Guidelines for Writing the Description Paper

Writing 121
Guidelines for Writing the Description Paper
Take time to make and record detailed observations of somewhere in your world for at least thirty minutes.
Describe your kitchen, your workplace, athletic practice, or anywhere else you spend time during the week. You
might take a walk in the forest, observe the scene along the river, go to the coast, or describe what you see,
hear, etc. in some other outdoor place. You might also be indoors at home, at work, or somewhere else.
(Recalling events from your past is off topic and is therefore not appropriate.) These written observations will
become your first graded paper.
Writing Issues
Description, detail, working from the five senses, putting feelings into words using metaphor and image,
interpretation, and figuring out a loose structure for your paper.
1. Whatever space you write about, be specific and concrete. To be concrete means that you observe and
record what’s happening in the physical world. Use sensory words describing sights, sounds, smells, etc.
2. What happens in the space you chose? Is there much activity? Do people come and go? How? Record
the actions of the people, animals, cars, etc. Your description of their movement can help set the tone
of the paper. The absence of movement can also be telling.
3. The place you write about probably evokes a mood. What kind? Record the feeling or mood as well as
physical description. But when you write your draft, let the mood show in the sensory words you
choose. Does your room overlook a street? A meadow? How does it feel to look out the window at
night? What in your environment produces your feelings? Stop and look inward as well as outward for
4. After you’ve recorded your description, use invention techniques such as freewriting to find a unifying
focus and shape your material into a draft. You may find that you focus around a particular sense or
mood. You may also discover that what is important is the meaning of events, the meaning of what you
see, hear, and smell, for example.
5. Decide what your intention or purpose is in the paper: for example, to inform or persuade your
audience about the setting or people you describe. Select only those details that suit your purpose. If
you wish to entertain us by describing the antics of your crazy dog or cat, the ideas and words you select
will be different from those you choose if you have a more serious purpose for writing about your pet.
6. Make sure that revised drafts have a definite beginning, middle, and end.
7. You may organize your paper spatially, chronologically, or in some other way. But make a conscious
organizational decision.
8. This paper has no perfect length, but you need to turn in at least two to three double-spaced pages,
using MLA format. (If you have more than three pages, you need to condense your text.)
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