Virtually nothing is off limits when you go to write a descriptive essay. Your subject can be something as ordinary and mundane as a pencil or a desktop, or something as exotic and wild as an African safari or a trip to the Ganges. The best descriptive essay topics are those that you can or have directly experienced. To write a description requires a lot of imagination—the ability to summon up a sense of the experience of engaging with the subject. If you have experienced this engagement already, you’re better equipped to convey this experience to another. However, if you’ve never navigated the busy streets of Rome, you may not want to pick this topic unless you can acquire sufficient details from external sources to help aid your imagination in conjuring up a description of the streets for your reader. You do not have to have firsthand knowledge of your subject, but it certainly does help.
Topics for College Students
College students have a unique opportunity to see the world from a perspective that is dynamic, inspired, creative, curious, strong, passionate, and empowered. Higher education affords the individual the chance to be bold, to think big, and to put talents to work. A descriptive essay is a terrific exercise in honing one’s focus, one’s sense of self, one’s sense of place, and one’s sense of experience. Take time to sit and think about something—anything—just so long as it has impacted you in some way. The descriptive essay is a way for you to communicate your own engagement with the world—to show what it is like to see things through your eyes. The more descriptive essays you write, the better you will become at communicating your vision to others, and the better you will be able to lead as a result. Here are some topics you can use to help spark ideas.
- Spring break trip
- College students look forward to spring break almost as much as they do to graduation. Spring break trips are filled with events and action and can be a good place to start learning how to describe an event.
- Experience at a religious house that is new to you
- For a quieter, calmer, more introspective descriptive essay, try this challenge: visit a religious temple, church, or house that you have never been to before and describe what you encounter, what you see, what you think, how you feel, and who you talk to.
- Encounter with a person of a different ethnicity
- Get to know someone of a different cultural or ethnic background and describe that experience: how did you feel, what did you learn, and what did you enjoy or not enjoy?
- A visit to an art museum
- Art museums are full of surprises and offer a great way to focus on a cultural experience and describe it.
- A political rally
- Rallies can be a good place to describe an environment that is alive and potentially explosive with energy, messages, campaigning, and a wide array of people gathered in one spot
- A conference at a library
- The library atmosphere is studious and contemplative and can be the perfect backdrop for a descriptive essay on attending a serious lecture or conference.
- A book assigned by a professor
- A descriptive essay doesn’t always have to focus on a big experience: sometimes a small experience carries a big punch. Describing how a book impacted or affected you can be such an example.
- The job you would like to hold upon graduation
- This type of subject can help you understand what you are looking for in terms of employment by allowing you to really focus on what sort of work it is you would like to do.
- The feeling you had when you were accepted into college
- Going to college is a big experience in a person’s life, so describing the moment you found you were accepted could be a great basis for a descriptive essay
- Experience at a jazz club
- A jazz club is a setting that is different from most: laid back, easy-going, with cool people and cool music—it’s a place most have heard about but few have been.
- Experiencing a performance by a symphony orchestra
- A good symphony can be like nothing you’ve ever experienced before. The sounds, the seating, the arrangement—all of it combines to move and in some cases overwhelm. This is a great way to do a descriptive essay.
- A dramatic performance on the stage
- Witnessing a performance on the stage is much different from watching a movie: in theater, the audience has a direct impact on performers and vice versa. This relationship creates an electrifying experience that can serve as prime subject matter for a descriptive essay.
- How you see yourself
- One of the best but rarest types of descriptive essay is the self-reflection—an honest but accruement assessment of our own selves.
- A piece of music you like
- Music has the power to uplift and inspire. Writing an essay about how it does so is no easy task but definitely one worth attempting.
- A sculpture by Michelangelo
- One of the best sculptors to ever live, Michelangelo created exhilarating, life-like works that can be viewed for hours and never get old.
- Security at the airport
- Anyone who has flown in recent years knows what this is like—but a fresh set of eyes on the phenomenon can make for some great reading.
- Bernini’s David
- A swirling, dynamic and action-packed depiction of David in mid-action, this sculpture was made to be written about.
- Your dorm
- College makes for some interesting living arrangements. Why not write about it?
