding but also invites them to see the world from the writer’s perspective.

It’s an enriching craft to master, whether you’re a student aiming to improve your writing skills, an aspiring author wanting to captivate your audience, or simply someone who appreciates the beauty and potential of language.

As we explore the various facets of descriptive essays, we realize that they offer more than mere descriptions – they present a canvas where reality and imagination meld seamlessly.

So, the next time you set out to write, consider employing the elements of a descriptive essay, and you’ll be amazed at the depth and vividness you can achieve.

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Purdue Online Writing Lab Purdue OWL® College of Liberal Arts

Descriptive Essays

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What is a descriptive essay?

The descriptive essay is a genre of essay that asks the student to describe something—object, person, place, experience, emotion, situation, etc. This genre encourages the student’s ability to create a written account of a particular experience. What is more, this genre allows for a great deal of artistic freedom (the goal of which is to paint an image that is vivid and moving in the mind of the reader).

One might benefit from keeping in mind this simple maxim: If the reader is unable to clearly form an impression of the thing that you are describing, try, try again!

Here are some guidelines for writing a descriptive essay.

  • Take time to brainstorm

If your instructor asks you to describe your favorite food, make sure that you jot down some ideas before you begin describing it. For instance, if you choose pizza, you might start by writing down a few words: sauce, cheese, crust, pepperoni, sausage, spices, hot, melted, etc. Once you have written down some words, you can begin by compiling descriptive lists for each one.

  • Use clear and concise language.

This means that words are chosen carefully, particularly for their relevancy in relation to that which you are intending to describe.

  • Choose vivid language.

Why use horse when you can choose stallion ? Why not use tempestuous instead of violent ? Or why not miserly in place of cheap ? Such choices form a firmer image in the mind of the reader and often times offer nuanced meanings that serve better one’s purpose.

  • Use your senses!

Remember, if you are describing something, you need to be appealing to the senses of the reader. Explain how the thing smelled, felt, sounded, tasted, or looked. Embellish the moment with senses.

  • What were you thinking?!

If you can describe emotions or feelings related to your topic, you will connect with the reader on a deeper level. Many have felt crushing loss in their lives, or ecstatic joy, or mild complacency. Tap into this emotional reservoir in order to achieve your full descriptive potential.

  • Leave the reader with a clear impression.

One of your goals is to evoke a strong sense of familiarity and appreciation in the reader. If your reader can walk away from the essay craving the very pizza you just described, you are on your way to writing effective descriptive essays.

  • Be organized!

It is easy to fall into an incoherent rambling of emotions and senses when writing a descriptive essay. However, 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.

Descriptive Essay

  • Alliteration
  • Anachronism
  • Antimetabole
  • Aposiopesis
  • Characterization
  • Colloquialism
  • Connotation
  • Deus Ex Machina
  • Didacticism
  • Doppelganger
  • Double Entendre
  • Flash Forward
  • Foreshadowing
  • Internal Rhyme
  • Juxtaposition
  • Non Sequitur
  • Onomatopoeia
  • Parallelism
  • Pathetic Fallacy
  • Personification
  • Poetic Justice
  • Point of View
  • Portmanteau
  • Protagonist
  • Red Herring
  • Superlative
  • Synesthesia
  • Tragicomedy
  • Tragic Flaw
  • Verisimilitude

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description essay literary definition

Descriptive Essay: Your Guide to Writing an Effective One

description essay literary definition

A descriptive essay is one of the four main types of essays, alongside narrative, argumentative, and expository essays. Among these, descriptive essays can be particularly challenging because they demand a keen eye for detail and an appreciation for aesthetics. By vividly describing scenes and details, you engage your reader’s senses, making your essay memorable and engaging. In this guide, our essay writers will break down the writing process for you, offering step-by-step instructions, practical examples, and clear definitions to help you excel in your next assignment.

What is a Descriptive Essay?

Descriptive writing aims to vividly portray something through essays, helping readers visualize and feel the scene or object being described. Such essays draw on detailed descriptions to create a clear and impactful image that not only presents the subject but also evokes emotions and memories.

There are three main techniques used in descriptive writing: naming, detailing, and comparing .

Naming identifies the subject and its characteristics, answering questions like 'What is it?' and 'What features does it have?'

Detailing elaborates on these features, providing answers to detailed questions such as 'How many are there?' and 'What is its value?' Techniques like synesthesia and comparisons enhance these descriptions.

Comparing uses similes and metaphors to make descriptions more vivid, linking the subject to familiar concepts.

Description vs. Descriptive Essay

What Is the Purpose of a Descriptive Essay?

The purpose of a descriptive essay is multifaceted. Primarily, it allows writers to give readers a vivid impression of a person, place, or event, making the subject come alive through words. By using detailed descriptions, writers can help readers visualize settings and characters as if they were seeing them firsthand.

Additionally, descriptive essays can serve to clarify abstract ideas. By describing these concepts with concrete images and examples, writers make complex ideas easier to understand and more relatable to the reader.

Descriptive essays also aim to make information more memorable. When details are vivid, they are more likely to stick in the reader's mind, enhancing recall and engagement with the text.

Lastly, it can bolster an argument by providing concrete, detailed evidence that supports a point of view. This helps persuade the reader by making the argument more tangible and credible.

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Descriptive Essay Topics

When you're tasked with writing a descriptive essay, you'll usually get a prompt that asks you to describe something. These descriptive essay prompts allow you to explore different settings, time periods, and imaginative scenarios in your essays. 

Personal Prompts:

  • Describe a favorite childhood memory.
  • Describe a treasured family heirloom.

Imaginative Prompts:

  • Describe a day in the life of a pirate.
  • Describe what it would be like to explore an underwater city.

Historical Prompts:

  • Describe the atmosphere of a bustling ancient marketplace.
  • Describe the experience of witnessing a significant moment in history, like the moon landing or the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Nature Prompts:

  • Describe the sights and sounds of a peaceful forest at dawn.
  • Describe the feeling of standing at the edge of a majestic waterfall.

Everyday Prompts:

  • Describe the chaos of a busy morning commute in a big city.
  • Describe the tranquility of a sunset picnic in the countryside.

If you need topic ideas for other essay genres, consult our guide on narrative essay topics .

How to Write a Descriptive Essay in 8 Steps

Now that you understand the essence and purpose of this type of essay let's explore some fundamental yet valuable tips for writing a descriptive essay. 

How to Write a Descriptive Essay in 8 Steps

Step 1: Select Your Topic

The first step in creating a captivating descriptive essay is choosing the right topic. Start by paying close attention to your surroundings. 

  • Consider describing a person you know well in your life, like a sibling, a close friend, or a teacher who has made a significant impact on you.
  • Alternatively, you could focus on a specific place or object that holds sentimental value to you, such as a favorite vacation spot, a cherished childhood toy, or a meaningful piece of jewelry.
  • Another option is to explore a strong emotion that you have experienced, like excitement, nostalgia, or determination. 

Avoid using overly technical or jargon-filled language in your topic selection. Instead, aim for simplicity and clarity to ensure that your chosen topic resonates with your audience and allows you to convey your unique perspective effectively.

Step 2: Gather Details

Once you've selected your topic for your descriptive essay, the next step is to gather details that will bring your chosen subject to life on the page. Start by closely observing your subject, whether it's a person, place, object, or emotion. Pay attention to its appearance, characteristics, and any unique features that stand out to you.

For example, if you've chosen to describe your childhood home, take note of its architectural style, color scheme, and any distinctive elements like a front porch or a cozy fireplace. Recall memories associated with the home, such as family gatherings or quiet moments spent reading in your favorite spot.

If your topic is a person, like a close friend or family member, observe their physical appearance, mannerisms, and personality traits. Consider the ways in which they interact with others and the impact they have on your life.

Step 3: Draft an Outline

When structuring your essay, you can organize your paragraphs from top to bottom or near to far, chronologically, or from general to specific. Here's a simple descriptive essay outline from our custom writers to guide you: 

Step 4: Develop a Thesis Statement

When developing your thesis statement, consider the main points or aspects of your subject that you want to highlight in your essay. Think about the emotions or impressions you want to evoke in the reader and tailor your thesis statement accordingly.

For example, if you're writing about your favorite childhood memory, your thesis statement could be: 'My summers spent at my grandparents' farm were filled with laughter, adventure, and a sense of belonging.'

Or, if you're describing a beautiful sunset, your thesis statement might be: 'The breathtaking colors and serene atmosphere of the sunset over the ocean evoke a sense of peace and wonder.'

Step 5: Craft the Introduction

Start your descriptive essay introduction by hooking the reader with an engaging opening sentence or anecdote related to your topic. This could be a vivid description, a thought-provoking question, or a surprising fact. For example:

  • Growing up on my grandparents' farm, each summer brought new adventures and unforgettable memories that still warm my heart to this day.

After hooking the reader, provide some background information or context for your topic. This could include brief details about the setting, time period, or significance of your subject. For instance:

  • Nestled in the rolling hills of the countryside, my grandparents' farm was a sanctuary of simple pleasures and cherished traditions.

Finally, end your introduction with your thesis statement, clearly stating the main point of your essay. This ties everything together and gives the reader a roadmap for what to expect in the rest of your essay. 

Step 6: Compose the Body Paragraphs

Once you've crafted your introduction, it's time to compose the body paragraphs, where you delve into the details and descriptions that bring your topic to life.

Each body paragraph should focus on a specific aspect or detail of your topic, expanding upon the ideas presented in your thesis statement. Use vivid language, sensory details, and descriptive devices to paint a clear picture for the reader.

For example, if you're writing about summers spent at your grandparents' farm, you could dedicate one body paragraph to describing the sights and sounds of the farm:

  • The rolling fields stretched out before me, golden waves of wheat swaying gently in the breeze. The air was filled with the sweet scent of wildflowers, mingling with the earthy aroma of freshly turned soil.

In another body paragraph, you might explore the adventures and activities that filled your days:

  • From sunrise to sunset, there was never a dull moment on the farm. Whether we were exploring the woods, splashing in the creek, or helping with chores, each day brought new excitement and adventure.

Continue with additional body paragraphs, each focusing on a different aspect of your topic and providing rich, detailed descriptions. Be sure to vary your language and sentence structure to keep the reader engaged and interested.

Step 7: Conclude the Essay

The conclusion should bring together all the ideas presented in your essay. Avoid introducing any new information in the conclusion. Instead, focus on evaluating your thoughts and reflections on the topic. End with a strong final sentence that leaves a lasting impression on the reader.

For example, if you were writing about summers spent at your grandparents' farm, your conclusion might reflect on the significance of those memories:

  • 'As I reminisce about the summers spent amid the rustic charm of my grandparents' farm, I am filled with a profound sense of gratitude for the simple pleasures and cherished moments that shaped my childhood. The laughter echoing through the fields, the adventures awaiting around every corner, and the sense of belonging that enveloped me there will forever hold a special place in my heart.'

Step 8: Refine Your Essay

Once you've finished writing your essay, it's time to refine it for clarity and impact. Start by reading your essay aloud to yourself. Listen for any sentences that sound awkward or unclear. Mark these sentences so you can revise them later.

