Descriptive Essays: 5 Topic Ideas and Examples For Students

Writing a descriptive essay is a great way to show off your writing skills and create an engaging essay on an interesting topic. 

When you’re working to share a story with readers, you want to paint as clear a picture as possible. Descriptive essays are different from research papers and other types of academic writing. A descriptive essay is a narrative essay that brings the reader into your world, using details from your own experience to make your reader feel like they’re going through the experience with you.

Here, we’ll look at some of the best descriptive essay examples and best descriptive essay topics to help you kick-start the writing process. For help with your essays, check out our round-up of the best essay checkers

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Descriptive Essay Examples

It can be tough to get started with a new essay, and reading examples from other essays can help inspire you to get started. Take a look at excerpts from each of the following essays to help get your creative juices flowing. You might even find a few new descriptive words!

1. Five Reasons You Should Visit Bangladesh by Zoe Stephens

“Whilst I promote tourism globally for many reasons (great for cultural exchange, the country’s economy etc) it was a very humbling experience to be able to travel a country that has hardly been touched by tourism (yet). There is very little infrastructure and very little there for tourists. Few tourist-orientated restaurants, no Starbucks, no McDonald’s, no youth hostels, etc.”

Stephens describes her time in Bangladesh to make her experience relatable to people from different parts of the world. Her descriptive language makes it easy for readers to imagine that they’re going through the experience of traveling to Bangladesh with her. When writing a descriptive essay, think about the aspects of your story that are different from day-to-day life and differentiate what you’re sharing with your reader from what they might experience daily.

2. Oprah Winfrey: The Basics by Alexandria Pagana

“Being put in the type of situations she went through is unbelievable. Most people would give up on themselves, but luckily she did not. Pregnant at the age of fourteen, molested, and poverty stricken is not the best of beginnings, but Oprah overcame the adversity. She is a role model for many and is just one of the examples of why people should not give up on yourself. Any dream can come true as long as there is a will.”

When describing a role model or a celebrity in your descriptive essay, you’ll want to talk about why you admire them, just as Pagana does here when discussing her respect and admiration for Oprah. If you prefer to look for good descriptive essay topics that don’t require you to delve into your personal history, it can be smart to discuss a famous person. Remember, you don’t necessarily have to choose a famous person alive today. Choosing a historical figure from the past who you look up to can be a fun way to honor someone you admire.

3. Family Portrait: In Third Person by Jill Christman

“At home, the milk turned a putrid gray, and even dry, the bright sugar rings weren’t as good as she remembered them. She sat at the wooden table in the kitchen with the baby, sliding the red ones into place for the top arc of a cereal rainbow and remembering the Atari her brother had won back in the mid-seventies with his drawing of Toucan Sam in the Kellogg’s “Stick up for Breakfast” contest. The only game was Pong, a drifting dot and two straight-line paddles locked in a perpetual bling-boing-bling. How would she ever communicate to her new-millennium daughter the excitement, the thrill, of the day that Atari arrived in its plain brown box? For months, her brother—celebrated artist, creator of the winning Sam-in-the-jungle scene—reigned as king of the neighborhood.”

While most descriptive essays are written in the first person, Christman takes a different path. She describes what she experienced as a child in the third person, lending a unique perspective to the reader. Carefully consider how you want to speak to your reader, and decide whether a first-person narrative makes the most sense for your descriptive essay.

4. Coffee, Bedpans, Rehearsals, and you, Daddy by Sydney Kaser

“It’s always something. It won’t make me forget the nights I stayed up listening to the vomit hit the bedpan. It won’t make me forget the look on my mother’s face that day in November when she told me my daddy had cancer. It won’t make me forget the stringent smell of antiseptics that seemed to follow my daddy when he hobbled around the nurses’ station after his second round of chemo. It won’t make me forget the crushing sensation in my chest every time I walk through the doors of the hospital, holding my sister’s hand. Just like we used to when we were little.”

In this essay, Kaser explains how difficult it was for her to deal with her father’s cancer diagnosis and how difficult it was for her to put her emotions aside so that she was able to support him through his illness. Writing about a personally difficult time can be hard but rewarding. When you talk about universal topics such as illness and suffering, your reader will be able to connect to your story on a deep level. 

5. “Shark!” by Peter Benchley

“I pointed out to sea, cupped my hands over my mouth, and bellowed, “Shark!” He turned and saw the short, triangular fin moving al­most parallel with him. Immediately he lunged for the shore in a frantic sprint. The fish, which had taken no notice of the swimmer, became curious at the sudden disturbance in the water, and I saw the fin turn inshore. It moved lazily, but not aimlessly.”

Published in 1967, this essay inspired the movie Jaws and has gone on to be a treasured piece of Americana. Notice how Benchley works to describe the moment-by-moment movements of the shark, along with descriptive language that makes the reader feel like they’re watching the incident occur. When writing your descriptive essay, take your reader through the incident or experience you’re describing with a moment-by-moment take on what happened.

