Academic Writing Success

12 Creative Descriptive Essay Prompts

by Suzanne Davis | Dec 12, 2019 | Writing Essays and Papers , Writing Prompts | 13 comments

“Description is what makes the reader a sensory participant in the story.”  –Stephen King

Stephen King wrote about description in stories. But the same advice is correct for descriptive essays.  Get your readers engaged by making them sense and connect with everything you’ve written in your essay.  How can you do that?  Begin with descriptive essay prompts that inspire you to write more.

Then add important details and characteristics or features about the person, place, object, or experience in your essay.  The more detail and elements you add to a descriptive essay, the better it will be.

So, check out these descriptive writing topics and find the one that will work best for you.

How to Select a Descriptive Essay Prompt

Before you select a descriptive essay topic, see if you can show and not tell your readers about the characteristics, actions, and emotions in that essay.

Maybe you’ve heard writers say, “ Show Don’t Tell .”   This motto is an approach some writers use to make their writing more descriptive.  The word “show” means to portray or illustrate feelings and actions.  And “tell” is when a writer says what the emotions and actions are.

For example, “ The black poodle snarled and growled.” (showing) vs. “The black poodle was angry and fierce.” (telling)

In the example above, the first sentence shows that the black poodle was angry because it snarled and growled.  The second sentence says or tells us that the dog was angry and fierce.

Use the “ Show Don’t Tell”  approach in your descriptive essay by asking these questions about the 5 senses:

  • What did you see?
  • What did you hear?
  • What did you touch?
  • What did you smell?
  • What did you taste?

You probably won’t have answers to all these questions.   (Or at least if you write about a mountain, I hope you can’t describe how tastes.) But write “Show Don’t Tell ” content wherever you can in your essay.

The 12 descriptive essay prompts here, give you the freedom to develop your content in different ways, and with a lot of sensory details. They are divided into 4 categories: person, place, object, and experience.  Each type has 3 descriptive essay writing ideas.   For each writing prompt, brainstorm how you can develop that essay.

Descriptive WritingTopics About a Person

# 1 describe the strangest person you ever met.

Strange people are easy to remember, and if you remember a different, odd, or unique person, you’ll have a lot of information you can write on.  Before you choose this topic, brainstorm a few ideas about this person.

Questions to develop this essay topic : What seemed strange about this person?  What characteristics did he/she possess? How did you feel about this person?

# 2 Describe a person you envied .

Envy or jealousy is a powerful emotion.  When you focus on a person you were jealous of, there are reasons and characteristics for why you felt that way.

Questions to develop this essay topic: What traits or characteristics did this person have?  How did that person look? How did this person act?  What made you envy him/her?

# 3 Describe an inspiring friend or family member.

We remember people who inspire us.  And people love to read about inspiring individuals.  If you describe an inspiring person, think about the impact that a person made on you.

Questions to develop this essay topic:   What did this person do that was inspiring?   How did that person act toward others?

Descriptive Writing Topics About a Place

# 4 describe a spooky or haunted place ..

If you describe a scary place, include a lot of sensory details.  Spooky and haunted places are memorable.

Questions to develop this essay topic:   What did this place look like?  Where was it located?  What did you see, hear, smell, or feel at this place?  Did you find someone or something that scared you?  Why is this place, spooky?

# 5 Describe a place you loved as a child.

People love to know things about another person’s childhood. A great way to show who you are is to describe a place that was important to you.  If you select this writing topic, make sure you remember this place well.

Questions to develop this essay topic : How did this place look? What did you do at this place?  Was anyone else at this there?  How did you feel about the area?

# 6 Describe a beautiful location in nature.

You could describe a mountain, body of water, campground, desert, etc.  Or any other place that is outdoors and part of nature.

Questions to develop this essay topic:   What did this place look like?  How did you feel when you were there? Did you hear, smell, taste, or touch anything at the location? Was there anyone else with you?  What did you do at this place?

Descriptive WritingTopics About an Object

12 Terrific Descriptive Essay Prompts

# 7 Describe a lucky object.

It can be any lucky object, a good luck charm, an heirloom object, etc.  Select something you believe brings you good luck.

Q uestions to develop this essay topic:   What are the characteristics of this object? How is it used?  What makes this a lucky object?

# 8 Describe a piece of art.

It can be a photograph, painting, sculpture, etc.  There are a lot of sensory details you can include in a descriptive essay about a piece of art.

Questions to develop this essay topic:  What does this work of art look?  Can you touch it?  If so, how does it feel?   What are the emotions you have when you see this sculpture, painting, photograph, etc.?

# 9 Describe an object used in your favorite sport or hobby.

If you have a favorite sport or hobby, describe an object that is relevant to that sport.  For example, if you play tennis, describe a tennis racket.  Or, if you collect coins, describe a unique coin from your collection.

Questions to develop this essay topic:   What are the characteristics or features of this object?  How is it used?  What is significant about this object?  What are some sensory details you can add?

Descriptive Essay Topics About an Experience

# 10 describe the first time you drove a car or rode a bicycle..

First-time experiences are emotional and significant to people.  If you haven’t driven a car or ridden a bicycle, write about another first-time experience.

Questions to develop this essay topic:   What did you see, hear, touch, smell, or taste during this experience?  What did you do?  Were others involved?  If so, what did they do? How did you feel during this experience?  How do you feel about it now?

# 11 Describe a hike or special walk you took .

Do you recall a hike you took or a walk on a trail, path, or street? If so, describe that memory.

Questions to develop this essay topic:   What was the place you were at like? What did you hear, see, smell, taste, or touch during this experience?  What did you do?  What did anyone else do?

# 12   Describe a happy memory.

Write about a happy experience you can remember clearly.    This topic involves remembering what occurred and how you felt during that experience.

