The five steps to writing a descriptive essay

Writing a descriptive essay should be a rewarding experience, and following these five simple steps will help you get the most from your work.


During the research phase you will develop an understanding of your audience, and the topic area covered by your essay.

Understanding your audience#

In order to write effectively it is important to consider who it is that you are writing for, and the context within which your writing will be read.

Consider the answers to these three simple questions:

  1. Who will be reading your work?
  2. Why are they reading your work?
  3. What do you want them to take away from their reading of your work?

Keeping the answers to these questions in mind whilst you write will guide your use of language, the level of technical detail that you need to include, and whether or not you can make any assumptions about the reader’s level of knowledge.

Understanding your topic#

In order to establish your existing understanding of your topic area’s breadth and depth, undertake some basic research before you begin writing:

  • Brainstorm what you think you already know about the topic: This will give you a sense of the depth of your understanding, and what questions you need to answer before you can begin writing.
  • Do some broad research – e.g. Web searches – to give you a sense of the breadth of the topic area: This will validate the scope of your existing understanding, highlight any gaps in your knowledge, and give some clues as to where you should focus more detailed investigations.

As you research your topic be sure to make good notes, so that you can keep track of the sources of evidence that you will use when you begin writing.


During the drafting phase you will formulate your thesis, and build an outline of your essay.

Formulating a thesis#

Having a clear and concise thesis statement is an essential part of writing a strong descriptive essay.

Your thesis statement should:

  1. Be specific to the topic and contents of your essay;
  2. Be supported by the contents of your essay;
  3. Clearly communicate the position that you will be taking throughout the essay.

An example of a strong thesis statement might be:

Evidence shows that approaching your writing in a systematic and structured way will lead to a more readable essay that will achieve a higher grade.

Developing a strong thesis statement will help you define the essay’s individual sections, and will also help the reader understand the position that you have taken throughout the essay.

Building an outline#

Giving a descriptive essay a solid overarching structure from the outset will make sure that you have a clear understanding of both what work there is still to do, as well as ensuring that you leave enough space for the different parts of your description.

Using an Outliner to organize your essay gives you a flexible structure within which to develop your ideas whilst you research your topic, and provides you with a framework within which to construct your description as you write-up your essay’s individual sections.

Descriptive essay outline template.

Descriptive essay outline template.

We have created a descriptive essay outline template to help get you started, which gives you a basic structure around which to organize your research and writing.


During the revision phase you will develop your outline into a detailed narrative that is easy for your intended audience to read and understand.

Developing your narrative#

Begin developing your essay’s narrative structure by ensuring that it has a strong introduction which captures the reader’s attention, provides an overview of the topic area covered, and sets out your thesis statement.

Each of the following sections of your essay should focus on one facet of the description being developed in support of your thesis statement, and include the dominant sensory details that you identified during your research.

Finally, you should wrap up your essay with a strong conclusion that restates your opening thesis, and then review the ways in which the sensory details described in the previous sections support your thesis statement.

Revise, revise and revise again#

Rather than attempting to get each section right the first time through, you should iteratively revise your work, improving it a little more with each pass:

  • Look for sections where you need to add new material to support the descriptions that you are articulating;
  • Rearrange individual sentences, paragraphs, or even whole sections where this will improve the flow and pace of your narrative;
  • Replace any parts that contradict or detract from the descriptions which you are putting forward;
  • Remove any duplicate information, or parts that don’t add any additional information to the descriptions that you have made.

Approaching your writing in this way will give your ideas time to develop, and enable you to refine the way in which you are articulating those ideas within the context of the rest of your document.


During the editing phase you will finialize your work, ensuring that your use of language and style is consistent and correct.

Begin by reviewing your thesis, considering whether you have approached it in a balanced and structured way, and how your audience might critique what you have written in support of it.

Look for repetition and redundancy in your writing, and ensure that your sentences, paragraphs & sections are reduced to their simplest and shortest form.

Ensure that you have used a consistent voice (active or passive), tense (past, present or future), and writing style throughout your work.

Make sure you have included any citations to the work of others that you have referenced within you writing, and that any links that you have established to other parts of your own document remain valid.

Check your spelling, punctuation, and grammar, as well as your usage of lists, numbering, and categorization.

It is important to give yourself a break before editing your work – so that your thoughts have time to settle – ideally waiting until the following day.


During the publishing phase you will choose the most appropriate format for sharing your work, and ensure that its layout is correct.

Make sure that you understand what format your work should be submitted in – electronic submission, printed and bound, etc – and whether there are any layout or style restrictions e.g. font size or type.

Once you have selected the right format for your work, check that its layout is correct in that format. If it is to be printed on paper then make sure that you have time to check that it has printed correctly, and to fix any issues.

To use our descriptive essay outline template simply sign up and create your first outline (it’s free!).

See also#

Five essay templates for a list of all of our essay outline templates.