Descriptive Essay Outline: Quality Output in a 3-Step Framework!

descriptive essay outline

“Show, don’t tell” – this is the cardinal rule in writing a descriptive essay. But even with elaborate illustrations showing the specifics of its topic, this type of essay can easily seem like a senseless rambling if a proper descriptive essay outline is not followed.

A descriptive essay focuses on the accurate portrayal of a certain object, person, place, event, situation, or even emotion, describing them such that the reader will feel like he has seen or experienced them himself. For this to happen, you’ll need to organize your paragraphs such that the flow of your descriptions will make sense to the reader, and most effectively build up the vision or experience you are trying to recreate.

To achieve this, group your ideas and plan how you’re going to lay them down on paper based on this foolproof descriptive essay outline:

  • Introduction
  • This part can state the subject you will describe, or reveal your reason for describing the subject in the first place. Either way, start out with an introduction that excites the mind. This part is pretty much the deciding factor on whether or not the rest of your essay will be read at all, so start with a catchy opening that will capture your reader’s attention. A good way to achieve this is to look at your list of ideas and spot the most interesting, significant, or unique one among them. Use that idea to kick off your essay, provide a thesis statement regarding your topic, then tie up your introduction with a line that naturally leads to the next part of your essay.

  • Body
  • This is the meat of your descriptive essay — the actual description of the subject, where you’ll create the illustration of what you want seen and the atmosphere of what you want experienced. While the introduction is usually just one paragraph, the body can have multiple paragraphs, with each paragraph detailing a main aspect. Thought organization is key. It will prevent your reader from getting overwhelmed with all the descriptive details. Here’s a sample breakdown of the body:

    • Paragraph 1 – A depiction of the subject itself
    • Paragraph 2 – A description of the surroundings or atmosphere
    • Paragraph 3 – A sensual or emotional account of the experience
  • Conclusion
  • For the conclusion, you can sum up your feelings and thoughts about the topic, or restate the significance of the subject described. Remember, don’t be tempted to summarize your entire essay in detail. Keep it short and straight-to-the-point. Pick lines that will best tie up your entire essay creatively, so you can leave a lasting impact in your readers.

Just follow this simple but effective descriptive essay outline, and you can be sure your essay will be one your readers will not forget anytime soon.


Kathy Seelinger is a Professor of Education at Marshall University, Huntington, WV.