Questions to develop this essay topic:   What made this experience happy? What happened?  Who else was there?  Can you describe them?

Writing a Descriptive Essay

The key to writing a descriptive essay is to show or portray to a reader the significant elements of a person, place, object, or experience.  So, select an essay topic that you connect with, and develop it with sensory details.  If you do this, you’ll achieve what Stephen King does in his writing and “make the reader a sensory participant.”  When you do that, your readers will want to keep reading until the end.

Make them wish your essay continued so that they could read even more!

So which descriptive essay prompt inspires you?  And if you want more creative writing prompts, check out my blog post, “13 Thought-Provoking Personal Narrative Prompts” https://www.academicwritingsuccess.com/13-thought-provoking-personal-narrative-prompts/.

Suzanne,I enjoy reading your articles. Loved your sense of humour ‘(Or at least if you write about a mountain, I hope you can’t describe how tastes.)’. I tried to share this article in my Pinterest account, but somehow something went wrong and it did not allow me to do it.

I’m glad you enjoyed the article. I do try to be funny whenever I can. I’m having a problem right now with my article pinning. I’m working on it.

Loved the “show, not tell” explanation. It really made sense. I’m a visual learner, so I really liked the visual for the 12 descriptive essay prompts in both written form and as a image. You gave me a lot of good ideas for starting a descriptive essay!

Terri, I’m glad you liked my infographic for the post. I love designing visual images for articles. Let me know if you use one of the descriptive essay prompts. I’d love to know how it worked for you.

Excellent. I like the sensory detail questions. It brings the writing to a new level.

Raven, thank you. Sensory details are great for developing writing. They really help writers of all ages.

Nice article, Suzanne. I love using prompts with my students. I might be nervous of the prompt “Describe the strangest person you ever met.” For many of my students I would have the starring role in that one! 🙂 Using the basic five senses to help students expand upon their writing is also very good. So many students write one sentence and then get stuck. Prompting questions can really help them broaden their thoughts.

Ron, thank you. I might be nervous about the “strangest person you ever met” prompt too. But, I’m hoping there are other strange people students could write about too!

Love these! In this generation of “just getting the point across”, it is so difficult to get some students to be descriptive in their writing.It would be hard for any student to not be descriptive using these prompts. When working on writing with students, I always use the five senses to show them how their writing will be more interesting to any reader when it is descriptive. Thanks for sharing!

Thank you,Randy. Descriptive writing is a challenge, but finding a good descriptive writing prompt and using the 5 senses makes a huge difference.

Also, that is a great quote by Stephen King!

Hi Suzanne! Excellent post! I love the creative prompts. They’re helpful, whether one is writing fiction or non-fiction.

You have a great site. Will stop by again. I know I’ll learn lots here.

P.S. Thanks for stopping by my site. I appreciate your feedback.

Hi Nadine, Thanks so much. I am glad you stopped by and checked out my post on descriptive writing prompts. I love prompts because they can make you think about writing in different ways. And sometimes I just need help getting started. I enjoyed your post on writing spaces. I’ll be visiting your site again.

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120 Descriptive Essay Topics to Spark Your Creativity

Writing a descriptive essay is a creative task. It requires using sensory language and expressive means, such as similes, metaphors, personifications, etc., for creating a vivid description of an object, place, person, or experience. The best descriptive essays are usually based on the writer's personal lived reality. However, some good descriptive essay topics require research and imagination to explore. Your instructors might give you one of such assignments to see how well you have absorbed class materials and how confident you are with the knowledge.

Finding a suitable topic to explore is no mean feat. With this blog, we hope to help you with the task. Below, you will find 120 topics grouped by a common theme and academic level they are suitable for. Some of the ideas for descriptive essays are linked to full samples in our free database. Read them to understand descriptive writing better and maybe borrow a trick or two to make your own essay even more compelling.

How to Choose a Descriptive Essay Topic

Before we proceed to our descriptive essay topics list, let's first prime you on brainstorming the ideas and finding suitable topics independently.

The first thing you need to ask yourself is, "What are my limits?" Are you free to use your imagination, or are you restricted to the facts you have witnessed? For example, for your history class, they might ask you to write a descriptive essay of an archeological site you've been digging. That would be a description based on your experience. However, they could also ask you to reconstruct the site and describe what it could look like centuries ago. That would be an assignment based on research but also requiring your imagination and creativity.

With that in mind, you need to inspect what resources you have at your disposal. If you have to base your essay on research, look at what literature you have readily available. If sources abound, you can narrow your topic down for a more efficient search. If, however, the information is scarce, scale up a bit to find more data.

If you have to write a description based on your experience, the best strategy for a good descriptive essay topic would be to go for something that made a strong impression on you. This way, it would be easier to create a powerful description from memory. Also, make sure you touch on points relevant to your class or this particular assignment. For example, you need to write about the importance of emotional intelligence in your practice as a nurse. For this, you must select a case that is both memorable to you and relevant to the topic.

Descriptive Essay Topics for Middle School

First, let us zero in on the academic level. Here are some fun descriptive paper ideas suitable for middle-school students. Some of the suggestions are easy; others are more challenging. However, they all provide an opportunity to give a colorful description and tell a story through images.

  • Describe your favorite animal
  • Describe a fantastical journey through a human body affected by fast food
  • My last weekend and how I spent it
  • Describe the dawn or the sunset
  • Describe your pet (or your friend's pet if you don't keep pets)
  • Describe your favorite item of clothing
  • Describe your last weekend
  • Describe the best journey you ever had
  • Describe your best friend
  • Describe your classroom
  • Describe your street
  • Describe your house

Descriptive Essay Topics for High School Students

If you have been given a descriptive writing assignment but no prompt hinting what to write a descriptive essay on, try these suggestions. Feel free to change them. Treat them as brainstorm starters.