- The labor market
- Have a sense that things are souring in the labor market? Describe it! How’s it look?
- Your daily routine
- People are always curious about how others live. Tell your reader about your daily routine and let them know.
- A shopping experience
- Whether you enjoy shopping or hate it, this is one topic that is ripe for a good description.
- Making a new friend
- What’s it feel like to make a new friend? All of the emotions, thoughts, and moments that go into this experience can be used to flesh out your paper.
- Making a craft brew
- Craft brews have come back in a big way. Connoisseurs can write pages on the beers they drink. Try your hand and see how you do.
- A bottle of wine
- Wines are complex and fruitful and offer a lot for a discerning imbiber to consider. The nose, the taste, the color, the feel—it’s all there in a bottle of wine.
- A gourmet meal
- If you’ve watched enough cooking shows you know how much prep goes into cooking a fine meal. Be the critic—write the descriptive essay on the meal.
- A new restaurant
- Yelp reviews are common enough that most people do them without even realizing what they’re doing—but you guessed it—they are basically mini-descriptive essays about a dining experience.
- A film that prompted you to think deeply about something
- Movies can impact us on so many levels. Write a descriptive essay about a film you watched that made you really consider something important and focus on a few details that stand out in particularly.
- A hike in the mountains
- There’s nothing like fresh up at an elevation to help clear the head and lift the spirits. It’s also a great topic for a descriptive essay!
- A day spent shadowing a professional
- Spending a day watching another person work might not sound like fun but it is actually a good way to learn on the job. It’s also a great opportunity to find fuel for a descriptive essay.
- Working out at the gym
- Everyone knows what it’s like to go to the gym—but what if you can describe it from a unique or funny perspective and share some of the more entertaining things that typically occur to you when you’re there?
- Pause a movie in the middle of a scene and describe what you see in that frame
- Take any movie you like and describe what the director has placed before you in any one single frame. Everything that is on the screen is there for a reason—so take a look and tell what is there and why you think it’s been put there.
- Goya’s “The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters”
- Take a look at this etching by the famed Spanish printmaker and tell us what you see, how it makes you feel, what it makes you think, and what it all means.
- A scene or sequence from Hitchcock’s Psycho
- Hitchcock was a master filmmaker. What better way to understand how he created his hits than to analyze a scene or sequence and describe it in minute detail?
- The view from a skyscraper
- A view from a tall building can present you with a line of sight that you rarely get to have. Describing the city spread out below you is a great opportunity to use emotion, intellect, and all your powers of description.
- The view from your window
- Sometimes a smaller view is even better than a big one because it allows you to focus on what passes within a single frame. You might be surprised at what you find outside your window!
Topics for High School Students
High school is a time when young adults are on the cusp of freedom. It is a great time to set the eyes on things and take a candid look. If you’re a high school student looking for a descriptive essay topic, get out there and experience something new! Or write about something already familiar to you. Here are some ideas to try:
- Your favorite class
- What could be more fun than to write a description of your favorite class?
- Your least favorite class
- Conversely, what could be more satisfying than describing your least favorite class and showing why you detest it?
- The university you want to attend when you graduate
- When it comes time to pick where you want to attend college, wouldn’t you like to be able to say why you picked that university? This is the perfect opportunity to show it.
- A profession you would like to pursue
- Making choices in life is about being informed and knowing what’s what. Writing a descriptive essay about a possible career is one way to help narrow the choices and get you involved in the real world.
- Your favorite memory as a child
- Memories help us navigate our lives. Looking back on ones that mean a lot to us is a wholesome and healthy exercise.
- A trip to the ballpark
- Everyone remembers his first visit to a ballpark. If you’ve never been, go—and then describe your experience in rich, vivid details.
- The latest movie you watched
- Don’t have time or energy to get out to the stadium? That’s all right. Write about the latest movie you watched. This works just as well!
- A park near your house
- Describe your neighborhood, the people you meet; conduct a windshield surveillance. You’ll discover a lot you never saw before.
- What you do at your job
- Pretend someone is interested in working where you do—give the low down on what goes on.