You can also read your essay aloud to others and ask for their feedback. Invite friends, family members, teachers, or mentors to listen to your essay and share their thoughts. Ask them if there are any parts that are difficult to understand or if they have trouble picturing the subject you're describing.

Be receptive to constructive criticism and feedback. Use it as an opportunity to improve your essay and make it stronger. And if it sounds too demanding right now, you can buy cheap essay to sidestep the hassle and reclaim some much-needed free time.

Descriptive Essay Format

The standard format for a descriptive essay typically includes five paragraphs: an introduction, three body paragraphs, and a conclusion. However, you can also organize your essay into sections, allowing for flexibility in the length of the body paragraphs.

Introductory Paragraph: This paragraph sets the scene by describing where, when, and to whom the experience occurred. It should include descriptive words to capture the reader's attention.

First Body Paragraph: Here, the writer provides details that allow the reader to visualize the situation. Descriptive language is key in painting a clear picture for the reader.

Second Body Paragraph: More details are provided, with a focus on using descriptive adjectives. Figurative language, such as metaphor (e.g., describing the city as a 'jungle of concrete'), can enhance the imagery.

Third Body Paragraph: The writer continues to appeal to the reader's senses with visually descriptive words. Figurative language, like personification (e.g., describing the wind as a playful dancer), adds depth to the description.

Conclusion: The conclusion alludes to another sense, such as touch or sound, and uses strong words to signify closure. It ends with a powerful concluding sentence to leave a lasting impression on the reader.

Descriptive Essay Examples

In this section, you'll discover essay examples that demonstrate how to captivate your readers' attention effectively. After exploring these examples, you might find yourself tempted to ask, 'Can someone do my homework for me?' - and that's completely understandable! We're here to help you become more confident and articulate communicators through your writing!

3 Additional Tips for Writing

While writing a descriptive essay, your goal is to make your subject come alive for the reader. Unlike more formal essays, you have the freedom to be creative with your descriptions, using figurative language, sensory details, and precise word choices to make your writing memorable.

3 Additional Tips for Writing

Use Figurative Language: Figurative language, like metaphors and similes, adds flair to your descriptions. Instead of sticking to literal descriptions, use comparisons to create unique and memorable imagery. 

  • For instance, describing a city as a bustling beehive of activity ' or a forest as ' a blanket of whispers ' adds an unexpected twist that captures the reader's attention.

Engage Your Senses: In a descriptive essay, don't just focus on what something looks like; appeal to all the senses. Describe how things smell, sound, feel, and even taste, if applicable. This adds depth and richness to your descriptions, making them more immersive. 

  • For example, instead of just describing a beach visually, include sensory details like feeling the warm sand between your toes , hearing the rhythmic crash of waves , and t asting the salty sea breeze.

Choose Your Words Carefully: Use effective adjectives, verbs, and nouns to convey your impressions vividly. Avoid clichés and opt for original, precise language that reflects your unique perspective. Take the time to review your sentences and consider if there are better word choices that could enhance your description.

In Wrapping Up

To sum it up, descriptive essays are all about encouraging students like you to explore your surroundings and unleash your creativity by describing scenes in detail with words. When you carefully select and organize these descriptive details, it not only enhances your writing but also sharpens your critical thinking skills. Plus, diving into this expressive writing style allows you to appreciate the beauty of language and feel more connected to written communication. And remember, if you ever need a little boost in your writing journey, our descriptive essay writing service is here to help!

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How To Write A Descriptive Essay?

What is a descriptive essay, what is the purpose of a descriptive essay.

Daniel Parker

Daniel Parker

is a seasoned educational writer focusing on scholarship guidance, research papers, and various forms of academic essays including reflective and narrative essays. His expertise also extends to detailed case studies. A scholar with a background in English Literature and Education, Daniel’s work on EssayPro blog aims to support students in achieving academic excellence and securing scholarships. His hobbies include reading classic literature and participating in academic forums.

description essay literary definition

is an expert in nursing and healthcare, with a strong background in history, law, and literature. Holding advanced degrees in nursing and public health, his analytical approach and comprehensive knowledge help students navigate complex topics. On EssayPro blog, Adam provides insightful articles on everything from historical analysis to the intricacies of healthcare policies. In his downtime, he enjoys historical documentaries and volunteering at local clinics.

  • New samples
  • New information on each of the rest sections 

Axelrod, R. B. and Cooper, R. C. (2008). The st martin’s guide to writing. (English Edition). New York: Bedford/St Martins

Okono, U. M. (2021). Descriptive essay: An assessment of performance by undergraduates of AkwaIbom State University. Erudite Journal of Linguistics and Languages . https://www.globalacademicstar.com/download/article/descriptive-essay-an-assessment-of-performance-by-undergraduates-of-akwa-ibom-state-university.pdf

Okono. U. M. (2020). “Qualities of a good essay: An assessment of the writings of Nigerian undergraduates.” International Journal on integrated Education. 3: vi.

https://irsc-asc.weebly.com/uploads/3/1/8/1/31813909/e7__descriptive_essay_guidelines.pdf

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7.3: The Structure of a Description Essay

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Description essays typically describe a person, a place, or an object using sensory details. The structure of a descriptive essay is more flexible than in some of the other rhetorical modes. The introduction of a description essay should set up the tone and point of the essay. The thesis should convey the writer’s overall impression of the person, place, or object described in the body paragraphs.

The organization of the essay may best follow spatial order, an arrangement of ideas according to physical characteristics or appearance. Depending on what the writer describes, the organization could move from top to bottom, left to right, near to far, warm to cold, frightening to inviting, and so on.

For example, if the subject were a client’s kitchen in the midst of renovation, you might start at one side of the room and move slowly across to the other end, describing appliances, cabinetry, and so on. Or you might choose to start with older remnants of the kitchen and progress to the new installations. Maybe start with the floor and move up toward the ceiling.

  • Literary Terms
  • Definition & Examples
  • When & How to Write an Essay

I. What is an Essay?

An essay is a form of writing in paragraph form that uses informal language, although it can be written formally. Essays may be written in first-person point of view (I, ours, mine), but third-person (people, he, she) is preferable in most academic essays. Essays do not require research as most academic reports and papers do; however, they should cite any literary works that are used within the paper.

When thinking of essays, we normally think of the five-paragraph essay: Paragraph 1 is the introduction, paragraphs 2-4 are the body covering three main ideas, and paragraph 5 is the conclusion. Sixth and seventh graders may start out with three paragraph essays in order to learn the concepts. However, essays may be longer than five paragraphs. Essays are easier and quicker to read than books, so are a preferred way to express ideas and concepts when bringing them to public attention.

II. Examples of Essays

Many of our most famous Americans have written essays. Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine, and Thomas Jefferson wrote essays about being good citizens and concepts to build the new United States. In the pre-Civil War days of the 1800s, people such as:

  • Ralph Waldo Emerson (an author) wrote essays on self-improvement
  • Susan B. Anthony wrote on women’s right to vote
  • Frederick Douglass wrote on the issue of African Americans’ future in the U.S.

Through each era of American history, well-known figures in areas such as politics, literature, the arts, business, etc., voiced their opinions through short and long essays.

The ultimate persuasive essay that most students learn about and read in social studies is the “Declaration of Independence” by Thomas Jefferson in 1776. Other founding fathers edited and critiqued it, but he drafted the first version. He builds a strong argument by stating his premise (claim) then proceeds to give the evidence in a straightforward manner before coming to his logical conclusion.

III. Types of Essays

A. expository.

Essays written to explore and explain ideas are called expository essays (they expose truths). These will be more formal types of essays usually written in third person, to be more objective. There are many forms, each one having its own organizational pattern.  Cause/Effect essays explain the reason (cause) for something that happens after (effect). Definition essays define an idea or concept. Compare/ Contrast essays will look at two items and show how they are similar (compare) and different (contrast).

b. Persuasive

An argumentative paper presents an idea or concept with the intention of attempting to change a reader’s mind or actions . These may be written in second person, using “you” in order to speak to the reader. This is called a persuasive essay. There will be a premise (claim) followed by evidence to show why you should believe the claim.

c. Narrative

Narrative means story, so narrative essays will illustrate and describe an event of some kind to tell a story. Most times, they will be written in first person. The writer will use descriptive terms, and may have paragraphs that tell a beginning, middle, and end in place of the five paragraphs with introduction, body, and conclusion. However, if there is a lesson to be learned, a five-paragraph may be used to ensure the lesson is shown.

d. Descriptive

The goal of a descriptive essay is to vividly describe an event, item, place, memory, etc. This essay may be written in any point of view, depending on what’s being described. There is a lot of freedom of language in descriptive essays, which can include figurative language, as well.

IV. The Importance of Essays

Essays are an important piece of literature that can be used in a variety of situations. They’re a flexible type of writing, which makes them useful in many settings . History can be traced and understood through essays from theorists, leaders, artists of various arts, and regular citizens of countries throughout the world and time. For students, learning to write essays is also important because as they leave school and enter college and/or the work force, it is vital for them to be able to express themselves well.

V. Examples of Essays in Literature

Sir Francis Bacon was a leading philosopher who influenced the colonies in the 1600s. Many of America’s founding fathers also favored his philosophies toward government. Bacon wrote an essay titled “Of Nobility” in 1601 , in which he defines the concept of nobility in relation to people and government. The following is the introduction of his definition essay. Note the use of “we” for his point of view, which includes his readers while still sounding rather formal.

 “We will speak of nobility, first as a portion of an estate, then as a condition of particular persons. A monarchy, where there is no nobility at all, is ever a pure and absolute tyranny; as that of the Turks. For nobility attempers sovereignty, and draws the eyes of the people, somewhat aside from the line royal. But for democracies, they need it not; and they are commonly more quiet, and less subject to sedition, than where there are stirps of nobles. For men’s eyes are upon the business, and not upon the persons; or if upon the persons, it is for the business’ sake, as fittest, and not for flags and pedigree. We see the Switzers last well, notwithstanding their diversity of religion, and of cantons. For utility is their bond, and not respects. The united provinces of the Low Countries, in their government, excel; for where there is an equality, the consultations are more indifferent, and the payments and tributes, more cheerful. A great and potent nobility, addeth majesty to a monarch, but diminisheth power; and putteth life and spirit into the people, but presseth their fortune. It is well, when nobles are not too great for sovereignty nor for justice; and yet maintained in that height, as the insolency of inferiors may be broken upon them, before it come on too fast upon the majesty of kings. A numerous nobility causeth poverty, and inconvenience in a state; for it is a surcharge of expense; and besides, it being of necessity, that many of the nobility fall, in time, to be weak in fortune, it maketh a kind of disproportion, between honor and means.”

A popular modern day essayist is Barbara Kingsolver. Her book, “Small Wonders,” is full of essays describing her thoughts and experiences both at home and around the world. Her intention with her essays is to make her readers think about various social issues, mainly concerning the environment and how people treat each other. The link below is to an essay in which a child in an Iranian village she visited had disappeared. The boy was found three days later in a bear’s cave, alive and well, protected by a mother bear. She uses a narrative essay to tell her story.