  • A childhood memory that stuck with you
  • A time you lost someone dear to you and how you persevered
  • What are your personal reactions to The Princess Bride movie ? Be descriptive.
  • Retell Frankenstein from the POV of the Creature
  • Describe your family home
  • Describe the last party you've been to
  • Describe a book character (how you picture them based on the information from the book)
  • Describe waking up early
  • Describe your favorite smell
  • Describe a chance encounter that left a lasting impression
  • Describe the most fun activity you have ever participated in
  • Describe a thing that annoys you the most. What makes it so noxious?

Descriptive Essay Topics for College Students

As a college student, you must be looking for more original topics to write a descriptive essay on since you've most likely already explored the easier ones from above. Look in this section or further – in the thematic groups. Read the papers attached as examples if the topic interests you but seems too challenging. Also, don't forget that you can get personalized essay writing help for any type of assignment – creative descriptions included. 

  • Describe your favorite place on campus
  • Describe your experience with contemplating art
  • Describe a hot day
  • Describe events from The Great Gatsby from an unconventional POV
  • Describe a vivid childhood memory
  • Describe a gathering (a club meeting, a political rally, etc.)
  • Describe a construction site
  • Describe a frightening experience you went through
  • Describe building a healthy habit (or breaking a bad one)
  • Describe a wedding you have attended
  • Describe a trip home during the break
  • Describe your new room away from home

Descriptive Essay Ideas About an Object

Describing an object is probably on the easier side of this assignment. However, with these original descriptive writing topics, an essay about an ordinary thing can be just as impressive and sophisticated as a description of unique experiences.

  • My notebook
  • Describe a tool you use every day and its importance
  • The thing that has shaped your childhood
  • Describe your most treasured possession
  • Describe a piece of jewelry you wish you owned
  • Describe a thing that has a story attached to it (a family heirloom, a museum exhibit, a memento, etc.)
  • Describe your favorite piece of furniture
  • Describe a thing that used to scare you as a child
  • Judge a book by its cover: pick up and describe a book you've never read
  • Describe a remarkable door
  • You are living in the Iron Age. Describe the most valuable thing you own
  • Describe an item that belongs to a friend or a family member. What can it tell about its owner?

Topics for a Descriptive Essay About an Experience

Speaking of experiences. If you are tired of well-thumbed issues like triumphs and defeats, choose your next topic for a descriptive essay from the list below. Write a different story that is meaningful and impactful.

  • Describe how you tried something for the first time
  • Describe a music concert or a festival you've been to
  • Describe the feelings of an unfairly incarcerated person
  • Describe a difficult situation that taught you something valuable
  • Describe living through a natural disaster
  • Describe the feeling of sorrow
  • Describe your experience watching a classic movie
  • Describe how you combat stress
  • Describe the sadness of leaving
  • Describe recovering from an illness
  • Do you remember how you learned reading? Tell about the experience
  • Describe your visit to a beauty salon or a barbershop

Examples of Descriptive Essay Topics About a Place

Descriptive paper topics suggested below give you only a general direction for your thoughts. In contrast, a sample attached to each title describes a concrete and very specific place. That is why we advise you to explore the attached pieces for more inspiration.

  • Write about a public place that continues to evoke powerful, emotional memories for you
  • Describe a restaurant in your area
  • Describe a house
  • Describe your hometown
  • Describe ocean shore
  • Describe a museum or an art gallery you've attended
  • Describe a park or a natural spot you like
  • Describe your favorite place on earth
  • Describe the best place to study
  • Imagine a public space designed for teens. Describe it. Where would you place it?
  • Do you remember your first trip out of town? Where did you go? Be descriptive.
  • Describe a place where you feel most safe

Interesting Descriptive Essay Topics About a Person

Describing a person is not an easy task, especially if you need to remain neutral and objective. These topics for descriptive essays about people will be an excellent exercise for you.

  • Describe a person from your class that you find interesting
  • Describe a person you have helped recently
  • Describe a stranger who showed you kindness
  • Describe one of your parents
  • The most unforgettable person in your life
  • Describe a person you can call your mentor
  • Describe your professor
  • Describe someone you see often but not acquainted with (a cash-desk clerk, a bus driver, a dog-walker from your street, etc.)
  • Describe a celebrity you find the most inspiring
  • Describe a fictional character you had a crush on
  • Describe an influential political figure of today
  • If you could interview any historical personality, who would it be? Describe them

Descriptive Essay Topics About Art, Culture, and Esthetics

The area we have outlined in the subheading is vast, so these topics are there to give your creativity a little nudge. Play with them and transform them to suit your assignment.

  • Describe a cultural artifact (a sculpture, a painting, a museum exhibit, etc.)
  • Describe a creative work you have produced
  • A documentary that fascinated you
  • Describe an impact of a poetic work on you
  • Describe characters on your favorite TV show
  • Describe a dance show
  • Describe a thing you would call kitschy. Explain your choice
  • Describe a ceremony or a ritual you partook in
  • Describe a night in a movie theater from the perspective of a first-time goer
  • Describe a consumer good from the point of view of its esthetic value
  • Describe a building. What's its purpose? How is it conveyed through architecture?
  • Describe a historical costume representative of a particular era

Imaginative Topics for a Unique Descriptive Essay

How about running away with your imagination and creating something that doesn't exist? No one said that your description must be documental.

  • If you could rule the world, how would it look like? Describe your perfect vision
  • Describe the art to an alien
  • Describe how your childhood experiences have formed your personality
  • Describe a magical creature you wish existed
  • Describe a robot you could befriend
  • Describe an ordinary day from the point of view of an inanimate object
  • Describe a technological artifact from another planet
  • Describe a day in a park without using sight
  • Describe a sci-fi landscape
  • Describe an immortal being
  • Describe flying over your hometown
  • Describe turning into an animal

Descriptive Essay Topics About Business and Technology

Serious topics can be approached creatively as well. Descriptive essays give a human dimension to business and tech – which is always good for a better understanding their purposes.

