How to Organize a Descriptive Paragraph

Drafting a Description

description of a ring
(Eriko Koga/Getty Images)

Once you have settled on a topic for your descriptive paragraph and collected some details, you're ready to put those details together in a rough draft. Let's look at one way of organizing a descriptive paragraph.

A Three-Step Method for Organizing a Descriptive Paragraph

Here's a common way of organizing a descriptive paragraph.

  1. Begin the paragraph with a topic sentence that identifies your prized belonging and briefly explains its significance to you.
  2. Next, describe the item in four or five sentences, using the details that you listed after probing your topic.
  3. Finally, conclude the paragraph with a sentence that emphasizes the personal value of the item.

There are various ways to organize the details in a descriptive paragraph. You may move from the top of the item to the bottom, or from the bottom to the top. You may start at the left side of the item and move right, or go from right to left. You may start with the outside of the item and move in, or go from inside to out. Choose the one pattern that seems best suited to your topic, and then stick to that pattern throughout the paragraph.

A Model Descriptive Paragraph: "My Tiny Diamond Ring"

The following student paragraph, titled "My Tiny Diamond Ring," follows the basic pattern of topic sentence, supporting sentences, and conclusion:

On the third finger of my left hand is the pre-engagement ring given to me last year by my sister Doris. The 14-carat gold band, a bit tarnished by time and neglect, circles my finger and twists together at the top to encase a small white diamond. The four prongs that anchor the diamond are separated by pockets of dust. The diamond itself is tiny and dull, like a sliver of glass found on the kitchen floor after a dishwashing accident. Just below the diamond are small air holes, intended to let the diamond breathe, but now clogged with grime. The ring is neither very attractive nor valuable, but I treasure it as a gift from my older sister, a gift that I will pass along to my younger sister when I receive my own engagement ring this Christmas.

An Analysis of the Model Description

Notice that the topic sentence in this paragraph not only identifies the belonging (a "pre-engagement ring") but also implies why the writer treasures it (". . . given to me last year by my sister Doris"). This kind of topic sentence is more interesting and revealing than a bare announcement, such as, "The belonging I am about to describe is my pre-engagement ring." Instead of announcing your topic in this way, focus your paragraph and gain the interest of your readers with a complete topic sentence: one that both identifies the object you're about to describe and also suggests how you feel about it.

Once you have introduced a topic clearly, you should stick to it, developing this idea with details in the rest of the paragraph. The writer of "My Tiny Diamond Ring" has done just that, providing specific details that describe the ring: its parts, size, color, and condition. As a result, the paragraph is unified--that is, all of the supporting sentences relate directly to one another and to the topic introduced in the first sentence.

You shouldn't be concerned if your first draft doesn't seem as clear or as well constructed as "My Tiny Diamond Ring" (the result of several revisions). Your aim now is to introduce your belonging in a topic sentence and then draft four or five supporting sentences that describe the item in detail. In later steps of the writing process, you can focus on sharpening and rearranging these sentences as you revise.

NEXT STEPPractice in Organizing a Descriptive Paragraph

REVIEWSupporting a Topic Sentence with Specific Details


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