VI. Examples of Essays in Pop Culture

Many rap songs are basically mini essays, expressing outrage and sorrow over social issues today, just as the 1960s had a lot of anti-war and peace songs that told stories and described social problems of that time. Any good song writer will pay attention to current events and express ideas in a creative way.

A well-known essay written in 1997 by Mary Schmich, a columnist with the Chicago Tribune, was made into a popular video on MTV by Baz Luhrmann. Schmich’s thesis is to wear sunscreen, but she adds strong advice with supporting details throughout the body of her essay, reverting to her thesis in the conclusion.

Baz Luhrmann - Everybody's Free To Wear Sunscreen

VII. Related Terms

Research paper.

Research papers follow the same basic format of an essay. They have an introductory paragraph, the body, and a conclusion. However, research papers have strict guidelines regarding a title page, header, sub-headers within the paper, citations throughout and in a bibliography page, the size and type of font, and margins. The purpose of a research paper is to explore an area by looking at previous research. Some research papers may include additional studies by the author, which would then be compared to previous research. The point of view is an objective third-person. No opinion is allowed. Any claims must be backed up with research.

VIII. Conclusion

Students dread hearing that they are going to write an essay, but essays are one of the easiest and most relaxed types of writing they will learn. Mastering the essay will make research papers much easier, since they have the same basic structure. Many historical events can be better understood through essays written by people involved in those times. The continuation of essays in today’s times will allow future historians to understand how our new world of technology and information impacted us.

List of Terms

  • Alliteration
  • Amplification
  • Anachronism
  • Anthropomorphism
  • Antonomasia
  • APA Citation
  • Aposiopesis
  • Autobiography
  • Bildungsroman
  • Characterization
  • Circumlocution
  • Cliffhanger
  • Comic Relief
  • Connotation
  • Deus ex machina
  • Deuteragonist
  • Doppelganger
  • Double Entendre
  • Dramatic irony
  • Equivocation
  • Extended Metaphor
  • Figures of Speech
  • Flash-forward
  • Foreshadowing
  • Intertextuality
  • Juxtaposition
  • Literary Device
  • Malapropism
  • Onomatopoeia
  • Parallelism
  • Pathetic Fallacy
  • Personification
  • Point of View
  • Polysyndeton
  • Protagonist
  • Red Herring
  • Rhetorical Device
  • Rhetorical Question
  • Science Fiction
  • Self-Fulfilling Prophecy
  • Synesthesia
  • Turning Point
  • Understatement
  • Urban Legend
  • Verisimilitude
  • Essay Guide
  • Cite This Website

detail (composition)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

  • An Introduction to Punctuation
  • Ph.D., Rhetoric and English, University of Georgia
  • M.A., Modern English and American Literature, University of Leicester
  • B.A., English, State University of New York

In composition , a detail is a particular item of information (including descriptive , illustrative , and statistical information) that supports an idea or contributes to an overall impression in an essay , report , or other kind of text.

Details that are carefully chosen and well organized can help make a piece of writing or an oral report more precise, vivid, convincing, and interesting.

Etymology From the Old French, "a cut-off piece"

Detail in Literature

Literature provides a rich canvas for the use of detail as the following works and comments by the various authors show.

Elizabeth Bowen

  • "The charm, one might say the genius, of memory is that it is choosy, chancy and temperamental; it rejects the edifying cathedral and indelibly photographs the small boy outside, chewing a hunk of melon in the dust." (Interview in Vogue , September 15, 1955)

Clive James

  • "Bad writers never examine anything. Their inattentiveness to the detail of their prose is part and parcel of their inattentiveness to the detail of the outside world." ("Georg Christoph Lichtenberg: Lessons on How to Write." Cultural Amnesia , 2007)

Vladimir Nabokov

  • "In reading , one should notice and fondle details . There is nothing wrong about the moonshine of generalization when it comes after the sunny trifles of the book have been lovingly collected." (Quoted by Brian Boyd in  Vladimir Nabokov: The American Years . Princeton University Press, 1991

John Updike

  • "She wears Adidas jogging shoes, and a dove-gray sweat suit with canary-yellow piping down the sleeves and legs. In winter, she adds a cable-knit Norwegian sweater; in summer, she strips down to crimson track shorts, with slits in the sides for greater freedom of motion, and a grape-colored tank top, stained to dark wine where she sweats. When it rains, she produces from somewhere a transparent polyethylene bandanna." ("The Running Mate." Hugging the Shore: Essays and Criticism . Knopf, 1983)

Monica Wood

  • "Sometimes it takes only one or two details to light up a character for your readers. . . . The old man's carefully parted hair suggests that he has not totally given up. The tinny clatter of cheap crockery implies that the restaurateur has fallen on hard times. The sullen teenager's one-shouldered shrug connotes indifference tinged with contempt." ( Description . Writer's Digest Books, 1995)

Natalie Goldberg

  • "Life is so rich, if you can write down the real details of the way things were and are, you hardly need anything else. Even if you transplant the beveled windows, slow-rotating Rheingold sign, Wise potato chip rack, and tall red stools from the Aero Tavern that you drank in in New York into a bar in another state and time, the story will have authenticity and groundedness. . . . You don't have to be rigid about original detail. The imagination is capable of detail transplants, but using the details you actually know and have seen will give your writing believability and truthfulness. It creates a good solid foundation from which you can build." ( Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within , 2nd ed. Shambhala, 2005)

Joanne Meschery

  • " Details are never simply embellishments. They serve the narrative in terms of dramatization, characterization, structure, and style. . . . "Over and over again we're told that good, active writing is concrete rather than abstract. It's specific rather than general. And it's in these notions of active writing that details make all the difference. A detail must be both significant and specific." ("Details! Details! Details!" Writers Workshop in a Book , ed. by Alan Cheuse and Lisa Alvarez. Chronicle Books, 2007)

Alfred Kazin

- "I remember the air whistling around me as I ran, the panicky thud of my bones in my sneakers, and then the slabs rising in the light from the street lamps as I sped past the little candy store and crept under the fence." ( A Walker in the City , 1969)

Francine Prose

  • " Details are what persuade us that someone is telling the truth—a fact that every liar knows instinctively and too well. Bad liars pile on facts and figures, the corroborating evidence, the improbable digressions ending in blind alleys, while good or (at least better) liars know that it’s the single priceless detail that jumps out of the story and tells us to take it easy, we can quit our dreary adult jobs of playing judge and jury and again become as trusting children, hearing the gospel of grown-up knowledge without a single care or doubt. . . . "'We think in generalities,' wrote Alfred North Whitehead. 'But we live in detail.' To which I would add: We remember in detail, we recognize in detail, we identify, we re-create . . .." ( Reading Like a Writer . Harper, 2006)
  • "[T]he recording of everyday gestures, habits, manners, customs, styles of furniture, clothing, decoration, styles of traveling, eating, keeping house, modes of behaving toward children, servants, superiors, inferiors, peers, plus the various looks, glances, poses, styles of walking and other symbolic details that might exist within a scene. Symbolic of what? Symbolic, generally, of people's status life, using that term in the broad sense of the entire pattern of behavior and possessions through which people express their position in the world or what they think it is or what they hope it to be. . . . "Here is the sort of thing Balzac does over and over. Before introducing you to Monsieur and Madame Marneffe personally (in Cousin Bette ) he brings you into their drawing room and conducts a social autopsy: 'The furniture covered in faded cotton velvet, the plaster statuettes masquerading as Florentine bronzes, the clumsily carved painted chandelier with its candle rings of molded glass, the carpet, a bargain whose low price was explained too late by the quantity of cotton in it, which was now visible to the naked eye--everything in the room, to the very curtains (which would have taught you that the handsome appearance of wool damask lasts for only three years)'--everything in the room begins to absorb one into the lives of a pair of down-at-the-heel social climbers, Monsieur and Madame Marneffe. Balzac piles up these details so relentlessly and at the same time so meticulously . . . that he triggers the reader’s memories of his own status life, his own ambitions, insecurities, delights, disasters, plus the thousands and one small humiliations and the status coups of everyday life . . .." ("The New Journalism." The New Journalism , ed. by Tom Wolfe and E.W. Johnson. Harper & Row, 1973)

Detail in Popular Culture

Popular culture has also been an area that provides examples of detail. This excerpt from a story by essayist and former New Yorker fiction editor Roger Angell shows how detail can add color and interest to a piece, and the except below that shows how the word "detail," itself, can provide humor.

Roger Angell

  • - "The night air rushed in about us through the tilted wind portals at the front of the front windows and the smaller ones in back (we were in the zippy Terraplane that Tex and I had brought from Detroit), and with it the hot, flat scent of tall corn; a sudden tang of skunk come and gone; the smell of tar when the dirt roads stopped, fainter now with the hot sun gone; and, over a rare pond or creek as the tire noise went deeper, something rich and dank, with cowflop and dead fish mixing with the sweet-water weeds." ("Romance." The New Yorker , May 26, 2003)

William Demarest and Eddie Bracken

  • Sergeant Heppelfinger: I tell you it'll all blow over. Everything is perfect—except for a couple of details. Woodrow Lafayette Pershing Truesmith : They hang people for a couple of details! ( Hail the Conquering Hero , 1944) 

Related Articles

  • Supporting Detail
  • "Composing My First College Essay," by Sandy Klem
  • Descriptive Details in Stegner's "Town Dump"
  • How to Write a Descriptive Paragraph
  • Parenthetical Details in Capote's Place Description
  • Practice in Revising a Place Description
  • Practice in Supporting a Topic Sentence with Specific Details
  • Process Analysis
  • Spatial Order
  • Specificity
  • Status Details in Tom Wolfe's Descriptions
  • Writer's Notebook
  • Definition and Examples of Narratives in Writing
  • Supporting Detail in Composition and Speech
  • Biography of Vladimir Nabokov, Russian-American Novelist
  • What Is Literary Journalism?
  • What Makes Someone a Good Writer?
  • Writing a Lead or Lede to an Article
  • What Inspired or Influenced Vladimir Nabokov to Write 'Lolita'?
  • Writing a Descriptive Essay
  • Structure of a Descriptive Essay
  • Writing With Lists: Using the Series in Descriptions
  • What Is Style in Writing?
  • 40 Topics to Help With Descriptive Writing Assignments
  • 12 Russian Authors Every Language Learner Should Read
  • revision (composition)

description essay literary definition

Literary Devices & Terms

An acrostic is a piece of writing in which a particular set of letters—typically the first letter of each line, word, or paragraph—spells out a word or phrase with special significance to the text. Acrostics... (read full acrostic explanation with examples) An acrostic is a piece of writing in which a particular set of letters—typically the first letter of each line,... (read more)

An allegory is a work that conveys a hidden meaning—usually moral, spiritual, or political—through the use of symbolic characters and events. The story of "The Tortoise and The Hare" is a well-known allegory with a... (read full allegory explanation with examples) An allegory is a work that conveys a hidden meaning—usually moral, spiritual, or political—through the use of symbolic characters and... (read more)