  • Internet hoaxes you've come across
  • Describe a product to a potential consumer
  • Describe your short-term (3 years) career goals
  • Describe customer experience in a chain restaurant or reseller's
  • Describe an innovative shop window display
  • Describe your workday or shift
  • Describe a place of work you see yourself in 5 years
  • Describe an ergonomic design you admired
  • Describe a perfect gadget that doesn't exist yet
  • Describe your first computer
  • Describe a technology that should replace human labor. Why would it be better this way?
  • Describe an item that will be in each household twenty years from now

If one of the topics above caught your fancy, but there is no sample, don't despair. We can write one exclusively for you. Moreover, if you have written a draft but you think it could be more expressive and vivid, send it to us for editing, and we will make it shine!

Jana Rooheart

Jana Rooheart

Jana Rooheart came to WOWESSAYS™ with a mission to put together and then slice and dice our vast practical experience in crafting all kinds of academic papers. Jana is an aspired blogger with rich expertise in psychology, digital learning tools, and creative writing. In this blog, she willingly shares tricks of pencraft and mind-altering ideas about academic writing any student will find utterly beneficial.

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75 Interesting Descriptive Essay Topics

Working on academic papers is a must, no matter how intensely students hate this task. Descriptive writing could be interesting, but for reaching success here, it is essential to find good descriptive essay topics. A lot of things depend on creativity and imagination, but your personal interest is even more important. We’re going to help you find a topic that will suit your tastes, but first, let’s figure out  what is a descriptive essay ? These assignments are a piece of writing focused on re-creating a specific experience, place, person, or event: a writer’s goal is to present it in a detailed and clear way. So, each student must pick a subject and describe it, building a vivid picture of it in the minds of their audience.

Descriptive writing prompts are important because they help you sharpen your memory, analyze your thoughts and reactions, and train your writing as well as expand your vocabulary.  They are also exciting, but of course, this factor relies on which topic you select. There are some tips and suggestions that could guide you in this process, so if you need assistance, we are here to help you.

Strategies for Choosing Great Descriptive Essay Ideas

Many students underestimate the importance of topics. They are happy to grab the first one they see, and then they face hours or even days of boring research and inefficient drafts, ending up with a mediocre paper a professor cannot evaluate highly. This is a big mistake, so if you’d like to avoid such unfortunate results, keep tips below in mind.

  • Go for personal focus. Never choose descriptive essay prompts that you don’t care about. They should be personally interesting for you — this is the only way to make sure that your paper is pleasing to everyone related to it. Writers can do a good job only if they enjoy what they’re doing (unless they are already experienced enough, but it’s a rarity among students). So, look into your memory. Think about something you’d like to describe: it could be a trip somewhere, a favorite place, or even a beloved person.
  • Consider the volume. It is vital to base a topic on the word count you’ll have to cover and the amount of details available to you. Let’s look at these examples: you decided to write about an instance where you met your favorite actor. The problem is, you saw him briefly and nothing truly of note happened, so you could come up with several descriptive paragraph topics, but it won’t be enough for a 5-page essay. You’d have to choose another theme in this case. Equally, if you have a large idea that could make for 10 pages while the task requires you to write only 1, this isn’t the best decision. So never forget about word count and adjust volume of your ideas accordingly.
  • Adjust topic based on vocabulary. If you study at college, you likely have an average vocabulary fitting the academic sphere. In case you study at university, your word supply is more complex, so you could afford to look at more creative descriptive topics. High school students have less diverse vocabulary, so evaluate your skills objectively. This factor affects the choice you will make, so if you plan to describe a fight you witnessed, you should assess whether you know enough words and expressions for it.
  • Look for supporting sources. They are not always necessary, but they’ll definitely be a plus. If you choose a more scientific kind of work, you should support your opinions and impressions with other people’s words. Look for such sources, but be sure they are credible. Focus on articles and books, not on blogs and general sites.

75 Topics for Descriptive Essay on Different Levels

Another option for choosing an inspiring topic entails looking through relevant lists. We composed one specifically for the sake of students who are looking for inspiration yet can’t settle on any exciting ideas. You won’t experience any troubles with using it: either pick an option directly from it or use some of them as a foundation for developing your own.  We concentrated on five major categories, each having 15 descriptive topics in it.

Descriptive Essay Topics About Famous People

There are lots of ideas for descriptive essay in this category. With how many famous people have changed our world, you could pick any of them to craft your essay.

  • Donald Trump: Describe His Rise to Power and His Eventual Downfall
  • Explain What Diaries Belonging to Marilyn Monroe Revealed About Her Past
  • Why Is Mother Theresa Known All Over the World? Describe Her Life and Personality
  • Describe the Real Circumstances Surrounding Discoveries That Christopher Columbus Made
  • Describe the Productive Life of Walt Disney & His Legacy
  • Explain Why Leonardo Da Vinci Is Considered Unique:  Focus on His Discoveries and Inventions
  • Explore Rise of Any Popular Soviet Leader to Absolute Power
  • Who Is Greta Thunberg? Talk About Her Personality as Expressed By Her Ideas

There are also fictional famous people: they could make for good descriptive essay titles.

