How to Write a Descriptive Paragraph

A Simple Plan for Composing an Effective Description

descriptive writing
"You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is clear." (Sherlock Holmes in "A Scandal in Bohemia" by Arthur Conan Doyle). (Statue of Sherlock Holmes outside the Baker Street underground station in London/Alex Segre for Getty Images)

Look! Put simply, that's the watchword of this project and the motto of all good writers: pay attention to the details and show your readers what you mean. Specific details create word pictures that can make writing more interesting and easier to understand. In this project, you will practice organizing those specific details into an effective descriptive paragraph.

Guided by the steps below, you'll begin by selecting one of your belongings and then drafting a list of details that describe it.

Next, you'll put these details into sentences and organize the sentences into a paragraph. Finally, you'll revise the paragraph to make sure that it's unified and clearly organized.

For good examples of the finished product, see Model Descriptive Paragraphs.

1) Find and Explore a Topic

Before you can write an effective descriptive paragraph, you need to do two things:

  • find a good topic (something you know about and care about);
  • study the topic carefully (a strategy that we call probing).

For guidelines and examples, visit 40 Topics for a Descriptive Paragraph or Essay and Discovery Strategy: Probing Your Topic.

2) Draft a Descriptive Paragraph

Once you have settled on a topic for your descriptive paragraph and collected some details, you're ready to assemble those details in a rough draft that begins with a topic sentence. You'll find a common model for organizing a description at Draft a Descriptive Paragraph.


3) Revise a Descriptive Paragraph

Now you'll revise your descriptive paragraph, concentrating on its organization. That is, you'll check to see that your sentences follow a clear and logical order, each detail related to the one that came before and leading to the one that follows. These two exercises will give you practice in revising effectively:

4) Revise, Edit, and Proofread

You're almost done. It's now time to invite someone else (a classmate, for example, or your instructor) to read your descriptive paragraph and suggest ways to improve it. Taking your reader's comments into consideration, revise the paragraph one last time, using as a guide this Revision Checklist for a Descriptive Paragraph. For examples of the finished product, see Model Descriptive Paragraphs.