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Description Rhetorical mode

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Description Rhetorical mode

Reading through a book, you come across a passage where the author begins describing the setting of a summer day. Through the author's language, you begin to feel the warm temperature, see the lush greenery, and hear the background noise of birdsong. This type of writing is known as description. While you may assume that description is only found in fiction, description is also an important type of writing in nonfiction. There are several important purposes for description in nonfiction writing, and you can create stronger essays by knowing when to include descriptions.

Meaning of Description

Description is a type of writing that provides the sensory details of a person, place, or object. Sensory details appeal to your five senses: sight, hearing, smell, touch, and taste. Authors use vivid nouns, verbs, and adjectives when writing descriptions to engage the reader's senses. Descriptions help the reader imagine the scene an author wants to detail.

Description can be either objective or subjective.

Objective description: a factual account of a person, place, or object.

The details are made up of words that do not have strong connotations.

Connotation: the idea or feeling that a word evokes.

With objective descriptions, the connotation of the description is neutral. For example, look at this sentence: “The red car emits gray smoke.” This sentence does not contain emotionally charged language but describes the car's color.

Subjective descriptions introduce the author’s viewpoint on the topic. These descriptions will contain vivid words which evoke a response in the reader. You can analyze the author’s viewpoint by examining the connotations behind the words.

Subjective description: A description that uses emotionally-charged words to convey meaning to the reader.

Observe the sentence, “The unnecessarily large and noisy red car emitted a noxious cloud of gray smoke.” There are words with strong connotations in this example, including “unnecessarily,” “noisy,” and “noxious.” These words reveal the writer's negative attitude toward the red car.

Description, Red Car Spinning Out and Creating Smoke, StudySmarterFig. 1 - Descriptions can vary of the car in this image based on whether the writer includes objective or subjective descriptions.

Description is one of the main rhetorical modes. Rhetorical modes refer to the main structure used within an essay or a portion of an essay. Authors select these structures to convey information to an audience in a particular way. The structure of descriptions helps convey sensory details, and its purpose is to help readers envision what the author describes.

There are three additional rhetorical modes: narration, exposition, and persuasion. Narration is the structure used for storytelling. Exposition is the structure used to explain information. Persuasion is the structure used in argumentation, with the goal of convincing your audience of a particular viewpoint or idea.

Importance of Description as a Rhetorical Mode

Description is an important rhetorical mode because it helps the reader envision the person, place, or object the author wants the audience to imagine. There are several important reasons why an author would want to include descriptions. First, these descriptions add interest to the text by making the writing more vivid. The text becomes more interesting because of these graphic details, which results in the reader becoming more engaged with the text. Further, based on whether an author uses objective or subjective descriptions, they can influence the audience's response to the text. By including vivid words with strong connotations, writers can appeal to readers' senses and convince them of their purpose.

Example of Description as a Rhetorical Mode

Description is a common rhetorical mode found both in fiction and nonfiction writing. Writers may choose to write an entire essay using description or incorporate a short description into a longer essay. An example of a nonfiction essay that primarily uses description is Joan Didion’s “On Keeping a Notebook” (1968). In her essay, Didion analyzes the purpose of keeping a notebook where she writes down her thoughts. Reading through her notebook entries, Didion describes how they bring back memories of people and places, which becomes essential as she ages. Below is a description of a memory she has when reviewing her journal.

And we are all on our own when it comes to keeping those lines open to ourselves: your notebook will never help me, nor mine you. “So what’s new in the whiskey business?” What could that possibly mean to you? To me it means a blonde in a Pucci bathing suit sitting with a couple of fat men by the pool at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Another man approaches, and they all regard one another in silence for a while. “So what’s new in the whiskey business?” one of the fat men finally says by way of welcome, and the blonde stands up, arches one foot and dips it in the pool, looking all the while at the cabaña where Baby Pignatari is talking on the telephone."

Didion's description is evocative because of the specific language she uses to help readers envision the hotel and the people staying there. For example, she uses language like the "blonde" woman wearing a designer “Pucci bathing suit,” the “fat” men, and the woman who “arches” her foot. These specific words help the reader imagine the hotel and its patrons. If Didion had used generic words like “the woman” or “the men,” the reader would have difficulty imagining her memories.

These descriptions are essential in an essay where Didion explores the importance of writing in a notebook to recall one’s memories. Through these descriptions, the reader can imagine Didion’s memories and view how they shape her purpose.

Keeping a journal or a notebook is a great way to practice writing descriptions!