  • Harry Potter: Describe His Heroic Attributes and How They Relate to His Personality
  • Explain the Mystery Posed by the Figure of Merlin: What Do We Know About Him?
  • Describe All Heroics Attributed to King Arthur
  • Describe Changes in Attitude toward Vampires That Jacob Black Experienced
  • Talk About the Love Story between Jack and Rose from Titanic
  • Voldemort: What Events in the Life of Tom Riddle Created a Monster
  • Describe What Makes Katniss from Hunger Games an Inspiring Power Leader

Descriptive Topics About Celebrities

We are surrounded by celebrities. If you’d like to explore one of them, check this descriptive essay topics list.

  • Mads Mikkelsen as the Most Atypical Star in the Global Movie Industry
  • Describe Problems that Johnny Depp Has Been Experiencing Recently
  • Tragedy and Comedy of Jim Carrey’s Life: Describe This Mix
  • Describe the Changing Array of Roles Performed by Emma Watson
  • Daniel Radcliffe and His Attempts to Move On From Harry Potter
  • Explore and Explain Leonardo DiCaprio’s Struggles to Receive Oscar
  • Dive Into Descriptions of Reasons for Charles Chaplin’s Popularity
  • How Morgan Freeman Changed Entertainment Industry
  • Acting in Violent Movies: Describe What Roles Sylvester Stallone Played
  • Elaborate on How George Clooney Started Being Considered an Icon of Attractiveness
  • Describe Career of Steven Spielberg Along with His Success and Failures
  • Sad Stories: Describe What Choices Kate Winslet Makes in Her Movies
  • Being a Pirate: Talk About Adventures Orlando Bloom Had When Playing Will Turner
  • Creativity and Elegance of Keira Knightley:  Describe Life Journey of This Actress
  • Describe Singing Career of Hugh Jackman and How It Mixed with His Actor Choices

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Descriptive Essay Topic Ideas About Places

People love travelling all over the world, so there is a thousand of descriptive writing topics to select from.

  • Talk About the Most Beautiful City You Have Ever Visited
  • Quiet Night in a Forest: Describe Beauty Around It
  • Seeing Red Sea for the First Time: Focus on Details Surrounding This Experience
  • Describe Your Home and Elements That Make It Dear to You
  • The Coziest Café with the Most Delicious Food: Share Your Experience
  • Garden That Stays in Your Memory: Describe What Plants It Had
  • Visiting Museum: Discuss Atmosphere, Interior, and Displayed Objects
  • First Visit to 3D Movie: How Did It Go?
  • Moving to a New House: Describe First Impressions of How It Looked Liked
  • Choose a Church That Impressed You & Share Details About Its Design

How about descriptive writing ideas for fictional places? They could be just as exciting.

  • Describe Hogwarts As It Is Portrayed in Harry Potter Books
  • Narnia, Its Delights and Horrors: Focus On Attributes That Make It Memorable
  • Describe Gritty Setting of Games of Thrones (TV Show or Book)
  • How Does Universe of Hunger Games Function? Describe Its Major Features
  • House of Cullens From Twilight: Talk About Its Inward and Outward Appearance

Descriptive Essay Prompts About Objects

Wherever you look, you’ll see objects of different kinds. Pick a good descriptive essay topic from the ones that trigger your interest.

  • How Cell Phone of Your Dreams Would Look Like
  • The Most Comfortable Bed in This World: Give a Detailed Description
  • Describe Each Component of Your Make-Up: What Are They, What Color They Have, & What Are They For?
  • Describe the Scent of Your Favorite Perfume: Focus on Each Undertone to Create a Clear Image
  • Your Favorite Food: Describe a Meal Complete with Three Different Dishes
  • Talk About Diary You Had: Its Cover, Pages, Purpose, & Importance
  • Describe How the Most Exquisite Box of Chocolates You Have Seen Looks
  • Book Cover That Made You Immediately Want to Buy Book Itself
  • Backpack You Carry Every Day: What Makes It Comfortable & Special?
  • Describe How You Choose Your Handbag From Start to Finish
  • Kitchen in Your House: Describe Its Design, Key Objects, & Their Purposes
  • The Most Exquisite  Bouquet of Flowers That Stands Out in Memory
  • Blanket You Use During Winter: What Is Its Appearance, Thickness, and Warmth Level?
  • Movie You Watched for More Than Ten Times
  • A Pair of Shoes That Begs to Be Bought: How Would You Describe It?

Memories Topics

We all have memories that make us into who we are. These examples of descriptive essay topics could help you recall meaningful events that deserve to be written about.

  • Describe the Best Birthday Celebration You Have Ever Had
  • The  Day When Someone You Love Broke Your Heart
  • Seeing My Future Pet for the First Time & Falling in Love With It
  • Day of Heartbreaking Loss and My Reaction to It
  • Finale of a Movie I Watched That Made Me Feel Over the Moon From Joy
  • Terrible Disappointment After the Show I Loved Ended Badly: Details & Reaction
  • How My Best Friend and I Shared Our First Serious Secret We Never Disclosed to Others
  • Your First Joined Trip with Family: Fun and Excitement of It
  • Guilt I Felt After Betraying Someone I Loved
  • How Going on the First Date Felt Like: Describe This Time and Your Emotions
  • Getting a Gift I Always Dreamed About: Celebration That I Could Never Forget
  • Describe an Event That Helped You Understand What Career You Would Like to Have
  • City I Used to Live In: Describe Its Physical Appearance and Places It Had
  • Visiting Escape Room: Challenges, Excitement, Fear, & Complexity
  • The Happiest Day I Could Remember in My Life

Make Writing Exciting and Look for Help When In Need

As you had a chance to see, there are plenty of diverse ideas for descriptive essays. So, if you cannot come up with something on your own, don’t let it worry or embarrass you. Look for assistance: check related lists online, talk to other people, visit forums for discussions and brainstorm with your classmates. If you aren’t sure whether you feel up to writing, you could always let us know, and our team will gladly help. Inspiration is a big part of writing success, so it’s vital not to make a mistake when choosing what your paper is going to be about. Try to find it, and your chances at succeeding will grow!