- Bowling with friends
- Bowling alleys are great places to meet all sorts of interesting people! See the sights, take in the sounds, remember the smells, feel the blast of cool air as you dry your hands before your roll. This is the stuff of a great descriptive essay.
- Flying a kite
- Ben Franklin did this—and he discovered electricity. You could discover electricity in your writing when you use something as pure and simple as flying a kite for your subject.
- A surprise birthday party
- Surprises are always nice—and if you’ve ever been part of a surprise birthday party you will know how exciting they can be. Describe a time you were either in on the surprise or on the receiving end of it: set the scene and fill the reader with anticipation!
- What’s in your cupboard?
- Lost for a better idea? Take a look around the kitchen and see what there is. You might be surprised what’s hiding in your cupboard.
- Downhill derby
- When you were young, you might have taken part in a downhill derby. Racing past houses to the finish line—you can see it now! This could be the hook you need to get your essay going!
- A great sports game
- Did you enjoy the Super Bowl? See a playoff game in the NBA that you thought was special? Want to revisit an old World Series and tell someone about it? Do so in your descriptive essay.
- A website you like to browse
- The Internet has taken over the world in many ways—so why not use it as your subject. Describe a site you like to get on, what you do there, and what makes it so interesting to you!
- A walk around the city
- Cities are full of great sights—the people, the towering buildings, the come and go of traffic. There’s a lot to see and do in a city and a walking tour is a good subject for a descriptive essay for sure.
- Your favorite room
- Everyone has a favorite corner or place in their house. What’s yours?
- A place you have traveled
- Ever been somewhere exotic? Ever been somewhere really mundane? It doesn’t really matter where you’ve been because so long as you can describe it and bring it to life on paper, your reader will enjoy it no matter what.
- Your experience reading a book
- The Internet is full of people who blog about their experiences playing video games or going to the beach. Tell us about your experience reading a book and what it was like for you each time you turned a page, started a new chapter, or read it all in one sitting.
- A car you would like to own
- Everyone has one—that one car that would be just perfect for them. Describe it and tell your reader why it’s the one car you would love to own!
- An animal that you have raised
- Have you ever had a dog, a cat, a gerbil, a rabbit, a horse, a bird? If you have, tell your reader all about your animal.
- A member of your family, a friend, or a person you admire
- Writing about people you know or admire is one of the best types of descriptive essays to produce. All you have to do is think about their best qualities, what makes them special, and then tell it.
- A cold, snowy day sled riding
- If you live in a region where snow falls every year, you’ve surely been sledding. The air, the rush, the trek up hill and the ride down—all of it is fair game for a descriptive essay.
- A hot, summer afternoon at the beach diving in the crashing waves
- Been to the beach recently? Describe it and make your reader jealous!
- What you see when you look in the mirror
- This could be an interesting subject for a descriptive essay: start off describing a person that seems like a stranger but throw a twist in at the end—surprise the reader by saying that this person is you and this is what you see when you look in the mirror!
- A painting you admire
- Take some time and spend it with a painting you really appreciate. Get to know it, find out the technique used to paint it, how the brushstrokes were made, the style, the era it comes from—and then describe it all in great detail so that the painting is brought to life for the reader.
- Flying in a plane
- For some, flying in a plane can be one of their most memorable experiences. The roar of the engines, the lift off the ground, the landing—all of it leaves a lasting impression. For those who have never flown, reading a descriptive essay on flying in a plane can be a good way to put them in the passenger seat.
- Carving a pumpkin
- Halloween is a time when children dress up and trick or treat. One of the main staples of Halloween is the jack-o-lanterns that sit out on the stoops. Carving a pumpkin and putting a candle inside is a fun experience and one that could easily generate material for a descriptive essay.
- A performance by your favorite actor or actress
- Ever want to criticize a performance by an actor or actress? Here’s your chance. Pick a show and have at it!
When deciding on a descriptive essay topic, be creative—think of something fun, something that you would enjoy telling another person about—how it made you feel, how it made you work, how it made you hungry, tired, excited, happy, energized. Think of an experience that made an impact on you—or, go the complete opposite way and think of something that you never think about! Think about your chest of drawers and go over and examine it closely. Inspect it, get to know it, find out who made it, where and when and why—and then give the reader the details.
