Structure of a Descriptive Essay

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The descriptive essay can be arranged in one of many organization patterns, and you will soon find that one style is best for your particular topic.

Some effective organization patterns for a descriptive essay are spatial, which is best used when you are describing a location; chronological organization, which is best used when you are describing an event; and functional organization, which is best used when you are describing how a device or process works.

Start with a Mind Dump

Before you can begin writing your essay or deciding upon an organizational pattern, you should put everything you know about your subject on a piece of paper in a mind dump.

In this first stage of information gathering, you should not worry about organizing your information. To start out, simply write down every item, characteristic, or feature that you can think of, allowing your thoughts to flow onto the paper.

Note: A giant sticky note is a fun tool for mind dumping.

Once your paper is filled with bits of information, you can use a simple numbering system to begin identifying topics and subtopics. Simply look over your items and “clump” them together in logical groups. Your groups will become major topics that you address in body paragraphs.

Come Up with an Overall Impression

The next step is to read over your information to come up with one major impression that you get from it all. Ponder the information for a few moments and see if you can boil it all down to one thought. Sound difficult?

This list below shows three imaginary topics (in bold) followed by examples of a few thoughts that might be generated about each topic. You will see that the thoughts lead to an overall impression (in italics).

1. Your City Zoo - "The animals were arranged by continents. Each area featured interesting plants and flowers from the continents. There were beautiful murals painted everywhere." Impression: the visual elements make this a more interesting zoo.

Structure: Since a zoo is a place, the best structure for the city zoo essay is likely to be spatial. As a writer, you would begin with an introductory paragraph that ends with a thesis statement based on your impression. A sample thesis state would be "While the animals were fascinating, the visual elements made this zoo most interesting."

  • You could write your essay as a walking tour, visiting (describing) one area at a time.
  • Each area would be described in your body paragraphs.
  • You would use descriptive language to convey the striking visual elements of each area.

2. A Birthday Party - "The birthday boy cried when we sang to him. He was too young to know what was happening. The cake was too sweet. The sun was hot." Impression: this party was a disaster!

Structure: Since this is an event in time, the best structure would likely be chronological.

  • Your introductory paragraph would build up to the conclusion (your impression) that this party was not a success!
  • Each disastrous event would be described in individual body paragraphs.

3. Making a Cake from Scratch - "I learned what sifting was, and it was messy. Creaming butter and sugar takes time. It’s hard to pick slippery egg shell bits out of flour." We really take box mixes for granted!

Structure: The best structure would be functional.

  • You would build up to the (surprising) complexity of making a cake from scratch.
  • Body paragraphs would address the difficulty you encountered at each turn.

End with a Conclusion

Every essay requires a good conclusion to tie things up and make a tidy and complete package. In your concluding paragraph for a descriptive essay, you should summarize your main points and explain your overall impression or thesis in new words.

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Your Citation
Fleming, Grace. "Structure of a Descriptive Essay." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Fleming, Grace. (2020, August 27). Structure of a Descriptive Essay. Retrieved from Fleming, Grace. "Structure of a Descriptive Essay." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 20, 2023).