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Descriptive Essay: Your Guide to Writing an Effective One

prompt for descriptive essay

A descriptive essay is one of the four main types of essays, alongside narrative, argumentative, and expository essays. Among these, descriptive essays can be particularly challenging because they demand a keen eye for detail and an appreciation for aesthetics. By vividly describing scenes and details, you engage your reader’s senses, making your essay memorable and engaging. In this guide, our essay writers will break down the writing process for you, offering step-by-step instructions, practical examples, and clear definitions to help you excel in your next assignment.

What is a Descriptive Essay?

Descriptive writing aims to vividly portray something through essays, helping readers visualize and feel the scene or object being described. Such essays draw on detailed descriptions to create a clear and impactful image that not only presents the subject but also evokes emotions and memories.

There are three main techniques used in descriptive writing: naming, detailing, and comparing .

Naming identifies the subject and its characteristics, answering questions like 'What is it?' and 'What features does it have?'

Detailing elaborates on these features, providing answers to detailed questions such as 'How many are there?' and 'What is its value?' Techniques like synesthesia and comparisons enhance these descriptions.

Comparing uses similes and metaphors to make descriptions more vivid, linking the subject to familiar concepts.

Description vs. Descriptive Essay

What Is the Purpose of a Descriptive Essay?

The purpose of a descriptive essay is multifaceted. Primarily, it allows writers to give readers a vivid impression of a person, place, or event, making the subject come alive through words. By using detailed descriptions, writers can help readers visualize settings and characters as if they were seeing them firsthand.

Additionally, descriptive essays can serve to clarify abstract ideas. By describing these concepts with concrete images and examples, writers make complex ideas easier to understand and more relatable to the reader.

Descriptive essays also aim to make information more memorable. When details are vivid, they are more likely to stick in the reader's mind, enhancing recall and engagement with the text.

Lastly, it can bolster an argument by providing concrete, detailed evidence that supports a point of view. This helps persuade the reader by making the argument more tangible and credible.

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Descriptive Essay Topics

When you're tasked with writing a descriptive essay, you'll usually get a prompt that asks you to describe something. These descriptive essay prompts allow you to explore different settings, time periods, and imaginative scenarios in your essays. 

Personal Prompts:

  • Describe a favorite childhood memory.
  • Describe a treasured family heirloom.

Imaginative Prompts:

  • Describe a day in the life of a pirate.
  • Describe what it would be like to explore an underwater city.

Historical Prompts:

  • Describe the atmosphere of a bustling ancient marketplace.
  • Describe the experience of witnessing a significant moment in history, like the moon landing or the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Nature Prompts:

  • Describe the sights and sounds of a peaceful forest at dawn.
  • Describe the feeling of standing at the edge of a majestic waterfall.

Everyday Prompts:

  • Describe the chaos of a busy morning commute in a big city.
  • Describe the tranquility of a sunset picnic in the countryside.

If you need topic ideas for other essay genres, consult our guide on narrative essay topics .

How to Write a Descriptive Essay in 8 Steps

Now that you understand the essence and purpose of this type of essay let's explore some fundamental yet valuable tips for writing a descriptive essay. 

How to Write a Descriptive Essay in 8 Steps

Step 1: Select Your Topic

The first step in creating a captivating descriptive essay is choosing the right topic. Start by paying close attention to your surroundings. 

  • Consider describing a person you know well in your life, like a sibling, a close friend, or a teacher who has made a significant impact on you.
  • Alternatively, you could focus on a specific place or object that holds sentimental value to you, such as a favorite vacation spot, a cherished childhood toy, or a meaningful piece of jewelry.
  • Another option is to explore a strong emotion that you have experienced, like excitement, nostalgia, or determination. 

Avoid using overly technical or jargon-filled language in your topic selection. Instead, aim for simplicity and clarity to ensure that your chosen topic resonates with your audience and allows you to convey your unique perspective effectively.

Step 2: Gather Details

Once you've selected your topic for your descriptive essay, the next step is to gather details that will bring your chosen subject to life on the page. Start by closely observing your subject, whether it's a person, place, object, or emotion. Pay attention to its appearance, characteristics, and any unique features that stand out to you.

For example, if you've chosen to describe your childhood home, take note of its architectural style, color scheme, and any distinctive elements like a front porch or a cozy fireplace. Recall memories associated with the home, such as family gatherings or quiet moments spent reading in your favorite spot.

If your topic is a person, like a close friend or family member, observe their physical appearance, mannerisms, and personality traits. Consider the ways in which they interact with others and the impact they have on your life.

Step 3: Draft an Outline

When structuring your essay, you can organize your paragraphs from top to bottom or near to far, chronologically, or from general to specific. Here's a simple descriptive essay outline from our custom writers to guide you: 

Step 4: Develop a Thesis Statement

When developing your thesis statement, consider the main points or aspects of your subject that you want to highlight in your essay. Think about the emotions or impressions you want to evoke in the reader and tailor your thesis statement accordingly.

For example, if you're writing about your favorite childhood memory, your thesis statement could be: 'My summers spent at my grandparents' farm were filled with laughter, adventure, and a sense of belonging.'

Or, if you're describing a beautiful sunset, your thesis statement might be: 'The breathtaking colors and serene atmosphere of the sunset over the ocean evoke a sense of peace and wonder.'

Step 5: Craft the Introduction

Start your descriptive essay introduction by hooking the reader with an engaging opening sentence or anecdote related to your topic. This could be a vivid description, a thought-provoking question, or a surprising fact. For example:

  • Growing up on my grandparents' farm, each summer brought new adventures and unforgettable memories that still warm my heart to this day.