Once you have figured out your topic, the next step is making sure you know the requirements of a descriptive essay and how to write one. If you just need to see a few example descriptive essays, we have those available as well.
Latest APA Format (6th edition)
Latest MLA Format (8th edition)
Latest Chicago Format (16th edition)
Describe your whereabouts on the evening of the 18th.
Okay, this isn’t CSI, and you’re not under investigation, so this isn’t the type of description we’ll be learning about in this post.
Describe your summer vacation.
You’re not in third grade, either so no one is going to ask you to write a paper describing your family’s summer vacation (I hope!).
Write a 750 word essay describing a place, an object, an experience, or a process. Be creative!
Now this sounds like something you might be asked to write. Describing something sounds easy enough, right? But there are guidelines you should follow when writing a descriptive essay.
Being creative and descriptive can sometimes be a challenge. I’m sure you don’t want to write the seventh incarnation of your summer vacation essay, but you might be struggling to think of something a bit more original.
If you’re feeling less than creative and need some inspiration, then you’ve found the right place, as this post includes 20 fascinating and unusual descriptive essay topics.
Writing a Descriptive Essay: What You Need to Know
Yes, you’ll need to include descriptions in a descriptive essay, but there’s more to it than that.
Here are three key points should know before you write your paper.
Know why you’re writing the essay
Like any assignment, a descriptive essay has a specific purpose.
Is your purpose to simply describe something, or are you supposed include your feelings and comments about something? Not sure how to include either of these? Read more about objective and subjective description.
Know what details to include
Description is obviously important in a descriptive essay but don’t include details simply for the sake of including them. These unnecessary details slow down your writing and bog down your readers.
Here’s an example that includes too many unnecessary details.
I walked up the three steps on my front porch, put my key in my newly painted front door, and opened it casually. My jaw dropped to the floor when I opened the door. Eight of my best friends were packed tightly like sardines in the corner, each holding colorful Happy Birthday signs. They jumped out and yelled “Surprise! Happy Birthday!” as I walked in the room.
This paragraph provides too many irrelevant details. Do readers really need to know how many steps are on your front porch, or do they need to know your door was freshly painted? Of course not. These details aren’t important to your description of this event, so leave them out.
Warning: Avoid cliches! Expressions, such as “my jaw dropped to the floor” and “packed like sardines” are overused and not original or creative.
Know (and use) your senses
No, this doesn’t refer to common sense (though I do recommend you always use common sense). Here, senses literally refers to your 5 senses: sight, taste, touch, hearing, and smell.
It’s easy to include sight in description, but don’t forget the other senses. Including the other senses creates more vivid imagery. It will bring your descriptions to life and help your readers imagine what you’re describing.
Think about describing a bakery. Through your description, you can show readers an image of the physical space and describe the donuts, but if you can capture the sweet aroma of baked goods wafting through the air, you’ll create a much more effective description.
Now that you’re hungry for donuts, and now that you have a better understanding of how to write a descriptive essay, the fact remains that you still need something to write about.
Here are 20 topics to help spark your creativity.
20 Fascinating and Unusual Descriptive Essay Topics
Remember, you want to avoid topics that you’ve written about since the third grade and boring topics that are too obvious.
Try one of these topics, instead!
5 Fascinating and Unusual Descriptive Essay Topics about Places
Sure, you could describe your bedroom, your dorm room, or even a classroom, but that’s not very original, so write about something a little more unusual, like one of these 5 places.
- A construction site: Think of the sounds of machinery and smells of construction materials. You might even be able to describe conversations between workers.
- A waiting room: Consider the mood of the room and how people interact. How do strangers interact when placed in a quiet room together?
- A gas station restroom: I hate to ask, but is it possible to describe how this room might smell?
- A cemetery at dusk: The time of year, the weather, and the light will be important in your description of a cemetery. Is the mood somber or creepy?
- A line at an amusement park ride: Think about how the temperature and the length of the line might play an important role in your description. Does a 90 degree day and a 30 minute wait change the mood of the people in line?