Alliteration is a figure of speech in which the same sound repeats in a group of words, such as the “b” sound in: “Bob brought the box of bricks to the basement.” The repeating sound... (read full alliteration explanation with examples) Alliteration is a figure of speech in which the same sound repeats in a group of words, such as the... (read more)

In literature, an allusion is an unexplained reference to someone or something outside of the text. Writers commonly allude to other literary works, famous individuals, historical events, or philosophical ideas, and they do so in... (read full allusion explanation with examples) In literature, an allusion is an unexplained reference to someone or something outside of the text. Writers commonly allude to... (read more)

An anachronism is a person or a thing placed in the wrong time period. For instance, if a novel set in Medieval England featured a trip to a movie-theater, that would be an anachronism. Although... (read full anachronism explanation with examples) An anachronism is a person or a thing placed in the wrong time period. For instance, if a novel set... (read more)

Anadiplosis is a figure of speech in which a word or group of words located at the end of one clause or sentence is repeated at or near the beginning of the following clause or... (read full anadiplosis explanation with examples) Anadiplosis is a figure of speech in which a word or group of words located at the end of one... (read more)

An analogy is a comparison that aims to explain a thing or idea by likening it to something else. For example, a career coach might say, "Being the successful boss or CEO of a company... (read full analogy explanation with examples) An analogy is a comparison that aims to explain a thing or idea by likening it to something else. For... (read more)

An anapest is a three-syllable metrical pattern in poetry in which two unstressed syllables are followed by a stressed syllable. The word "understand" is an anapest, with the unstressed syllables of "un" and "der" followed... (read full anapest explanation with examples) An anapest is a three-syllable metrical pattern in poetry in which two unstressed syllables are followed by a stressed syllable.... (read more)

Anaphora is a figure of speech in which words repeat at the beginning of successive clauses, phrases, or sentences. For example, Martin Luther King's famous "I Have a Dream" speech contains anaphora: "So let freedom... (read full anaphora explanation with examples) Anaphora is a figure of speech in which words repeat at the beginning of successive clauses, phrases, or sentences. For... (read more)

An antagonist is usually a character who opposes the protagonist (or main character) of a story, but the antagonist can also be a group of characters, institution, or force against which the protagonist must contend.... (read full antagonist explanation with examples) An antagonist is usually a character who opposes the protagonist (or main character) of a story, but the antagonist can... (read more)

Antanaclasis is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is repeated within a sentence, but the word or phrase means something different each time it appears. A famous example of antanaclasis is... (read full antanaclasis explanation with examples) Antanaclasis is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is repeated within a sentence, but the word... (read more)

Anthropomorphism is the attribution of human characteristics, emotions, and behaviors to animals or other non-human things (including objects, plants, and supernatural beings). Some famous examples of anthropomorphism include Winnie the Pooh, the Little Engine that Could, and Simba from... (read full anthropomorphism explanation with examples) Anthropomorphism is the attribution of human characteristics, emotions, and behaviors to animals or other non-human things (including objects, plants, and supernatural beings). Some famous... (read more)

Antimetabole is a figure of speech in which a phrase is repeated, but with the order of words reversed. John F. Kennedy's words, "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you... (read full antimetabole explanation with examples) Antimetabole is a figure of speech in which a phrase is repeated, but with the order of words reversed. John... (read more)

Antithesis is a figure of speech that juxtaposes two contrasting or opposing ideas, usually within parallel grammatical structures. For instance, Neil Armstrong used antithesis when he stepped onto the surface of the moon in 1969... (read full antithesis explanation with examples) Antithesis is a figure of speech that juxtaposes two contrasting or opposing ideas, usually within parallel grammatical structures. For instance,... (read more)

An aphorism is a saying that concisely expresses a moral principle or an observation about the world, presenting it as a general or universal truth. The Rolling Stones are responsible for penning one of the... (read full aphorism explanation with examples) An aphorism is a saying that concisely expresses a moral principle or an observation about the world, presenting it as... (read more)

Aphorismus is a type of figure of speech that calls into question the way a word is used. Aphorismus is used not to question the meaning of a word, but whether it is actually appropriate... (read full aphorismus explanation with examples) Aphorismus is a type of figure of speech that calls into question the way a word is used. Aphorismus is... (read more)

Aporia is a rhetorical device in which a speaker expresses uncertainty or doubt—often pretended uncertainty or doubt—about something, usually as a way of proving a point. An example of aporia is the famous Elizabeth Barrett... (read full aporia explanation with examples) Aporia is a rhetorical device in which a speaker expresses uncertainty or doubt—often pretended uncertainty or doubt—about something, usually as... (read more)

Apostrophe is a figure of speech in which a speaker directly addresses someone (or something) that is not present or cannot respond in reality. The entity being addressed can be an absent, dead, or imaginary... (read full apostrophe explanation with examples) Apostrophe is a figure of speech in which a speaker directly addresses someone (or something) that is not present or... (read more)

Assonance is a figure of speech in which the same vowel sound repeats within a group of words. An example of assonance is: "Who gave Newt and Scooter the blue tuna? It was too soon!" (read full assonance explanation with examples) Assonance is a figure of speech in which the same vowel sound repeats within a group of words. An example... (read more)

An asyndeton (sometimes called asyndetism) is a figure of speech in which coordinating conjunctions—words such as "and", "or", and "but" that join other words or clauses in a sentence into relationships of equal importance—are omitted.... (read full asyndeton explanation with examples) An asyndeton (sometimes called asyndetism) is a figure of speech in which coordinating conjunctions—words such as "and", "or", and "but"... (read more)

A ballad is a type of poem that tells a story and was traditionally set to music. English language ballads are typically composed of four-line stanzas that follow an ABCB rhyme scheme. (read full ballad explanation with examples) A ballad is a type of poem that tells a story and was traditionally set to music. English language ballads... (read more)

A ballade is a form of lyric poetry that originated in medieval France. Ballades follow a strict rhyme scheme ("ababbcbc"), and typically have three eight-line stanzas followed by a shorter four-line stanza called an envoi.... (read full ballade explanation with examples) A ballade is a form of lyric poetry that originated in medieval France. Ballades follow a strict rhyme scheme ("ababbcbc"),... (read more)

Bildungsroman is a genre of novel that shows a young protagonist's journey from childhood to adulthood (or immaturity to maturity), with a focus on the trials and misfortunes that affect the character's growth. (read full bildungsroman explanation with examples) Bildungsroman is a genre of novel that shows a young protagonist's journey from childhood to adulthood (or immaturity to maturity),... (read more)

Blank verse is the name given to poetry that lacks rhymes but does follow a specific meter—a meter that is almost always iambic pentameter. Blank verse was particularly popular in English poetry written between the... (read full blank verse explanation with examples) Blank verse is the name given to poetry that lacks rhymes but does follow a specific meter—a meter that is... (read more)

A cacophony is a combination of words that sound harsh or unpleasant together, usually because they pack a lot of percussive or "explosive" consonants (like T, P, or K) into relatively little space. For instance, the... (read full cacophony explanation with examples) A cacophony is a combination of words that sound harsh or unpleasant together, usually because they pack a lot of... (read more)

A caesura is a pause that occurs within a line of poetry, usually marked by some form of punctuation such as a period, comma, ellipsis, or dash. A caesura doesn't have to be placed in... (read full caesura explanation with examples) A caesura is a pause that occurs within a line of poetry, usually marked by some form of punctuation such... (read more)

Catharsis is the process of releasing strong or pent-up emotions through art. Aristotle coined the term catharsis—which comes from the Greek kathairein meaning "to cleanse or purge"—to describe the release of emotional tension that he... (read full catharsis explanation with examples) Catharsis is the process of releasing strong or pent-up emotions through art. Aristotle coined the term catharsis—which comes from the... (read more)

Characterization is the representation of the traits, motives, and psychology of a character in a narrative. Characterization may occur through direct description, in which the character's qualities are described by a narrator, another character, or... (read full characterization explanation with examples) Characterization is the representation of the traits, motives, and psychology of a character in a narrative. Characterization may occur through... (read more)

Chiasmus is a figure of speech in which the grammar of one phrase is inverted in the following phrase, such that two key concepts from the original phrase reappear in the second phrase in inverted... (read full chiasmus explanation with examples) Chiasmus is a figure of speech in which the grammar of one phrase is inverted in the following phrase, such... (read more)

The word cinquain can refer to two different things. Historically, it referred to any stanza of five lines written in any type of verse. More recently, cinquain has come to refer to particular types of... (read full cinquain explanation with examples) The word cinquain can refer to two different things. Historically, it referred to any stanza of five lines written in... (read more)

A cliché is a phrase that, due to overuse, is seen as lacking in substance or originality. For example, telling a heartbroken friend that there are "Plenty of fish in the sea" is such a... (read full cliché explanation with examples) A cliché is a phrase that, due to overuse, is seen as lacking in substance or originality. For example, telling... (read more)

Climax is a figure of speech in which successive words, phrases, clauses, or sentences are arranged in ascending order of importance, as in "Look! Up in the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane! It's... (read full climax (figure of speech) explanation with examples) Climax is a figure of speech in which successive words, phrases, clauses, or sentences are arranged in ascending order of... (read more)

The climax of a plot is the story's central turning point—the moment of peak tension or conflict—which all the preceding plot developments have been leading up to. In a traditional "good vs. evil" story (like many superhero movies)... (read full climax (plot) explanation with examples) The climax of a plot is the story's central turning point—the moment of peak tension or conflict—which all the preceding plot... (read more)

Colloquialism is the use of informal words or phrases in writing or speech. Colloquialisms are usually defined in geographical terms, meaning that they are often defined by their use within a dialect, a regionally-defined variant... (read full colloquialism explanation with examples) Colloquialism is the use of informal words or phrases in writing or speech. Colloquialisms are usually defined in geographical terms,... (read more)

Common meter is a specific type of meter that is often used in lyric poetry. Common meter has two key traits: it alternates between lines of eight syllables and lines of six syllables, and it... (read full common meter explanation with examples) Common meter is a specific type of meter that is often used in lyric poetry. Common meter has two key... (read more)

A conceit is a fanciful metaphor, especially a highly elaborate or extended metaphor in which an unlikely, far-fetched, or strained comparison is made between two things. A famous example comes from John Donne's poem, "A... (read full conceit explanation with examples) A conceit is a fanciful metaphor, especially a highly elaborate or extended metaphor in which an unlikely, far-fetched, or strained... (read more)

Connotation is the array of emotions and ideas suggested by a word in addition to its dictionary definition. Most words carry meanings, impressions, or associations apart from or beyond their literal meaning. For example, the... (read full connotation explanation with examples) Connotation is the array of emotions and ideas suggested by a word in addition to its dictionary definition. Most words... (read more)

Consonance is a figure of speech in which the same consonant sound repeats within a group of words. An example of consonance is: "Traffic figures, on July Fourth, to be tough." (read full consonance explanation with examples) Consonance is a figure of speech in which the same consonant sound repeats within a group of words. An example... (read more)