After hooking the reader, provide some background information or context for your topic. This could include brief details about the setting, time period, or significance of your subject. For instance:

  • Nestled in the rolling hills of the countryside, my grandparents' farm was a sanctuary of simple pleasures and cherished traditions.

Finally, end your introduction with your thesis statement, clearly stating the main point of your essay. This ties everything together and gives the reader a roadmap for what to expect in the rest of your essay. 

Step 6: Compose the Body Paragraphs

Once you've crafted your introduction, it's time to compose the body paragraphs, where you delve into the details and descriptions that bring your topic to life.

Each body paragraph should focus on a specific aspect or detail of your topic, expanding upon the ideas presented in your thesis statement. Use vivid language, sensory details, and descriptive devices to paint a clear picture for the reader.

For example, if you're writing about summers spent at your grandparents' farm, you could dedicate one body paragraph to describing the sights and sounds of the farm:

  • The rolling fields stretched out before me, golden waves of wheat swaying gently in the breeze. The air was filled with the sweet scent of wildflowers, mingling with the earthy aroma of freshly turned soil.

In another body paragraph, you might explore the adventures and activities that filled your days:

  • From sunrise to sunset, there was never a dull moment on the farm. Whether we were exploring the woods, splashing in the creek, or helping with chores, each day brought new excitement and adventure.

Continue with additional body paragraphs, each focusing on a different aspect of your topic and providing rich, detailed descriptions. Be sure to vary your language and sentence structure to keep the reader engaged and interested.

Step 7: Conclude the Essay

The conclusion should bring together all the ideas presented in your essay. Avoid introducing any new information in the conclusion. Instead, focus on evaluating your thoughts and reflections on the topic. End with a strong final sentence that leaves a lasting impression on the reader.

For example, if you were writing about summers spent at your grandparents' farm, your conclusion might reflect on the significance of those memories:

  • 'As I reminisce about the summers spent amid the rustic charm of my grandparents' farm, I am filled with a profound sense of gratitude for the simple pleasures and cherished moments that shaped my childhood. The laughter echoing through the fields, the adventures awaiting around every corner, and the sense of belonging that enveloped me there will forever hold a special place in my heart.'

Step 8: Refine Your Essay

Once you've finished writing your essay, it's time to refine it for clarity and impact. Start by reading your essay aloud to yourself. Listen for any sentences that sound awkward or unclear. Mark these sentences so you can revise them later.

You can also read your essay aloud to others and ask for their feedback. Invite friends, family members, teachers, or mentors to listen to your essay and share their thoughts. Ask them if there are any parts that are difficult to understand or if they have trouble picturing the subject you're describing.

Be receptive to constructive criticism and feedback. Use it as an opportunity to improve your essay and make it stronger. And if it sounds too demanding right now, you can buy cheap essay to sidestep the hassle and reclaim some much-needed free time.

Descriptive Essay Format

The standard format for a descriptive essay typically includes five paragraphs: an introduction, three body paragraphs, and a conclusion. However, you can also organize your essay into sections, allowing for flexibility in the length of the body paragraphs.

Introductory Paragraph: This paragraph sets the scene by describing where, when, and to whom the experience occurred. It should include descriptive words to capture the reader's attention.

First Body Paragraph: Here, the writer provides details that allow the reader to visualize the situation. Descriptive language is key in painting a clear picture for the reader.

Second Body Paragraph: More details are provided, with a focus on using descriptive adjectives. Figurative language, such as metaphor (e.g., describing the city as a 'jungle of concrete'), can enhance the imagery.

Third Body Paragraph: The writer continues to appeal to the reader's senses with visually descriptive words. Figurative language, like personification (e.g., describing the wind as a playful dancer), adds depth to the description.

Conclusion: The conclusion alludes to another sense, such as touch or sound, and uses strong words to signify closure. It ends with a powerful concluding sentence to leave a lasting impression on the reader.

Descriptive Essay Examples

In this section, you'll discover essay examples that demonstrate how to captivate your readers' attention effectively. After exploring these examples, you might find yourself tempted to ask, 'Can someone do my homework for me?' - and that's completely understandable! We're here to help you become more confident and articulate communicators through your writing!

3 Additional Tips for Writing

While writing a descriptive essay, your goal is to make your subject come alive for the reader. Unlike more formal essays, you have the freedom to be creative with your descriptions, using figurative language, sensory details, and precise word choices to make your writing memorable.

3 Additional Tips for Writing

Use Figurative Language: Figurative language, like metaphors and similes, adds flair to your descriptions. Instead of sticking to literal descriptions, use comparisons to create unique and memorable imagery. 

  • For instance, describing a city as a bustling beehive of activity ' or a forest as ' a blanket of whispers ' adds an unexpected twist that captures the reader's attention.

Engage Your Senses: In a descriptive essay, don't just focus on what something looks like; appeal to all the senses. Describe how things smell, sound, feel, and even taste, if applicable. This adds depth and richness to your descriptions, making them more immersive. 

  • For example, instead of just describing a beach visually, include sensory details like feeling the warm sand between your toes , hearing the rhythmic crash of waves , and t asting the salty sea breeze.

Choose Your Words Carefully: Use effective adjectives, verbs, and nouns to convey your impressions vividly. Avoid clichés and opt for original, precise language that reflects your unique perspective. Take the time to review your sentences and consider if there are better word choices that could enhance your description.

In Wrapping Up

To sum it up, descriptive essays are all about encouraging students like you to explore your surroundings and unleash your creativity by describing scenes in detail with words. When you carefully select and organize these descriptive details, it not only enhances your writing but also sharpens your critical thinking skills. Plus, diving into this expressive writing style allows you to appreciate the beauty of language and feel more connected to written communication. And remember, if you ever need a little boost in your writing journey, our descriptive essay writing service is here to help!

