WRITING A DESCRIPTIVE ESSAY
The aim of description is to make sensory details vividly present to the reader. Although it may be only in school that you are asked to write a specifically descriptive essay, description is an important element in many kinds of writing. Description embedded in an argument paper, for example, may be intended to make a position more persuasive. However, in this TIP Sheet we will discuss the descriptive essay as it is commonly assigned by instructors as an exercise in organizing sensory information and choosing vivid details.
Showing vs. telling
Sensory details are details of smell, taste, texture, and sound as well as sight. If you choose "showing" words, those that supply vivid sensory details appropriate to your subject and purpose, you will succeed in showing rather than telling. "Telling" words are usually vague or ambiguous; they can be interpreted in a variety of ways. The following first example mostly makes statements about what is lacking in the room, whereas the second example describes the sights, textures, smells, and sounds of the empty room:
The empty room smelled stale and was devoid of furniture or floor covering; the single window lacked curtains or blinds of any kind.
The apartment smelled of old cooking odors, cabbage, and mildew; our sneakers squeaked sharply against the scuffed wood floors, which reflected a haze of dusty sunlight from the one cobwebbed, gritty window.
"Showing" uses very specific details: cabbage and mildew, scuffed and dusty floors, unwashed windows. Though the writer of the second example does not actually use the word "empty," she nevertheless suggests emptiness and disuse. The suggestion of emptiness in the second example is more vivid than the statement of emptiness in the first. If you don't think the first example is vague, look at another possible interpretation of that empty room:
The sharp odor of fresh paint cut through the smell of newsprint. Four stacked cartons of inkjet printer paper sat squarely in the middle of a concrete floor, illuminated by a shaft of morning light from a sparkling chrome-framed window on the opposite wall.
Do not mistake explanation for description. Explanation is a kind of telling that interjects background material that does not contain sensory details or contribute to the overall effect–a character's motives or history, for example:
The tenants had moved out a week earlier because the house was being sold to a developer. No one had bothered to dust or clean because they assumed the apartment was going to be knocked down and replaced with single-family homes like those built just a block away.
When description devolves into explanation (telling rather than showing), it becomes boring.
Once you are ready to abandon the attempt to explain or to tell about, evaluate your subject in terms of visual, auditory, and other sensory details. Think in concrete terms. The more you are interested in and connected to the subject, the easier it will be to interest your reader, so if you describe a person, choose a person whose characteristics stand out to you. If you describe a place or a thing, choose one that is meaningful to you.
You are painting a picture that must be as clear and real as possible, so observe carefully and, preferably, in person. Note what sets this subject apart from others like it. If the subject is a person, include physical characteristics and mannerisms. Describe abstractions such as personality traits only insofar as you can observe them. For example, do not tell the reader your biology instructor is a neat, meticulous person; show your reader the instructor's "dust-free computer monitor and stacks of papers with corners precisely aligned, each stack sitting exactly three thumb-widths from the edge of the desk." How a subject interacts with others is fair game for description if you can observe the interaction. On the other hand, a subject's life history and world perspective may not be, unless you can infer them, for example, from the photos on his walls or the books on his bookshelf.
Similarly, if the subject of your description is an object or a place, you may include not only its physical appearance but also its geographic, historical, or emotional relevance-as long as you show or suggest it using sensory details, and avoid explaining.
Deciding on a purpose
Even description for description's sake should have a purpose. Is there an important overall impression you wish to convey? A central theme or general point? This is your thesis; organize your essay around it. For example, you might describe your car as your home away from home, full of snack foods, changes of clothing, old issues of the Chico News & Review, textbooks, and your favorite music. Or, you might describe your car as an immaculate, beautiful, pampered woman on whom you lavish attention and money. Just don't describe your car in cold, clinical detail, front to back (or bottom to top, or inside to outside) without having in mind the purpose, the overall impression you want to create. To achieve this impression, you should not necessarily include all details; use only those that suit your purpose.
Avoid telling a story unless it is of central importance to the description or an understanding of it. Keep background information to an absolute minimum or avoid it altogether.
Extended description that lacks organization has a confusing, surreal quality and easily loses readers' interest, so choose an organizational plan. Use whatever progression seems logical–left to right, inside to outside, top to bottom-and stick to it. For example, it does not make sense to describe a person's facial features and hair, then his sonorous voice and impressive vocabulary, and then return to details about his eyebrows and glasses.
A quote from your subject or a brief anecdote about him or her may provide an interesting introduction (or conclusion); dialogue can be a great way to add interest to a descriptive essay. In your introduction, you might be permitted to make general, abstract statements (tell about) your subject or supply background information, as long as you demonstrate these points concretely later in the body of your essay.
Use vivid nouns, verbs, and adjectives, and appropriate metaphors, similes, comparisons, and contrasts. Avoid clichés.
Like the introduction, the conclusion is another place you can get away with reflecting about your subject: Why did you write this description? What is its significance to you? To your reader? If you have achieved your purpose, your conclusion should only confirm in the reader's mind what you have already shown him by your use of selected sensory details.