A couplet is a unit of two lines of poetry, especially lines that use the same or similar meter, form a rhyme, or are separated from other lines by a double line break. (read full couplet explanation with examples) A couplet is a unit of two lines of poetry, especially lines that use the same or similar meter, form... (read more)

A dactyl is a three-syllable metrical pattern in poetry in which a stressed syllable is followed by two unstressed syllables. The word “poetry” itself is a great example of a dactyl, with the stressed syllable... (read full dactyl explanation with examples) A dactyl is a three-syllable metrical pattern in poetry in which a stressed syllable is followed by two unstressed syllables.... (read more)

Denotation is the literal meaning, or "dictionary definition," of a word. Denotation is defined in contrast to connotation, which is the array of emotions and ideas suggested by a word in addition to its dictionary... (read full denotation explanation with examples) Denotation is the literal meaning, or "dictionary definition," of a word. Denotation is defined in contrast to connotation, which is... (read more)

The dénouement is the final section of a story's plot, in which loose ends are tied up, lingering questions are answered, and a sense of resolution is achieved. The shortest and most well known dénouement, it could be... (read full dénouement explanation with examples) The dénouement is the final section of a story's plot, in which loose ends are tied up, lingering questions are answered, and... (read more)

A deus ex machina is a plot device whereby an unsolvable conflict or point of tension is suddenly resolved by the unexpected appearance of an implausible character, object, action, ability, or event. For example, if... (read full deus ex machina explanation with examples) A deus ex machina is a plot device whereby an unsolvable conflict or point of tension is suddenly resolved by... (read more)

Diacope is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is repeated with a small number of intervening words. The first line of Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, "Happy families are all alike;... (read full diacope explanation with examples) Diacope is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is repeated with a small number of intervening... (read more)

Dialogue is the exchange of spoken words between two or more characters in a book, play, or other written work. In prose writing, lines of dialogue are typically identified by the use of quotation marks... (read full dialogue explanation with examples) Dialogue is the exchange of spoken words between two or more characters in a book, play, or other written work.... (read more)

Diction is a writer's unique style of expression, especially his or her choice and arrangement of words. A writer's vocabulary, use of language to produce a specific tone or atmosphere, and ability to communicate clearly... (read full diction explanation with examples) Diction is a writer's unique style of expression, especially his or her choice and arrangement of words. A writer's vocabulary,... (read more)

Dramatic irony is a plot device often used in theater, literature, film, and television to highlight the difference between a character's understanding of a given situation, and that of the audience. More specifically, in dramatic... (read full dramatic irony explanation with examples) Dramatic irony is a plot device often used in theater, literature, film, and television to highlight the difference between a... (read more)

A dynamic character undergoes substantial internal changes as a result of one or more plot developments. The dynamic character's change can be extreme or subtle, as long as his or her development is important to... (read full dynamic character explanation with examples) A dynamic character undergoes substantial internal changes as a result of one or more plot developments. The dynamic character's change... (read more)

An elegy is a poem of serious reflection, especially one mourning the loss of someone who died. Elegies are defined by their subject matter, and don't have to follow any specific form in terms of... (read full elegy explanation with examples) An elegy is a poem of serious reflection, especially one mourning the loss of someone who died. Elegies are defined... (read more)

End rhyme refers to rhymes that occur in the final words of lines of poetry. For instance, these lines from Dorothy Parker's poem "Interview" use end rhyme: "The ladies men admire, I’ve heard, / Would shudder... (read full end rhyme explanation with examples) End rhyme refers to rhymes that occur in the final words of lines of poetry. For instance, these lines from... (read more)

An end-stopped line is a line of poetry in which a sentence or phrase comes to a conclusion at the end of the line. For example, the poet C.P. Cavafy uses end-stopped lines in his... (read full end-stopped line explanation with examples) An end-stopped line is a line of poetry in which a sentence or phrase comes to a conclusion at the... (read more)

Enjambment is the continuation of a sentence or clause across a line break. For example, the poet John Donne uses enjambment in his poem "The Good-Morrow" when he continues the opening sentence across the line... (read full enjambment explanation with examples) Enjambment is the continuation of a sentence or clause across a line break. For example, the poet John Donne uses... (read more)

An envoi is a brief concluding stanza at the end of a poem that can either summarize the preceding poem or serve as its dedication. The envoi tends to follow the same meter and rhyme... (read full envoi explanation with examples) An envoi is a brief concluding stanza at the end of a poem that can either summarize the preceding poem... (read more)

Epanalepsis is a figure of speech in which the beginning of a clause or sentence is repeated at the end of that same clause or sentence, with words intervening. The sentence "The king is dead,... (read full epanalepsis explanation with examples) Epanalepsis is a figure of speech in which the beginning of a clause or sentence is repeated at the end... (read more)

An epigram is a short and witty statement, usually written in verse, that conveys a single thought or observation. Epigrams typically end with a punchline or a satirical twist. (read full epigram explanation with examples) An epigram is a short and witty statement, usually written in verse, that conveys a single thought or observation. Epigrams... (read more)

An epigraph is a short quotation, phrase, or poem that is placed at the beginning of another piece of writing to encapsulate that work's main themes and to set the tone. For instance, the epigraph of Mary... (read full epigraph explanation with examples) An epigraph is a short quotation, phrase, or poem that is placed at the beginning of another piece of writing to... (read more)

Epistrophe is a figure of speech in which one or more words repeat at the end of successive phrases, clauses, or sentences. In his Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln urged the American people to ensure that,... (read full epistrophe explanation with examples) Epistrophe is a figure of speech in which one or more words repeat at the end of successive phrases, clauses,... (read more)

Epizeuxis is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is repeated in immediate succession, with no intervening words. In the play Hamlet, when Hamlet responds to a question about what he's reading... (read full epizeuxis explanation with examples) Epizeuxis is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is repeated in immediate succession, with no intervening... (read more)

Ethos, along with logos and pathos, is one of the three "modes of persuasion" in rhetoric (the art of effective speaking or writing). Ethos is an argument that appeals to the audience by emphasizing the... (read full ethos explanation with examples) Ethos, along with logos and pathos, is one of the three "modes of persuasion" in rhetoric (the art of effective... (read more)

Euphony is the combining of words that sound pleasant together or are easy to pronounce, usually because they contain lots of consonants with soft or muffled sounds (like L, M, N, and R) instead of consonants with harsh, percussive sounds (like... (read full euphony explanation with examples) Euphony is the combining of words that sound pleasant together or are easy to pronounce, usually because they contain lots of consonants with soft... (read more)

Exposition is the description or explanation of background information within a work of literature. Exposition can cover characters and their relationship to one another, the setting or time and place of events, as well as... (read full exposition explanation with examples) Exposition is the description or explanation of background information within a work of literature. Exposition can cover characters and their... (read more)

An extended metaphor is a metaphor that unfolds across multiple lines or even paragraphs of a text, making use of multiple interrelated metaphors within an overarching one. So while "life is a highway" is a... (read full extended metaphor explanation with examples) An extended metaphor is a metaphor that unfolds across multiple lines or even paragraphs of a text, making use of... (read more)

An external conflict is a problem, antagonism, or struggle that takes place between a character and an outside force. External conflict drives the action of a plot forward. (read full external conflict explanation with examples) An external conflict is a problem, antagonism, or struggle that takes place between a character and an outside force. External conflict... (read more)

The falling action of a story is the section of the plot following the climax, in which the tension stemming from the story's central conflict decreases and the story moves toward its conclusion. For instance, the traditional "good... (read full falling action explanation with examples) The falling action of a story is the section of the plot following the climax, in which the tension stemming from... (read more)

Figurative language is language that contains or uses figures of speech. When people use the term "figurative language," however, they often do so in a slightly narrower way. In this narrower definition, figurative language refers... (read full figurative language explanation with examples) Figurative language is language that contains or uses figures of speech. When people use the term "figurative language," however, they... (read more)

A figure of speech is a literary device in which language is used in an unusual—or "figured"—way in order to produce a stylistic effect. Figures of speech can be broken into two main groups: figures... (read full figure of speech explanation with examples) A figure of speech is a literary device in which language is used in an unusual—or "figured"—way in order to... (read more)

A character is said to be "flat" if it is one-dimensional or lacking in complexity. Typically, flat characters can be easily and accurately described using a single word (like "bully") or one short sentence (like "A naive... (read full flat character explanation with examples) A character is said to be "flat" if it is one-dimensional or lacking in complexity. Typically, flat characters can be easily... (read more)

Foreshadowing is a literary device in which authors hint at plot developments that don't actually occur until later in the story. Foreshadowing can be achieved directly or indirectly, by making explicit statements or leaving subtle... (read full foreshadowing explanation with examples) Foreshadowing is a literary device in which authors hint at plot developments that don't actually occur until later in the... (read more)

Formal verse is the name given to rhymed poetry that uses a strict meter (a regular pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables). This two-line poem by Emily Dickinson is formal verse because it rhymes and... (read full formal verse explanation with examples) Formal verse is the name given to rhymed poetry that uses a strict meter (a regular pattern of stressed and... (read more)

Free verse is the name given to poetry that doesn’t use any strict meter or rhyme scheme. Because it has no set meter, poems written in free verse can have lines of any length, from... (read full free verse explanation with examples) Free verse is the name given to poetry that doesn’t use any strict meter or rhyme scheme. Because it has... (read more)

Hamartia is a literary term that refers to a tragic flaw or error that leads to a character's downfall. In the novel Frankenstein, Victor Frankenstein's arrogant conviction that he can usurp the roles of God... (read full hamartia explanation with examples) Hamartia is a literary term that refers to a tragic flaw or error that leads to a character's downfall. In... (read more)

Hubris refers to excessive pride or overconfidence, which drives a person to overstep limits in a way that leads to their downfall. In Greek mythology, the legend of Icarus involves an iconic case of hubris:... (read full hubris explanation with examples) Hubris refers to excessive pride or overconfidence, which drives a person to overstep limits in a way that leads to... (read more)

Hyperbole is a figure of speech in which a writer or speaker exaggerates for the sake of emphasis. Hyperbolic statements are usually quite obvious exaggerations intended to emphasize a point, rather than be taken literally.... (read full hyperbole explanation with examples) Hyperbole is a figure of speech in which a writer or speaker exaggerates for the sake of emphasis. Hyperbolic statements... (read more)

An iamb is a two-syllable metrical pattern in poetry in which one unstressed syllable is followed by a stressed syllable. The word "define" is an iamb, with the unstressed syllable of "de" followed by the... (read full iamb explanation with examples) An iamb is a two-syllable metrical pattern in poetry in which one unstressed syllable is followed by a stressed syllable.... (read more)

An idiom is a phrase that conveys a figurative meaning that is difficult or impossible to understand based solely on a literal interpretation of the words in the phrase. For example, saying that something is... (read full idiom explanation with examples) An idiom is a phrase that conveys a figurative meaning that is difficult or impossible to understand based solely on... (read more)

