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Descriptive writing

This section of our web resources is particularly devoted to writing in language tests. In English language tests, you may be asked to write short descriptions. The exact question cannot be predicted in advance and it is not useful to remember or learn descriptions before you go and take the test. However, the following advice and examples on this page will be helpful to you.


1. Is there any useful advice about writing descriptions?

2. Are there any writing tools you can recommend?

Writing a description from a personal angle

When you are writing a description from a personal angle, it is very useful to consider the following ‘ingredients’ which make a description more enjoyable and informative.

  • Try to introduce some informal, colloquial expressions into your descriptive writing, to make it more colourful and to make it sound more natural.
  • It is useful to think of different adjectives you can use that can replace some of the more well-used ones (e.g. it is better to try to replace ‘nice’, ‘interesting’ and ‘good’ with something more evocative).
  • It is good to start with a short, eye-catching first sentence, which attracts the reader.
  • Use different words instead of “he/she/they said” (e.g. “replied”, “retorted”, “conceded”, “snapped”, “barked”, “whispered”, etc).
  • You do not need to use very formal expressions in a description.
  • We usually try to avoid complex, lengthy sentences linked with ‘who’ and ‘which’.
  • Try using some negative inversions to create a sense of surprise. For example, “No sooner had I arrived than…..” or “ Not only did they….but…”
  • Think of the story-line of your passage. Depending on the title of the essay, you may be able to introduce a conflict into the story and to show how the conflict was resolved at the end.

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    Writing a description from a more objective angle

    When you are writing a description from a more objective angle, for example describing a system or aspect of culture of your country in a more academic style, you may find it useful to consider the following ‘ingredients’ which make the description useful and informative.

    • Plan your composition briefly before you start writing. Write only one copy of your composition – you will not have time to do a rough copy first.
    • Keep your ideas simple – remember that any test of written English is a test of language, first and foremost - not a test of philosophy.
    • Write what you know how to say, and what you feel confident with.
    • Always write about what you know and feel comfortable with.
    • Make your point of view clear.
    • It is always appreciated if you can write an introduction which outlines the importance of the topic and what you are going to discuss. Keep the introduction very brief, though.
    • Make sure that you group ideas into paragraphs, and try to avoid one or two line paragraphs!
    • Group all paragraphs along a similar theme, e.g. problems and solutions, in the same part of the composition, so that the essay has a shape and structure.
    • Use linking devices and connecting words where appropriate, but do not use too many of them.
    • Use suitable academic language for this kind of description.

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      Recommended creative writing tools

      If you are interested in further developing your ability to write creatively, and not only use it for writing tests, you may like to try out the NewNovelist software. It takes you through all the stages of writing a novel and allows you to develop stories and characters. You may also like to try keeping a blog and developing your thoughts periodically.