Purpose of Description as a Rhetorical Mode

Description’s purpose as a rhetorical mode is to help readers imagine the details of people, places, and objects. However, you will need to determine the purpose of including these details within a text. The questions you should ask yourself while reading a text with descriptions include the following:

  • What am I imagining while reading this description?

  • Why does the author want me to imagine this description?

  • How does this description support the author’s overall purpose?

While a rhetorical mode, description can also act as a rhetorical strategy. Rhetorical strategies are the writing techniques that authors use to convince the audience of their purpose. Authors can support their purpose by implementing multiple rhetorical modes in a text, such as description. The inclusion of descriptions supports an author's purpose by making a topic more vivid to the reader. By engaging the readers' senses, an author can make abstract topics or ideas more engaging.

Take a look at this example of descriptions that could improve an essay on the lack of affordable housing. The author’s purpose is to convey the necessity of building and regulating more affordable housing. The author could describe the living conditions of individuals who cannot purchase housing, such as living in their car.

The author could detail the limited space, the physical discomfort one experiences, and the ambient sounds in the background since the car cannot adequately block noise. These descriptions support the author’s purpose because the reader learns about the consequences of lacking affordable housing and can imagine themselves in these conditions.

Description, Man and dog sitting in car, StudySmarter

Fig. 2- Evocative descriptions can help readers imagine unfamiliar situations, such as homelessness.

How to Write Descriptions in an Essay

Incorporating descriptions into your essays can make your writing more engaging and exciting for readers. Follow the tips below to learn how to plan for and include vivid descriptions in your writing.

Purpose and Audience

Before writing a description, you will need to figure out your audience and purpose for writing. Several questions can help you with determining them:

  • Are you writing an essay solely using description? If not, are you writing a narrative, expository, or argumentative essay but want to include descriptions?
  • Who is your audience?
  • What big idea do you want your audience to take away from your essay?
  • What do you hope your audience takes away from your descriptions? How do these descriptions support your big idea?

Understanding your purpose and audience for your essay can help you determine what type of descriptions you can incorporate. If you are writing an academic paper for school, you may want to rely on objective descriptions. For example, if you are writing a lab report for chemistry, you may want to include a description of the reaction you observed, such as a "cloudy mixture" resulting from combining two chemicals. With other types of writing, such as creative writing for an English class, you can include subjective descriptions. These subjective descriptions are more vivid and will help your audience to imagine and determine your viewpoint about the topic.

Dominant Impression

When writing your description, you will want to figure out the overall impact you want your writing to have on your audience. This overall impression is called the dominant impression. Knowing the dominant impression, you can select which specific details you want to include in your description. You can't have all the details about your subject in a description since it would overwhelm the reader, so select the ones that best support the dominant impression you want to make.

For example, if you write an article about your haunted school in the school paper, you would select details about mysterious moaning sounds and chilling cold spots to support this impression.

However, if you write an article on needed school repairs, you would choose details about broken doors or damaged walls.

Description, Old desks in a classroom, StudySmarterFig. 3 - The dominant impression you use to form descriptions can make the classroom appear haunted or in need of repair.

Organization

One of the best ways to organize a description is to think about the point of view, which is the narrator's physical relationship to the person, place, or object being described.

For example, is the narrator standing still and observing the small details of an object? Is the narrator moving around and describing multiple objects?

If your description includes multiple objects, you will want to think about the order in which you describe objects, also known as the spatial order. For example, you can organize these multiple descriptions based on distance (farthest away to closest), direction (left to right, up to down), size (biggest to smallest), or importance (common to extraordinary).

The organization of your description depends on your purpose and the dominant impression you want to make. For example, you want to write a restaurant review. If your purpose is to recommend the restaurant based on its ambiance, you would want to focus your description's impression on the calming sounds and interior in contrast to a chaotic atmosphere outside. However, if you're going to recommend it based on the food, you would want to describe the order of food you received. You would organize your descriptions around the food's delicious nuances.

Details

The details you include don't have to be wondrous or awe-inspiring objects, like a tornado or an ancient artifact. You can make engaging descriptions of everyday people or objects. However, you can make these descriptions of everyday objects more interesting through concrete and specific word choices.

Concrete words: words that refer to an object's characteristics that we know through our senses.

Specific words: words that refer to particular real-life objects.