Imagery, in any sort of writing, refers to descriptive language that engages the human senses. For instance, the following lines from Robert Frost's poem "After Apple-Picking" contain imagery that engages the senses of touch, movement,... (read full imagery explanation with examples) Imagery, in any sort of writing, refers to descriptive language that engages the human senses. For instance, the following lines... (read more)

Internal rhyme is rhyme that occurs in the middle of lines of poetry, instead of at the ends of lines. A single line of poetry can contain internal rhyme (with multiple words in the same... (read full internal rhyme explanation with examples) Internal rhyme is rhyme that occurs in the middle of lines of poetry, instead of at the ends of lines.... (read more)

Irony is a literary device or event in which how things seem to be is in fact very different from how they actually are. If this seems like a loose definition, don't worry—it is. Irony is a... (read full irony explanation with examples) Irony is a literary device or event in which how things seem to be is in fact very different from how... (read more)

Juxtaposition occurs when an author places two things side by side as a way of highlighting their differences. Ideas, images, characters, and actions are all things that can be juxtaposed with one another. For example,... (read full juxtaposition explanation with examples) Juxtaposition occurs when an author places two things side by side as a way of highlighting their differences. Ideas, images,... (read more)

A kenning is a figure of speech in which two words are combined in order to form a poetic expression that refers to a person or a thing. For example, "whale-road" is a kenning for... (read full kenning explanation with examples) A kenning is a figure of speech in which two words are combined in order to form a poetic expression... (read more)

A line break is the termination of one line of poetry, and the beginning of a new line. (read full line break explanation with examples) A line break is the termination of one line of poetry, and the beginning of a new line. (read more)

Litotes is a figure of speech and a form of understatement in which a sentiment is expressed ironically by negating its contrary. For example, saying "It's not the best weather today" during a hurricane would... (read full litotes explanation with examples) Litotes is a figure of speech and a form of understatement in which a sentiment is expressed ironically by negating... (read more)

Logos, along with ethos and pathos, is one of the three "modes of persuasion" in rhetoric (the art of effective speaking or writing). Logos is an argument that appeals to an audience's sense of logic... (read full logos explanation with examples) Logos, along with ethos and pathos, is one of the three "modes of persuasion" in rhetoric (the art of effective... (read more)

A metaphor is a figure of speech that compares two different things by saying that one thing is the other. The comparison in a metaphor can be stated explicitly, as in the sentence "Love is... (read full metaphor explanation with examples) A metaphor is a figure of speech that compares two different things by saying that one thing is the other.... (read more)

Meter is a regular pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables that defines the rhythm of some poetry. These stress patterns are defined in groupings, called feet, of two or three syllables. A pattern of unstressed-stressed,... (read full meter explanation with examples) Meter is a regular pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables that defines the rhythm of some poetry. These stress patterns... (read more)

Metonymy is a type of figurative language in which an object or concept is referred to not by its own name, but instead by the name of something closely associated with it. For example, in... (read full metonymy explanation with examples) Metonymy is a type of figurative language in which an object or concept is referred to not by its own... (read more)

The mood of a piece of writing is its general atmosphere or emotional complexion—in short, the array of feelings the work evokes in the reader. Every aspect of a piece of writing can influence its mood, from the... (read full mood explanation with examples) The mood of a piece of writing is its general atmosphere or emotional complexion—in short, the array of feelings the work evokes... (read more)

A motif is an element or idea that recurs throughout a work of literature. Motifs, which are often collections of related symbols, help develop the central themes of a book or play. For example, one... (read full motif explanation with examples) A motif is an element or idea that recurs throughout a work of literature. Motifs, which are often collections of... (read more)

A narrative is an account of connected events. Two writers describing the same set of events might craft very different narratives, depending on how they use different narrative elements, such as tone or point of view. For... (read full narrative explanation with examples) A narrative is an account of connected events. Two writers describing the same set of events might craft very different narratives,... (read more)

Onomatopoeia is a figure of speech in which words evoke the actual sound of the thing they refer to or describe. The “boom” of a firework exploding, the “tick tock” of a clock, and the... (read full onomatopoeia explanation with examples) Onomatopoeia is a figure of speech in which words evoke the actual sound of the thing they refer to or... (read more)

An oxymoron is a figure of speech in which two contradictory terms or ideas are intentionally paired in order to make a point—particularly to reveal a deeper or hidden truth. The most recognizable oxymorons are... (read full oxymoron explanation with examples) An oxymoron is a figure of speech in which two contradictory terms or ideas are intentionally paired in order to... (read more)

A paradox is a figure of speech that seems to contradict itself, but which, upon further examination, contains some kernel of truth or reason. Oscar Wilde's famous declaration that "Life is much too important to be... (read full paradox explanation with examples) A paradox is a figure of speech that seems to contradict itself, but which, upon further examination, contains some kernel... (read more)

Parallelism is a figure of speech in which two or more elements of a sentence (or series of sentences) have the same grammatical structure. These "parallel" elements can be used to intensify the rhythm of... (read full parallelism explanation with examples) Parallelism is a figure of speech in which two or more elements of a sentence (or series of sentences) have... (read more)

Parataxis is a figure of speech in which words, phrases, clauses, or sentences are set next to each other so that each element is equally important. Parataxis usually involves simple sentences or phrases whose relationships... (read full parataxis explanation with examples) Parataxis is a figure of speech in which words, phrases, clauses, or sentences are set next to each other so... (read more)

A parody is a work that mimics the style of another work, artist, or genre in an exaggerated way, usually for comic effect. Parodies can take many forms, including fiction, poetry, film, visual art, and... (read full parody explanation with examples) A parody is a work that mimics the style of another work, artist, or genre in an exaggerated way, usually... (read more)

Pathetic fallacy occurs when a writer attributes human emotions to things that aren't human, such as objects, weather, or animals. It is often used to make the environment reflect the inner experience of a narrator... (read full pathetic fallacy explanation with examples) Pathetic fallacy occurs when a writer attributes human emotions to things that aren't human, such as objects, weather, or animals.... (read more)

Pathos, along with logos and ethos, is one of the three "modes of persuasion" in rhetoric (the art of effective speaking or writing). Pathos is an argument that appeals to an audience's emotions. When a... (read full pathos explanation with examples) Pathos, along with logos and ethos, is one of the three "modes of persuasion" in rhetoric (the art of effective... (read more)

Personification is a type of figurative language in which non-human things are described as having human attributes, as in the sentence, "The rain poured down on the wedding guests, indifferent to their plans." Describing the... (read full personification explanation with examples) Personification is a type of figurative language in which non-human things are described as having human attributes, as in the... (read more)

Plot is the sequence of interconnected events within the story of a play, novel, film, epic, or other narrative literary work. More than simply an account of what happened, plot reveals the cause-and-effect relationships between... (read full plot explanation with examples) Plot is the sequence of interconnected events within the story of a play, novel, film, epic, or other narrative literary... (read more)

Point of view refers to the perspective that the narrator holds in relation to the events of the story. The three primary points of view are first person, in which the narrator tells a story from... (read full point of view explanation with examples) Point of view refers to the perspective that the narrator holds in relation to the events of the story. The... (read more)

Polyptoton is a figure of speech that involves the repetition of words derived from the same root (such as "blood" and "bleed"). For instance, the question, "Who shall watch the watchmen?" is an example of... (read full polyptoton explanation with examples) Polyptoton is a figure of speech that involves the repetition of words derived from the same root (such as "blood"... (read more)

Polysyndeton is a figure of speech in which coordinating conjunctions—words such as "and," "or," and "but" that join other words or clauses in a sentence into relationships of equal importance—are used several times in close... (read full polysyndeton explanation with examples) Polysyndeton is a figure of speech in which coordinating conjunctions—words such as "and," "or," and "but" that join other words... (read more)

The protagonist of a story is its main character, who has the sympathy and support of the audience. This character tends to be involved in or affected by most of the choices or conflicts that... (read full protagonist explanation with examples) The protagonist of a story is its main character, who has the sympathy and support of the audience. This character... (read more)

A pun is a figure of speech that plays with words that have multiple meanings, or that plays with words that sound similar but mean different things. The comic novelist Douglas Adams uses both types... (read full pun explanation with examples) A pun is a figure of speech that plays with words that have multiple meanings, or that plays with words... (read more)

A quatrain is a four-line stanza of poetry. It can be a single four-line stanza, meaning that it is a stand-alone poem of four lines, or it can be a four-line stanza that makes up... (read full quatrain explanation with examples) A quatrain is a four-line stanza of poetry. It can be a single four-line stanza, meaning that it is a... (read more)

A red herring is a piece of information in a story that distracts readers from an important truth, or leads them to mistakenly expect a particular outcome. Most often, the term red herring is used to refer... (read full red herring explanation with examples) A red herring is a piece of information in a story that distracts readers from an important truth, or leads them... (read more)

In a poem or song, a refrain is a line or group of lines that regularly repeat, usually at the end of a stanza in a poem or at the end of a verse in... (read full refrain explanation with examples) In a poem or song, a refrain is a line or group of lines that regularly repeat, usually at the... (read more)

Repetition is a literary device in which a word or phrase is repeated two or more times. Repetition occurs in so many different forms that it is usually not thought of as a single figure... (read full repetition explanation with examples) Repetition is a literary device in which a word or phrase is repeated two or more times. Repetition occurs in... (read more)

A rhetorical question is a figure of speech in which a question is asked for a reason other than to get an answer—most commonly, it's asked to make a persuasive point. For example, if a... (read full rhetorical question explanation with examples) A rhetorical question is a figure of speech in which a question is asked for a reason other than to... (read more)

A rhyme is a repetition of similar sounds in two or more words. Rhyming is particularly common in many types of poetry, especially at the ends of lines, and is a requirement in formal verse.... (read full rhyme explanation with examples) A rhyme is a repetition of similar sounds in two or more words. Rhyming is particularly common in many types... (read more)

A rhyme scheme is the pattern according to which end rhymes (rhymes located at the end of lines) are repeated in works poetry. Rhyme schemes are described using letters of the alphabet, such that all... (read full rhyme scheme explanation with examples) A rhyme scheme is the pattern according to which end rhymes (rhymes located at the end of lines) are repeated... (read more)

The rising action of a story is the section of the plot leading up to the climax, in which the tension stemming from the story's central conflict grows through successive plot developments. For example, in the story of "Little... (read full rising action explanation with examples) The rising action of a story is the section of the plot leading up to the climax, in which the tension stemming... (read more)

A character is said to be "round" if they are lifelike or complex. Round characters typically have fully fleshed-out and multi-faceted personalities, backgrounds, desires, and motivations. Jay Gatsby in F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby... (read full round character explanation with examples) A character is said to be "round" if they are lifelike or complex. Round characters typically have fully fleshed-out and... (read more)

Satire is the use of humor, irony, sarcasm, or ridicule to criticize something or someone. Public figures, such as politicians, are often the subject of satire, but satirists can take aim at other targets as... (read full satire explanation with examples) Satire is the use of humor, irony, sarcasm, or ridicule to criticize something or someone. Public figures, such as politicians,... (read more)