A MIB called CERENT-GENERIC-PM-MIB allows network management stations (NMS) to use a single, generic MIB for accessing threshold and performance monitoring data of different interface types. The MIB is generic in the sense that it is not tied to any particular kind of interface. The MIB objects can be used to obtain threshold values, current performance monitoring (PM) counts, and historic PM statistics for each kind of monitor and any supported interval at the near end and far end.
Previously existing MIBs in the ONS 15454 system provide some of these counts. For example, SONET interface 15-minute current PM counts and historic PM statistics are available using the SONET-MIB. DS-1 and DS-3 counts and statistics are available through the DS1-MIB and DS-3 MIB respectively. The generic MIB provides these types of information and also fetches threshold values and single-day statistics. In addition, the MIB supports optics and dense wavelength division multiplexing (DWDM) threshold and performance monitoring information.
Interface index (cerentGenericPmThresholdIndex)
Monitor type (cerentGenericPmThresholdMonType). The syntax of cerentGenericPmThresholdMonType is type cerentMonitorType, defined in CERENT-TC.mib.
Location (cerentGenericPmThresholdLocation). The syntax of cerentGenericPmThresholdLocation is type cerentLocation, defined in CERENT-TC.mib.
Time period (cerentGenericPmThresholdPeriod). The syntax of cerentGenericPmThresholdPeriod is type cerentPeriod, defined in CERENT-TC.mib.
Threshold values can be provided in 64-bit and 32-bit formats. (For more information about 64-bit counters, see the HC-RMON-MIB Support. The 64-bit values in cerentGenericPmThresholdHCValue can be used with agents that support SNMPv2. The two 32-bit values (cerentGenericPmThresholdValue and cerentGenericPmThresholdOverFlowValue) can be used by NMSs that only support SNMPv1.
Due to the 64-bit counter, the negative values for cerentGenericPmThresholdHCValue are displayed as large positive integers. If the cerentGenericPmThresholdOverFlowValue is less than zero, it indicates that the cerentGenericPmThresholdHCValue is representing a negative value.
The objects compiled in the cerentGenericPmThresholdTable are shown in the following table.
The second table within the MIB, cerentGenericPmStatsCurrentTable, compiles the current performance monitoring (PM) values for the monitor types. The table is indexed based on interface index (cerentGenericPmStatsCurrentIndex), monitor type (cerentGenericPmStatsCurrentMonType), location (cerentGenericPmStatsCurrentLocation) and time period (cerentGenericPmStatsCurrentPeriod). The syntax of cerentGenericPmStatsCurrentIndex is type cerentLocation, defined in CERENT-TC.mib. The syntax of cerentGenericPmStatsCurrentMonType is type cerentMonitor, defined in CERENT-TC.mib. The syntax of cerentGenericPmStatsCurrentPeriod is type cerentPeriod, defined in CERENT-TC.mib.
The cerentGenericPmStatsCurrentTable validates the current PM value using the cerentGenericPmStatsCurrentValid object and registers the number of valid intervals with historical PM statistics in the cerentGenericPmStatsCurrentValidIntervals object.
PM values are provided in 64-bit and 32-bit formats. The 64-bit values in cerentGenericPmStatsCurrentHCValue can be used with agents that support SNMPv2. The two 32-bit values (cerentGenericPmStatsCurrentValue and cerentGenericPmStatsCurrentOverFlowValue) can be used by NMS that only support SNMPv1.
Due to the 64-bit counter, the negative values for cerentGenericPmStatsCurrentHCValue are displayed as large positive integers. If the cerentGenericPmStatsCurrentOverFlowValue is less than zero, it indicates that the cerentGenericPmStatsCurrentHCValue is representing a negative value.
The cerentGenericPmStatsCurrentTable is shown in the following table.
The cerentGenericPmStatsIntervalTable obtains historic PM values for the monitor types. It validates the current PM value in the cerentGenericPmStatsIntervalValid object. This table is indexed based on interface index (cerentGenericPmStatsIntervalIndex), monitor type (cerentGenericPMStatsIntervalMonType), location (cerentGenericPmStatsIntervalLocation), and period (cerentGenericPmStatsIntervalPeriod). The syntax of cerentGenericPmStatsIntervalIndex is type cerentLocation, defined in CERENT-TC.mib. The syntax of cerentGenericPmStatsIntervalMonType is type cerentMonitor, defined in CERENT-TC.mib. The syntax of cerentGernicPmStatsIntervalPeriod is type cerentPeriod, defined in CERENT-TC.mib.
The table provides historic PM values in 64-bit and 32-bit formats. The 64-bit values contained in the cerentGenericPmStatsIntervalHCValue table can be used with SNMPv2 agents. The two 32-bit values (cerentGenericPmStatsIntervalValue and cerentGenericPmStatsIntervalOverFlowValue) can be used by SNMPv1 NMS.
Due to the 64-bit counter, the negative values for cerentGenericPmStatsIntervalHCValue are displayed as large positive integers. If the cerentGenericPmStatsIntervalOverFlowValue is less than zero, it indicates that the cerentGenericPmStatsIntervalHCValue is representing a negative value.
The cerentGenericPmStatsIntervalTable is shown in the following table.