6. What It’s Really Like To Fight A War By Maruice Isserman

“At 1st you wonder if you’ll be shot & you’re scared of not your own skin but of the people that will get hurt if you are hit. All I could think about was keeping you & the folks from being affected by some 88 shell. I don’t seem to worry about myself because I knew if I did get it, I’d never know it. After a while I didn’t wonder if I get hit — I’d wonder when. Every time a shell came I’d ask myself “Is this the one?” In the 3rd phase I was sure I’d get it & began to ½ hope that the next one would do it & end the goddam suspense.”

In this essay, Isserman pulls from the real-life experiences of soldiers from days past, working to construct a descriptive narrative that helps readers understand what life was and is like on the front lines. The author expertly relies on his understanding and the firsthand accounts of those who spent time fighting in war-torn nations to create a clear picture of the anxiety, terror, and heroism of war.

7. What Is It Like To Perform On Broadway? By Brad Jeffries

“I felt like I was living a dream. To be twenty-one and living in N.Y. in an illegal loft on the 31st floor of the building on the corner of 37th and 8th avenue. It had 15 feet high windows that faced south towards the Empire State building. The only downside was that the first thirty floors were garment workers, so during the winter the radiators in the building were turned off every day at 5pm and turned back on at 7am… it was fantastic!”

In this essay, Broadway performer Brad Jeffries explains what it was like to perform on the most competitive stages in the world. In detail, he describes what it felt like to be paid for his passion and that it felt like “pure bliss” to be able to spend his days surrounded by others who shared his love for the stage. 

Interesting Descriptive Essay Topics

It’s important to choose your descriptive essay topics carefully. You’ll want a topic that allows you to write a concrete thesis statement, followed by a descriptive essay that helps your reader fully immerse themselves in the experience you’re describing.

1. Who Is Your Favorite Person?

Descriptive Essay Topics: Who Is Your Favorite Person?
You’ll want to focus intensely on the qualities that made you choose them as the subject of your descriptive essay

When writing about your favorite person, you have the chance to talk with your reader about the qualities you respect and value in someone else. You can choose to write about a close friend, a family member, or a famous person—the possibilities are endless.

When describing your favorite person, describe both what you admire about the person and how they make you feel. You don’t necessarily need to go into a deep physical description of the person, but you’ll want to focus intensely on the qualities that made you choose them as the subject of your descriptive essay.

2. What Was Your Most Embarrassing Moment?

Embarrassing moments: we’ve all been there. The only thing that makes it easier to get over embarrassing moments is knowing that everyone goes through them. Writing about an embarrassing moment offers you a unique opportunity to connect with your reader. It can be tough to write about something embarrassing, but take your time and jot down as many details as possible, helping you describe what happened in detail. Explain how you moved forward after your embarrassing moment if you feel so inclined.

3. What Is Your Favorite Place You’ve Visited?

What’s your favorite place on the planet? Talking about the best place you’ve visited offers your reader the chance to see the world through your eyes, enjoy your experience and learn more about your travels. Use each of your five senses to remember your favorite place’s best parts of your experience.

Tell your reader about the tastes of the foods you enjoyed, what you smelled as you strolled the streets or the beach, how the wind or the sun felt on your skin, what you heard as you explored, and what you saw that will always stick in your mind as a fond memory. Work to focus on painting a clear picture in your reader’s mind, one description at a time.

4. What Does Your Dream House Look Like?

Whether you’ve seen your dream house in real life or not, you’ve likely taken the time to imagine what it would be like. Writing a descriptive essay about your dream house allows you to paint a picture for your reader of a home that may or may not exist. When writing a descriptive essay about your dream house, talk about both the interior and exterior of the house.

Discuss the colors on the walls, the type of flooring you’d like to have in your home, and the furnishings you’d use to decorate. Be sure to also talk about the smell and temperature of your home, and discuss what’s happening inside—perhaps you’re sitting down to a gourmet dinner, or perhaps you’re enjoying video games in your home theater. Before you start writing your essay, take some time to sit quietly and think about exactly what you want from your dream home—and don’t be afraid to dream big.

5. What’s Been Your Favorite Classroom Throughout Your Academic Career?

Teachers work hard to create a classroom environment conducive to creativity and learning, and you’ve likely noticed the effort that some teachers have put in to create an engaging classroom. Writing a descriptive essay about the best classroom environment you’ve experienced can provide an excellent chance to show off your ability to use descriptive language.

Be sure to focus on various aspects of the classroom environment. While a visual description of the environment is important, you’ll also want to talk about what you felt like when you were in the classroom, the sounds you heard, and any other factors that can help the reader feel like they were there with you.

Tip: If writing an essay sounds like a lot of work, simplify it. Write a simple 5 paragraph essay instead.

If you are interested in learning more, check out our essay writing tips!

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  • Bryan Collins is the owner of Become a Writer Today. He's an author from Ireland who helps writers build authority and earn a living from their creative work. He's also a former Forbes columnist and his work has appeared in publications like Lifehacker and Fast Company.