A sestet is a six-line stanza of poetry. It can be any six-line stanza—one that is, itself, a whole poem, or one that makes up a part of a longer poem. Most commonly, the term... (read full sestet explanation with examples) A sestet is a six-line stanza of poetry. It can be any six-line stanza—one that is, itself, a whole poem,... (read more)

Setting is where and when a story or scene takes place. The where can be a real place like the city of New York, or it can be an imagined location, like Middle Earth in... (read full setting explanation with examples) Setting is where and when a story or scene takes place. The where can be a real place like the... (read more)

Sibilance is a figure of speech in which a hissing sound is created within a group of words through the repetition of "s" sounds. An example of sibilance is: "Sadly, Sam sold seven venomous serpents to Sally and... (read full sibilance explanation with examples) Sibilance is a figure of speech in which a hissing sound is created within a group of words through the repetition... (read more)

A simile is a figure of speech that directly compares two unlike things. To make the comparison, similes most often use the connecting words "like" or "as," but can also use other words that indicate... (read full simile explanation with examples) A simile is a figure of speech that directly compares two unlike things. To make the comparison, similes most often... (read more)

Traditionally, slant rhyme referred to a type of rhyme in which two words located at the end of a line of poetry themselves end in similar—but not identical—consonant sounds. For instance, the words "pact" and... (read full slant rhyme explanation with examples) Traditionally, slant rhyme referred to a type of rhyme in which two words located at the end of a line... (read more)

A soliloquy is a literary device, most often found in dramas, in which a character speaks to him or herself, relating his or her innermost thoughts and feelings as if thinking aloud. In some cases,... (read full soliloquy explanation with examples) A soliloquy is a literary device, most often found in dramas, in which a character speaks to him or herself,... (read more)

A sonnet is a type of fourteen-line poem. Traditionally, the fourteen lines of a sonnet consist of an octave (or two quatrains making up a stanza of 8 lines) and a sestet (a stanza of... (read full sonnet explanation with examples) A sonnet is a type of fourteen-line poem. Traditionally, the fourteen lines of a sonnet consist of an octave (or... (read more)

A spondee is a two-syllable metrical pattern in poetry in which both syllables are stressed. The word "downtown" is a spondee, with the stressed syllable of "down" followed by another stressed syllable, “town”: Down-town. (read full spondee explanation with examples) A spondee is a two-syllable metrical pattern in poetry in which both syllables are stressed. The word "downtown" is a... (read more)

A stanza is a group of lines form a smaller unit within a poem. A single stanza is usually set apart from other lines or stanza within a poem by a double line break or... (read full stanza explanation with examples) A stanza is a group of lines form a smaller unit within a poem. A single stanza is usually set... (read more)

A character is said to be "static" if they do not undergo any substantial internal changes as a result of the story's major plot developments. Antagonists are often static characters, but any character in a... (read full static character explanation with examples) A character is said to be "static" if they do not undergo any substantial internal changes as a result of... (read more)

Stream of consciousness is a style or technique of writing that tries to capture the natural flow of a character's extended thought process, often by incorporating sensory impressions, incomplete ideas, unusual syntax, and rough grammar. (read full stream of consciousness explanation with examples) Stream of consciousness is a style or technique of writing that tries to capture the natural flow of a character's... (read more)

A syllogism is a three-part logical argument, based on deductive reasoning, in which two premises are combined to arrive at a conclusion. So long as the premises of the syllogism are true and the syllogism... (read full syllogism explanation with examples) A syllogism is a three-part logical argument, based on deductive reasoning, in which two premises are combined to arrive at... (read more)

Symbolism is a literary device in which a writer uses one thing—usually a physical object or phenomenon—to represent something more abstract. A strong symbol usually shares a set of key characteristics with whatever it is... (read full symbolism explanation with examples) Symbolism is a literary device in which a writer uses one thing—usually a physical object or phenomenon—to represent something more... (read more)

Synecdoche is a figure of speech in which, most often, a part of something is used to refer to its whole. For example, "The captain commands one hundred sails" is a synecdoche that uses "sails"... (read full synecdoche explanation with examples) Synecdoche is a figure of speech in which, most often, a part of something is used to refer to its... (read more)

A theme is a universal idea, lesson, or message explored throughout a work of literature. One key characteristic of literary themes is their universality, which is to say that themes are ideas that not only... (read full theme explanation with examples) A theme is a universal idea, lesson, or message explored throughout a work of literature. One key characteristic of literary... (read more)

The tone of a piece of writing is its general character or attitude, which might be cheerful or depressive, sarcastic or sincere, comical or mournful, praising or critical, and so on. For instance, an editorial in a newspaper... (read full tone explanation with examples) The tone of a piece of writing is its general character or attitude, which might be cheerful or depressive, sarcastic or sincere, comical... (read more)

A tragic hero is a type of character in a tragedy, and is usually the protagonist. Tragic heroes typically have heroic traits that earn them the sympathy of the audience, but also have flaws or... (read full tragic hero explanation with examples) A tragic hero is a type of character in a tragedy, and is usually the protagonist. Tragic heroes typically have... (read more)

A trochee is a two-syllable metrical pattern in poetry in which a stressed syllable is followed by an unstressed syllable. The word "poet" is a trochee, with the stressed syllable of "po" followed by the... (read full trochee explanation with examples) A trochee is a two-syllable metrical pattern in poetry in which a stressed syllable is followed by an unstressed syllable.... (read more)

Understatement is a figure of speech in which something is expressed less strongly than would be expected, or in which something is presented as being smaller, worse, or lesser than it really is. Typically, understatement is... (read full understatement explanation with examples) Understatement is a figure of speech in which something is expressed less strongly than would be expected, or in which something... (read more)

Verbal irony occurs when the literal meaning of what someone says is different from—and often opposite to—what they actually mean. When there's a hurricane raging outside and someone remarks "what lovely weather we're having," this... (read full verbal irony explanation with examples) Verbal irony occurs when the literal meaning of what someone says is different from—and often opposite to—what they actually mean.... (read more)

A villanelle is a poem of nineteen lines, and which follows a strict form that consists of five tercets (three-line stanzas) followed by one quatrain (four-line stanza). Villanelles use a specific rhyme scheme of ABA... (read full villanelle explanation with examples) A villanelle is a poem of nineteen lines, and which follows a strict form that consists of five tercets (three-line... (read more)

A zeugma is a figure of speech in which one "governing" word or phrase modifies two distinct parts of a sentence. Often, the governing word will mean something different when applied to each part, as... (read full zeugma explanation with examples) A zeugma is a figure of speech in which one "governing" word or phrase modifies two distinct parts of a... (read more)

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What is Essay? Definition, Usage, and Literary Examples

Essay definition.

An essay (ES-ey) is a nonfiction composition that explores a concept, argument, idea, or opinion from the personal perspective of the writer. Essays are usually a few pages, but they can also be book-length. Unlike other forms of nonfiction writing, like textbooks or biographies, an essay doesn’t inherently require research. Literary essayists are conveying ideas in a more informal way.

The word essay comes from the Late Latin exigere , meaning “ascertain or weigh,” which later became essayer in Old French. The late-15th-century version came to mean “test the quality of.” It’s this latter derivation that French philosopher Michel de Montaigne first used to describe a composition.

History of the Essay

Michel de Montaigne first coined the term essayer to describe Plutarch’s Oeuvres Morales , which is now widely considered to be a collection of essays. Under the new term, Montaigne wrote the first official collection of essays, Essais , in 1580. Montaigne’s goal was to pen his personal ideas in prose . In 1597, a collection of Francis Bacon’s work appeared as the first essay collection written in English. The term essayist was first used by English playwright Ben Jonson in 1609.

Types of Essays

There are many ways to categorize essays. Aldous Huxley, a leading essayist, determined that there are three major groups: personal and autobiographical, objective and factual, and abstract and universal. Within these groups, several other types can exist, including the following:

  • Academic Essays : Educators frequently assign essays to encourage students to think deeply about a given subject and to assess the student’s knowledge. As such, an academic essay employs a formal language and tone, and it may include references and a bibliography. It’s objective and factual, and it typically uses a five-paragraph model of an introduction, two or more body paragraphs, and a conclusion. Several other essay types, like descriptive, argumentative, and expository, can fall under the umbrella of an academic essay.
  • Analytical Essays : An analytical essay breaks down and interprets something, like an event, piece of literature, or artwork. This type of essay combines abstraction and personal viewpoints. Professional reviews of movies, TV shows, and albums are likely the most common form of analytical essays that people encounter in everyday life.
  • Argumentative/Persuasive Essays : In an argumentative or persuasive essay, the essayist offers their opinion on a debatable topic and refutes opposing views. Their goal is to get the reader to agree with them. Argumentative/persuasive essays can be personal, factual, and even both at the same time. They can also be humorous or satirical; Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal is a satirical essay arguing that the best way for Irish people to get out of poverty is to sell their children to rich people as a food source.
  • Descriptive Essays : In a descriptive essay, the essayist describes something, someone, or an event in great detail. The essay’s subject can be something concrete, meaning it can be experienced with any or all of the five senses, or abstract, meaning it can’t be interacted with in a physical sense.
  • Expository Essay : An expository essay is a factual piece of writing that explains a particular concept or issue. Investigative journalists often write expository essays in their beat, and things like manuals or how-to guides are also written in an expository style.
  • Narrative/Personal : In a narrative or personal essay, the essayist tells a story, which is usually a recounting of a personal event. Narrative and personal essays may attempt to support a moral or lesson. People are often most familiar with this category as many writers and celebrities frequently publish essay collections.

Notable Essayists

  • James Baldwin, “ Notes of a Native Son ”
  • Joan Didion, “ Goodbye To All That ”
  • George Orwell, “ Shooting an Elephant ”
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson, “ Self-Reliance ”
  • Virginia Woolf, " Three Guineas "

Examples of Literary Essays

1. Michel De Montaigne, “Of Presumption”

De Montaigne’s essay explores multiple topics, including his reasons for writing essays, his dissatisfaction with contemporary education, and his own victories and failings. As the father of the essay, Montaigne details characteristics of what he thinks an essay should be. His writing has a stream-of-consciousness organization that doesn’t follow a structure, and he expresses the importance of looking inward at oneself, pointing to the essay’s personal nature.

2. Virginia Woolf, “A Room of One’s Own”

Woolf’s feminist essay, written from the perspective of an unknown, fictional woman, argues that sexism keeps women from fully realizing their potential. Woolf posits that a woman needs only an income and a room of her own to express her creativity. The fictional persona Woolf uses is meant to teach the reader a greater truth: making both literal and metaphorical space for women in the world is integral to their success and wellbeing.