5 Fascinating and Unusual Descriptive Essay Topics about Objects
Your first thought might be to describe your television, your couch, or anything else immediately in front of you, but really, how fascinating can a couch be? Why not write about something a bit more interesting, like one of these topics.
- The contents of your purse or wallet: Describe what the items look like, but also describe their importance or significance. Do you carry any sentimental items?
- A painting or picture: Describe the subject of the painting or photograph. Do the background images have any significance? What is the history behind the painting or picture?
- Your favorite toy from childhood: Can you describe to readers why the toy was your favorite? What is the toy made of? Is it soft and cuddly or made of plastic or steel?
- The street in front of your home: Paint a clear picture for your readers by describing the street itself, what surrounds the street, and who uses the street? What noises are associated with the street? Are there any distinctive smells or sights?
- A tattoo: Colors, lines, and concept will play an important role in describing a tattoo. If known, you might also include a description of the tattoo’s meaning.
5 Fascinating and Unusual Descriptive Essay Topics about Experiences
You’ve likely graduated from kindergarten, middle school, and maybe even high school. You might be tempted to write about this experience, but unless it was truly unique, consider skipping those boring ideas and go with a more unusual topic like one of the five listed here.
- A frightening, funny, or embarrassing subway ride: Describe how frightened you were when you were trapped in a dark subway car for hours. Perhaps describe how embarrassed you felt when you broke the heel of your shoe running to catch the train. Or, describe how a subway performer changed your day.
- Feeling alone in a room–not knowing anyone at the party, in a new school, or in a class: Think about the emotions you felt. How can you describe this to others so they, too, feel how you felt in that instant? Did the shape of the room or placement of the people contribute to your feelings?
- A visit to an emergency room: Describe the sounds of doctors, patients, and medical devices to your readers. Describe your thoughts and feelings. Consider how you might describe the chaos or calm in the ER at any given time.
- Getting lost in a strange new place (a city or even on your campus): Combine the panic you might feel along with a clear description of the sights and sounds around you to help readers understand your emotions and see your surroundings.
- Meeting up with a long-lost friend (or ex-boyfriend/girlfriend): Consider how you might describe the person. Does he or she look different than when you last met? How did you feel when you first saw your friend or ex? Does the place where you met play a role in your description?
5 Fascinating and Unusual Descriptive Essay Topics about Processes
Yes, making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich might be considered a process, but these types of how-to processes read more like directions, rather than a description of a process. Choose a topic (like one listed below) that allows for more discussion and description.
- How to survive your first year of college: Think about all of your experiences and try to narrow them down to a few key points that college students must know in order to survive. You might describe the best ways to study, how to meet new people, how to avoid feeling homesick, or even how to avoid the freshman 15.
- How to train for a marathon: This description not only involves the physical aspect, but also involves the mental aspects of training. Describe how you feel during each.
- How to study for an exam: Describe a few important study strategies. Consider how you learn best and how you might help others follow your same techniques.
- How to break up with your boyfriend/girlfriend: Is it ever okay to break up on Facebook, Twitter, or via text? What should you say to your soon-to-be ex?
- How to protect your privacy online: Describe a few key steps anyone can use to protect his or her privacy. Look for simple, low-cost solutions anyone can try.
From Descriptive Topic to Descriptive Essay
After you’ve chosen from the many possible descriptive essay topics for your paper, remember: know why you’re writing the essay, know what details to include, and use your 5 senses.
With these three tips in mind, it will be easy to turn your fascinating and unusual topic into a superb essay.
If you’re looking for extra help turning descriptive essay topics into an essay, here are a few resources to set you on the right path.
For help with basic essay structure, read How to Write a 5-Paragraph Essay Outline.
Read more tips on structuring your descriptive essay here.
Do you remember when teachers told you to show, not tell? They’re right! Click here to learn more about using this strategy in your own descriptive essay.
If you’ve written a killer descriptive essay but just can’t decide how to end it, read 12 Essay Conclusion Examples to Help You Finish Strong and How to Write a Killer Essay Conclusion.
When you’ve finished your essay, don’t forget to have one of our editors review your paper.
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