HUNTER COLLEGE READING/WRITING CENTER
THE WRITING PROCESS
Rhetorical Strategies: Description
     A descriptive essay uses physical details of a person,
place, or thing in order to give readers a sensory impression of
whatever you are describing.  Descriptive detail also, generally,
conveys a writer's impression of or attitude about the subject.


A descriptive essay tells:    - what something looks like 
                              - what it feels like 
                              - what it smells like 
                              - what it sounds like 
                              - what it tastes like  

     However, description can also do more than convey sense
impressions.  For example, an essay about a city might describe
any of the following:
                              - the kinds of people living there
                              - their lifestyles
                              - their backgrounds, or 
                              - their attitudes.  

     When you write description, you use your observations to
create a vivid impression for your readers.  There are two basic
approaches to description:  objective and subjective.  

     Objective description focuses on the object you are
portraying rather than on your personal reactions to it.  Many
writing situations require precise descriptions, and in these
cases your goal is to supply information--to construct as
accurate a picture as you can for your audience.  

     Subjective or impressionistic description discloses your
responses to what you see and try to get your readers to share
them.  These responses are not expressed directly, through a
straightforward statement of your opinion or perspective.   
Rather, they are revealed indirectly, through your choice of     
words and phrasing.

     Neither of the two approaches to description exists
independently.  Objective description is always the product of a
subjective selection of details;  subjective description attempts
to capture reactions to an objective reality.  The skillful
writer, however, adjusts the balance between objectivity and
subjectivity to suit the topic, thesis, audience, purpose, and
occasion of an essay.


SELECTION OF DETAIL


     All good writing, whether objective or subjective, relies
heavily on specific details which enable readers to visualize
what you are describing.  Your aim is not simply to tell your
readers what something looks like but to show them.  Every
person, place, or thing has its special characteristics, and you
must use your powers of observation to detect them.  Then, you
must select the concrete words that will enable your readers to
see, hear, taste, touch, or smell what you are describing as you
do.
     Of additional importance in writing description is to
realize that not all details relating to your topic are equally
useful or desirable.  Only those details that add to the dominant
impression you wish to create should be included.  For example,
in describing a man's face to how angry he was, you would
probably not describe the shape of his nose or the color of his
hair.  (After all, the color of somebody's hair doesn't change
when he or she gets angry.)  The number of details you use is
less important than their quality.  In order to avoid an 
indiscriminate list, you must select and use only those specific
details that are relevant to your purpose.


STRUCTURING A DESCRIPTIVE ESSAY


     To organize a descriptive essay begin by a brainstorming
list of details.  Then arrange those details into paragraphs or
sections in a way that advances your thesis or unifying idea.
     
     For Example: -  Move from a specific description of an
                     object to a general description of other
                     things around it.

                   - Begin with the general and proceed to the
                     specific.

                   - Progress from the least important feature to
                     a more important feature until you finally
                     focus on the most important one.

                   - Move from the smallest to the largest item
                     or from the least unusual to the most
                     unusual detail.

                   - Move from left to right or right to left,
                     from top to bottom or from bottom to top.


     The particular organizing scheme you choose depends upon the
dominant impression you want to convey to your readers, your
thesis or unifying idea, and your purpose and audience.
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