Descriptive Essay Topic Ideas

posted by Laura Callisen 12 Jun 2015

You have been assigned a descriptive essay – oh joy! You must now choose a topic and write the thing. What is a descriptive essay anyway? Well, you do need an explanation of the purpose of a descriptive essay first if you are going to produce one that will result in a good grade. Everyone knows that a descriptive essay must “describe” someone or somethings – that goes without saying. But the true purpose of a descriptive essay goes beyond that. The point is to describe something so well that the reader can actually get a detailed “picture” in his/her mind’s eye. To do that, you must engage as many senses as possible. Consider these two descriptions:

  1. I woke up and heard noise in the kitchen. Obviously my grandmother was down there cooking breakfast, and I was really hungry just thinking about it. So I got dressed, went downstairs, and, sure enough, she was cooking my favorite – sausage, biscuits and gravy, and fried eggs. What a great gal my grandmother is!
  2. My eyes fluttered opened. What had awakened me? Then I began to smell it. The odors of cooking wafted up the stairway and right into my room – that sweet hickory smell of country sausage and savory whiffs of freshly baked biscuits. Grandmother was cooking my favorite breakfast. Pulling on my robe, I rubbed my sleepy eyes ran a few fingers through my “bed head” of hair and bounded down the stairs. The sizzling of fried eggs was unmistakable now. As I rounded the corner into the kitchen, grandmother was lifting the beautiful eggs with their bright yellow centers onto a platter – a platter that already held those great little brown links of sausage oozing their flavor out, and those puffy golden biscuits, sitting ready for the reddish-brown gravy that was simmering on top of the stove. What a great grandmother I have!

Obviously, the second description has involved several senses – smell, sound, and sight. A reader can actually “see” that platter of food, and that is the whole idea of a description!

When you have the option to choose the topic for your descriptive essay, you will need to spend some times thinking about what person, lace, or thing, you know so well that you can provide really detailed description. Once you have selected a topic, there are two more steps before you begin to write.

  1. Pick a thesis – what is the one overriding impression you want the reader to have? That is your thesis and you must state it in your introduction.
  2. What specific facets or qualities will you describe? List each one separately and then fill in detail – detail that will appeal to the senses of the reader.

Getting Ideas for a Descriptive Essay

Just as you would search for argumentative essay ideas, you need to find a topic with which you have good familiarity and which has significant meaning to you. It doesn’t make sense, for example, to describe a place that you have only been to once and of which you only have a vague memory. If, on the other hand, there is a place that is special to you – one that you have visited several times – you have a good topic. Likewise, individual people that you don’t know well will not make a good topic. However, a group of people who share the same characteristics that you understand quite well, might make a good topic. One college student, for example, always did his grocery shopping late at night. He came to know very well the characteristics shared by late night shoppers, and wrote an outstanding descriptive essay about them. As you search for descriptive essay ideas, then, look to your own experiences. Some potential topic areas might be:

  1. A truly memorable event – perhaps a funeral of a family member or a hospital stay due to surgery or a serious illness. What were the sounds? The smells? The sights? Was there food involved? What did it taste like?
  2. A person you have known and admired since childhood. What does this person look like? Talk like? Smell like? Perhaps a grandfather who taught you woodworking could be described. What did the woodworking shop sound like? Smell like? How was our grandfather dressed? Were his hands calloused from years of physical work? How about his size and his facial features?
  3. Your first car: Do you remember the excitement of getting it? Can you describe it in detail? What did it feel like when you got behind the wheel and started it up? What did it smell like? Sound like?

When you can feel, hear, see, and smell people, events or things very clearly yourself, then you will be able to describe them in a compelling and engaging way to someone else. You will have great ideas for descriptive essays.

Writing the Descriptive Essay

If you have not had a great deal of experience writing descriptive essays, they can be a bit challenging. Finding wonderfully descriptive words and using figurative language (similes and metaphors) may just not be the kind of writing that excites you. In these cases, you might want to find someone who can write your essay for you. Then, you can use that essay as a model for future descriptive essays you may be assigned!

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