3. James Baldwin, “Everybody’s Protest Novel”

In this essay, Baldwin argues that Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin doesn’t serve the black community the way his contemporaries thought it did. He points out that it equates “goodness” with how well-assimilated the black characters are in white culture:

Uncle Tom’s Cabin is a very bad novel, having, in its self-righteous, virtuous sentimentality, much in common with Little Women. Sentimentality […] is the mark of dishonesty, the inability to feel; […] and it is always, therefore, the signal of secret and violent inhumanity, the mask of cruelty.

This essay is both analytical and argumentative. Baldwin analyzes the novel and argues against those who champion it.

Further Resources on Essays

Top Writing Tips offers an in-depth history of the essay.

The Harvard Writing Center offers tips on outlining an essay.

We at SuperSummary have an excellent essay writing resource guide .

Related Terms

  • Academic Essay
  • Argumentative Essay
  • Expository Essay
  • Narrative Essay
  • Persuasive Essay

description essay literary definition

Definition of Essay

Essay is derived from the French word essayer , which means “ to attempt ,” or “ to try .” An essay is a short form of literary composition based on a single subject matter, and often gives the personal opinion of the author. A famous English essayist, Aldous Huxley defines essays as, “a literary device for saying almost everything about almost anything. ” The Oxford Dictionary describes it as “ a short piece of writing on a particular subject. ” In simple words, we can define it as a scholarly work in writing that provides the author’s personal argument .

Types of Essay

There are two forms of essay: literary and non-literary. Literary essays are of four types:

  • Expository Essay – In an expository essay , the writer gives an explanation of an idea, theme , or issue to the audience by giving his personal opinions. This essay is presented through examples, definitions, comparisons, and contrast .
  • Descriptive Essay – As it sounds, this type of essay gives a description about a particular topic, or describes the traits and characteristics of something or a person in detail. It allows artistic freedom, and creates images in the minds of readers through the use of the five senses.
  • Narrative Essay – Narrative essay is non- fiction , but describes a story with sensory descriptions. The writer not only tells a story, but also makes a point by giving reasons.
  • Persuasive Essay – In this type of essay, the writer tries to convince his readers to adopt his position or point of view on an issue, after he provides them solid reasoning in this connection. It requires a lot of research to claim and defend an idea. It is also called an argumentative essay .

Non-literary essays could also be of the same types but they could be written in any format.

Examples of Essay in Literature

Example #1: the sacred grove of oshogbo (by jeffrey tayler).

“As I passed through the gates I heard a squeaky voice . A diminutive middle-aged man came out from behind the trees — the caretaker. He worked a toothbrush-sized stick around in his mouth, digging into the crevices between algae’d stubs of teeth. He was barefoot; he wore a blue batik shirt known as a buba, baggy purple trousers, and an embroidered skullcap. I asked him if he would show me around the shrine. Motioning me to follow, he spat out the results of his stick work and set off down the trail.”

This is an example of a descriptive essay, as the author has used descriptive language to paint a dramatic picture for his readers of an encounter with a stranger.

Example #2: Of Love (By Francis Bacon)

“It is impossible to love, and be wise … Love is a child of folly. … Love is ever rewarded either with the reciprocal, or with an inward and secret contempt. You may observe that amongst all the great and worthy persons…there is not one that hath been transported to the mad degree of love: which shows that great spirits and great business do keep out this weak passion…That he had preferred Helena, quitted the gifts of Juno and Pallas. For whosoever esteemeth too much of amorous affection quitted both riches and wisdom.”

In this excerpt, Bacon attempts to persuade readers that people who want to be successful in this world must never fall in love. By giving an example of famous people like Paris, who chose Helen as his beloved but lost his wealth and wisdom, the author attempts to convince the audience that they can lose their mental balance by falling in love.

Example #3: The Autobiography of a Kettle (By John Russell)

“I am afraid I do not attract attention, and yet there is not a single home in which I could done without. I am only a small, black kettle but I have much to interest me, for something new happens to me every day. The kitchen is not always a cheerful place in which to live, but still I find plenty of excitement there, and I am quite happy and contented with my lot …”

In this example, the author is telling an autobiography of a kettle, and describes the whole story in chronological order. The author has described the kettle as a human being, and allows readers to feel, as he has felt.

Function of Essay

The function of an essay depends upon the subject matter, whether the writer wants to inform, persuade, explain, or entertain. In fact, the essay increases the analytical and intellectual abilities of the writer as well as readers. It evaluates and tests the writing skills of a writer, and organizes his or her thinking to respond personally or critically to an issue. Through an essay, a writer presents his argument in a more sophisticated manner. In addition, it encourages students to develop concepts and skills, such as analysis, comparison and contrast , clarity, exposition , conciseness, and persuasion .

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  1. Descriptive Essay: Definition, Examples & Tips for Writing a

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  2. What Is a Descriptive Essay? Examples and Guide

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  3. 53 Rhetorical Devices with Definition and Useful Examples

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  4. Writing a Descriptive Essay

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  5. How to Write a Literary Analysis Essay Step by Step

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  6. Descriptive Essay: Definition, Examples & Tips for Writing a

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  1. Essay. Literary term. English literature Class BA Sem 1

  2. Different types of Essays.The Essay, Forms of Prose.Forms of English Literature.🇮🇳👍

  3. Essay

  4. Literary Meaning

  5. writing to describe

  6. How to Write a Literature Essay (Literary Analysis)

COMMENTS

  1. Examples and Definition of Descriptive Essay

    A descriptive essay, as the name implies, is a form of essay that describes something. In this genre, students are assigned the task of describing objects, things, places, experiences, persons, and situations. The students use sensory information to enable readers to use their five senses of touch, taste, smell, hearing, and sight to understand ...

  2. Descriptive Essay

    A descriptive essay is an essay that describes something - an object or person, an event or place, an experience or emotion, or an idea. The goal of this kind of essay is to provide readers with enough detailed descriptions for them to be able to picture or imagine the chosen topic. II. Examples of Descriptive Essays.

  3. Descriptive Writing Definition and Examples

    In composition, description is a rhetorical strategy using sensory details to portray a person, place, or thing. Description is used in many different types of nonfiction, including essays , biographies, memoirs, nature writing, profiles, sports writing, and travel writing . Description is one of the progymnasmata (a sequence of classical ...

  4. Descriptive Essay

    A descriptive essay describes an object, person, place, or event that the writer has experienced. Writers use illustrative language to "show" the reader that topic that is described in the essay ...

  5. How to Write a Descriptive Essay

    An example of a short descriptive essay, written in response to the prompt "Describe a place you love to spend time in," is shown below. Hover over different parts of the text to see how a descriptive essay works. On Sunday afternoons I like to spend my time in the garden behind my house. The garden is narrow but long, a corridor of green ...

  6. 10.3 Description

    Description essays should describe something vividly to the reader using strong sensory details. Sensory details appeal to the five human senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. A description essay should start with the writer's main impression of a person, a place, or an object. Use spatial order to organize your descriptive writing.

  7. Description

    What is Description? Description is the use of prose—especially concrete, sensory language and figurative language—to describe events, people, ideas, concepts a dominant and powerful form of human expressionDescription plays a role in all genres. In fact, it's commonplace for writers to describe the context that informs their text, including a discussion of ongoing scholarly conversationsa

  8. What Is a Descriptive Essay? Definition & 10+ Examples

    Defining Descriptive Essay. A "Descriptive Essay" is a type of written composition that focuses on creating a detailed depiction of a person, place, object, event, or experience. It employs meticulous, vivid language and sensory details to paint a comprehensive and immersive picture in the reader's mind. A well-crafted descriptive essay ...

  9. 3.5: Descriptive Essays

    Writing a Description Essay. Choosing a subject is the first step in writing a description essay. Once you have chosen the person, place, or object you want to describe, your challenge is to write an effective thesis statement to guide your essay. The remainder of your essay describes your subject in a way that best expresses your thesis.

  10. Descriptive Essays

    What is a descriptive essay? The descriptive essay is a genre of essay that asks the student to describe something—object, person, place, experience, emotion, situation, etc. This genre encourages the student's ability to create a written account of a particular experience. What is more, this genre allows for a great deal of artistic ...

  11. Descriptive Essay

    Descriptive Essay definition with examples. Descriptive Essay is a form of essay that describes something, bringing it to life for the reader. Descriptive Essay - Examples and Definition of Descriptive Essay - Literary Devices

  12. Descriptive Essay: Definition, Format & Writing Tips

    A descriptive essay is one of the four main types of essays, alongside narrative, argumentative, and expository essays. Among these, descriptive essays can be particularly challenging because they demand a keen eye for detail and an appreciation for aesthetics. By vividly describing scenes and details, you engage your reader's senses, making ...

  13. Essay

    essay, an analytic, interpretative, or critical literary composition usually much shorter and less systematic and formal than a dissertation or thesis and usually dealing with its subject from a limited and often personal point of view. Some early treatises—such as those of Cicero on the pleasantness of old age or on the art of "divination ...

  14. 7.3: The Structure of a Description Essay

    Description essays typically describe a person, a place, or an object using sensory details. The structure of a descriptive essay is more flexible than in some of the other rhetorical modes. The introduction of a description essay should set up the tone and point of the essay. The thesis should convey the writer's overall impression of the ...

  15. Essay: Definition and Examples

    Essays do not require research as most academic reports and papers do; however, they should cite any literary works that are used within the paper. When thinking of essays, we normally think of the five-paragraph essay: Paragraph 1 is the introduction, paragraphs 2-4 are the body covering three main ideas, and paragraph 5 is the conclusion.

  16. Informative and Descriptive Details in Writing

    Updated on March 25, 2017. In composition, a detail is a particular item of information (including descriptive, illustrative, and statistical information) that supports an idea or contributes to an overall impression in an essay, report, or other kind of text. Details that are carefully chosen and well organized can help make a piece of writing ...

  17. How to Write a Literary Analysis Essay

    Table of contents. Step 1: Reading the text and identifying literary devices. Step 2: Coming up with a thesis. Step 3: Writing a title and introduction. Step 4: Writing the body of the essay. Step 5: Writing a conclusion. Other interesting articles.

  18. Literary Devices and Terms

    Literary devices and terms are the techniques and elements—from figures of speech to narrative devices to poetic meters—that writers use to create narrative literature, poetry, speeches, or any other form of writing. All.

  19. Essay in Literature: Definition & Examples

    An essay (ES-ey) is a nonfiction composition that explores a concept, argument, idea, or opinion from the personal perspective of the writer. Essays are usually a few pages, but they can also be book-length. Unlike other forms of nonfiction writing, like textbooks or biographies, an essay doesn't inherently require research. Literary essayists are conveying ideas in a more informal way.

  20. Essay definition and example literary device

    Essay is derived from the French word essayer, which means " to attempt ," or " to try .". An essay is a short form of literary composition based on a single subject matter, and often gives the personal opinion of the author. A famous English essayist, Aldous Huxley defines essays as, "a literary device for saying almost everything ...

  21. Description

    Description is the fiction-writing mode for transmitting a mental image of the particulars of a story. Together with dialogue, narration, exposition, and summarization, description is one of the most widely recognized of the fiction-writing modes. As stated in Writing from A to Z, edited by Kirk Polking, description is more than the amassing of ...