For example, this phrase lacks concrete and specific words: "The beautiful painting impressed the onlooker." You can rewrite this sentence using more concrete and specific word choices to create a more engaging description: "Awed by the abstract painting, featuring vibrant shades of blue and purple and taking up the entire gallery wall, the onlooker teared up." This sentence contains more concrete and specific details to make it more vivid. It describes the type of painting, its size, the featured colors, and the onlooker's specific reaction.

By including specific, concrete language, you can create engaging and vivid descriptions.

Description Rhetorical mode - Key takeaways

  • Description is a type of writing that provides the sensory details of a person, place, or object. Sensory details appeal to your five senses: sight, hearing, smell, touch, and taste.
  • Descriptions are made up of objective or subjective descriptions. Objective descriptions are factual accounts of a person, place, or thing. Subjective descriptions introduce the author’s viewpoint on a topic.
  • Description is one of the main rhetorical modes. Rhetorical modes refer to the main structure used within an essay or a portion of an essay. This structure has a specific purpose.
  • Description’s purpose as a rhetorical mode is to help readers imagine the details of a text's people, places, and objects.
  • To write effective descriptions, you will need to consider your purpose, your audience, the dominant impression you want to make, the organization of your description, and the concrete and specific language used in your details.

Frequently Asked Questions about Description Rhetorical mode

Description is one of the main rhetorical modes. Rhetorical modes refer to the main structure used within an essay or a portion of an essay. Authors select these structures to convey information to an audience in a particular way. Description is the rhetorical mode that provides the sensory details of a person, place, or object.

Several essays feature description as a rhetorical mode, such as Joan Didion's "On Keeping a Notebook" (1968). Texts that feature details appealing to the senses are examples of description. 

Description is important as a rhetorical mode because it helps a reader envision the person, place, or object the author wants the audience to imagine.

Description's purpose as a rhetorical mode is to help readers imagine the details of people, places, and objects. Appealing to the senses supports an author's purpose by making a topic more vivid to the reader. By engaging the readers' senses, an author can make abstract topics or ideas more engaging.

While a rhetorical mode, description can also act as a rhetorical strategy. Rhetorical strategies are the writing techniques that authors use to convince the audience of their purpose. The inclusion of descriptions supports an author's purpose by making a topic more vivid to the reader.  

Final Description Rhetorical mode Quiz

Question

What is description? 

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Answer

Description is a type of writing that provides the sensory details of a person, place, or object.

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Question

_____ appeal to your five senses: sight, hearing, smell, touch, and taste.

Show answer

Answer

Sensory details

Show question

Question

_____ is a factual account of a person, place, or object.

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Answer

Objective description

Show question

Question

_____ introduce the author’s viewpoint on the topic. These descriptions will contain vivid words which evoke a response in the reader.

Show answer

Answer

Subjective descriptions

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Question

Is the following an example of an objective or subjective description? 


"The clear solution turned red when heated."

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Answer

Objective description

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Question

Is the following an example of an objective or subjective description? 


"The young teenaged boy doused himself in a cheap cologne with an overbearing fragrance."

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Answer

Subjective description

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Question

Which of the following is NOT a reason why description is an important rhetorical mode?

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Answer

Descriptions result in the writing being more objective. 

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Question

While a rhetorical mode, description can also be a _____.

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Answer

Rhetorical strategy

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Question

Why might an author use descriptions to support their purpose? 

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Answer

It can make the topic more concrete for readers by engaging their senses. 

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Question

If you were writing a lab report, which type of descriptions should you include?

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Answer

Objective descriptions

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Question

The overall impact you want your audience to have on the subject is the _____.

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Answer

Dominant impression

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Question

In descriptions, the ____  is the narrator's physical relationship to the person, place, or object being described.


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Answer

Point of view

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Question

The ____ is the the order in which you organize the objects in your description.

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Answer

Spatial order

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Question

Vivid details contain _____ and _____ words. 


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Answer

Concrete and specific

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Question

What is connotation?


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Answer

The idea or feeling that a word evokes 


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Question

Description can be either _ or _


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Answer

Objective or subjective 


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Question

Your French teacher asks you to keep a journal on your trip to France and record your thoughts about your surroundings. Which type of descriptions should you include?


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Answer

Objective descriptions


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Question

Which of the following questions should readers ask when reading a text with descriptions?


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Answer

What am I imagining while reading this description?


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Question

What is a rhetorical strategy? 


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Answer

The writing techniques that authors use to convince the audience of their purpose. 


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Question

Knowing the _, you can select which specific details you want to include when writing a description. 


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Answer

Dominant impression

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