Describing things, actions and events

What is descriptive writing?

Descriptive writing states the ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘where’, and ‘when’ of a topic. This type of writing is essentially informative and expository. It presents facts and details relevant to the topic or research question.

Most academic writing – whether an essay, report or thesis – requires some descriptive content.

Accurate, concise and clear descriptions of relevant facts and details will set the groundwork for you to develop a critical analysis and evaluation in your writing.

When should I use descriptive writing?

There are many reasons and purposes for including description in your writing – some of these will be broad and others will be particular to your discipline. Generally, you may have multiple reasons for including description in your writing, such as to:

  • provide essential background information
  • summarise a theory
  • report main features of a phenomenon
  • outline the “story so far”
  • recount an event, occurrence, situation
  • describe results, findings
  • state when or where details
  • recount a chronology or a sequence
  • outline methods
  • give factual observations
  • summarise the main points
  • explain functions and processes.


Writing too much description is a common trap in academic writing. While description is necessary to provide the ‘what’, the majority of your writing should be analytical and evaluative to explore the ‘why’ of the topic. You can easily check the balance of descriptive and analytical/evaluative content in your writing by:

(a) highlighting descriptions in yellow

(b) highlighting analysis and evaluation in green.

If you have too much yellow (that is, description) you’ll need to edit the descriptive sections down by checking for relevance and repetition of information and details.