ZIMSEC English Language: Descriptive compositions

As part of your English Language course, you will be required to write essays on a regular basis. Descriptive essays are part of this essay writing regimen. It is important to point out that every type of essay you will encounter at Ordinary Level will require some sort of description in them so you will do well to master the art of descriptive essays even if you end up writing a different type of composition.

Most descriptive essays incorporate aspects from other types of essays. For example, they could be descriptive-narrative in nature. In such instances, you will have to follow the guidelines set out in our guide on how to write Descriptive essays bearing in mind the points below.

It is an art

Writing a descriptive essay is a lot like painting a picture. You are presented with brushes, paint, and the canvas and a theme. Instead of paint, you are required to paint a picture using words. It is entirely up to you how you want to broach the subject. A good descriptive essay is like a good painting: we cannot foretell what it should look like but we know a good painting when we see it.

Despite all this the following techniques will be quite useful when it comes to writing descriptive essays:

  • An extensive vocabulary- use a student’s dictionary and thesaurus to improve your vocabulary
  • Use of imagery
  • Good use of similes
  • Use of metaphors
  • Informed use of superlatives
  • Avoiding the use of cliches
  • Varied sentence structure
  • Vivid adverbs and adjectives

In addition to these the following poetic devices will especially be useful:

  • Alliteration for example- He was a cold calculating captious cannibal with a captivating character.
  • Assonance for example- She played the harp with a sharp fast stroke which sounded like a rock pounding a bark
  • Dissonance
  • Enjambement
  • Hyperbole
  • Onomatopoeia
  • Oxymoron for example- Cold hot hatred filled his heart
  • Pathos- Deep heavy sadness engulfed the room upon this news.
  • Personification for example- Sad trees graced the slopes of the mountain.
  • Rhyme
  • Rhythm
  • Repetition
  • Symbolism
  • Tone

Writing the essay

No matter what essay you write the following steps will help to ensure it is of high quality:

  1. Choose a topic you are familiar with
  2. Brainstorm ideas you want to write about that topic
  3. Group similar ideas
  4. Rearrange your ideas in a logical manner for example in chronological order
  5. Expand your ideas into paragraphs
  6. Write your essay making sure to minimise mistakes
  7. Revise your essay and proofread it

It is stupid to enter the examination with memorised introductions. The examiner will read your entire essay contrary to popular misguided belief. If the rest of your essay is rubbish you will fail no matter how good your introduction is.

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