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How To Write A Descriptive Essay?

What is a descriptive essay, what is the purpose of a descriptive essay.

  • New samples
  • New information on each of the rest sections 

Axelrod, R. B. and Cooper, R. C. (2008). The st martin’s guide to writing. (English Edition). New York: Bedford/St Martins

Okono, U. M. (2021). Descriptive essay: An assessment of performance by undergraduates of AkwaIbom State University. Erudite Journal of Linguistics and Languages . https://www.globalacademicstar.com/download/article/descriptive-essay-an-assessment-of-performance-by-undergraduates-of-akwa-ibom-state-university.pdf

Okono. U. M. (2020). “Qualities of a good essay: An assessment of the writings of Nigerian undergraduates.” International Journal on integrated Education. 3: vi.

https://irsc-asc.weebly.com/uploads/3/1/8/1/31813909/e7__descriptive_essay_guidelines.pdf

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prompt for descriptive essay

How to Write a Descriptive Essay

prompt for descriptive essay

This could be something as simple as your favorite flavor of ice cream or as complicated as the politics of 13th century Vienna. Different than a simple description, a descriptive essay allows the writer to really show off both their imagination as well as their writing skills.

What is a Descriptive Essay?

A descriptive essay is a type of academic writing that asks the writer to fully describe a place, person, situation, event, or thing. They can be simple or they can be very complex depending on the subject matter and audience written for. These types of essays train a writer’s ability to express themselves accurately as well as build compelling sentences and arguments.

Descriptive Essay Ideas

There is no exhaustive list of things that can be described, but these are some of the most common things you may be asked to write about. 

A Location - The goal of writing about a place is to make the reader feel as if they are there. Words, similes, and metaphors that ignite the reader’s imagination are essential. Try and immerse the reader in the sights, smells, and sounds of the place you are describing. Examples could be a city, a view, a particular building like your house, etc. 

A Time Period - Similar to writing about a location, the goal is to make the reader lose themselves in the time you are describing. This requires great research to be able to describe physical characteristics as authentically and as well as possible. This could include how you felt a year ago, an ancient time period, or the future.

An Event - The goal of describing an event is to explain a series of interesting circumstances. Typical storytelling elements like describing the plot, setting, and characters are useful, but make sure you focus on the chain of events.

An Emotion - The goal of describing an emotion is to make the reader feel the sentiments of the character you are describing. Metaphors and similes are very useful when trying to evoke an emotion in a reader along with physical descriptions that express the emotion. 

A Person - The goal of writing about a person is to make the reader understand something about that person. This includes physical descriptions of what they look like, what kind of clothing they wear, a sense of the physical presence along with their profession,  as well as how they behave. 

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Descriptive Essay Outline and Structure

Though a descriptive type of essay is quite different from a typical academic paper, it still follows a classic 5 paragraph format. Always follow any directions though, sometimes you may need more or fewer body paragraphs. This is a general structure you should keep in mind for this type of essay.

Introduction

  • Introduction/background information

Body Paragraphs

  • Topic Sentence
  • Sensory Information
  • Physical Descriptions
  • Transition Sentence
  • Summary of the main points
  • Restate the thesis

An outline is always a good idea for any kind of writing, but it is particularly useful for this type of essay because it collects your thoughts and makes sure your essay stays on track. 

Introduction 
  • Hook - The sting of salty water, the hypnotic crash of the waves, the breathtaking sunsets, the best vacation spot?
  • Background information - Everyone is different and everyone likes different types of things. When it comes to vacations though, there is a place that almost everyone enjoys.
  • Thesis - In my opinion, the beach is the best possible vacation spot because of the variety of ways one can enjoy it. 
Body Paragraph 1 
  • Topic Sentence - The beach has many kinds of natural beauty
  • Sensory information - The unlimited expanse of the ocean combined with glorious sunrises and sunsets.
  • Physical descriptions -The crunch of sand below your bare feet and the crash of waves on your body.
  • Transition sentence - There’s more than just natural beauty though, there are physical activities to enjoy as well 
Body Paragraph 2
  • Topic Sentence - The beach has unlimited activities for physical enjoyment.
  • Sensory information - The thrill of battling with the ocean, the joy of falling on the sand, the wind streaming through your hair, and the pleasant tingling of the sun on bare skin.
  • Physical descriptions - Water sports like surfing, jet skiing, and the like allow you to exercise in one of the most fun ways possible. Not to mention sports like frisbee, volleyball, beach soccer, and more.
  • Transition sentence - If you just want to relax, the beach is perfect for that too!
Body Paragraph 3
  • Topic Sentence - The beach is ideal just to relax, destress, and take it easy. 
  • Sensory information - To relax as you are massaged by either human hands or the sun is a pleasure. Lazing around might be frowned upon, but the beach is the ideal place to spend some time taking care of yourself and letting the stresses of the world melt away.
  • Physical description - Whether it’s reading a book, or enjoying a refreshing beverage with umbrellas in it, you can get taken care of on the beach. Building sandcastles, painting, and meditating are other activities easily and freely enjoyed. 
  • Transition sentence - The beach has so much to offer.
  • Summary of the main points - Whether it’s nature, physical exercise, or simple relaxation, the beach can offer all of that and more. 
  • Restate the thesis - That’s the main reason that a beach is the ideal vacation spot, it allows for diverse ways of having fun. 
  • Closing statement/Clincher - Think about the last time you went to the beach, don’t you want to go again?

What is the Purpose of a Descriptive Essay?

It should leave the reader with a clear idea of the topic of the essay. The goal is to explain things in a comprehensive and interesting way so that the information stays with the reader. Let’s go into the details of how to accomplish this. 

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Writing Process & Descriptive Essay Examples

It may seem challenging to write a successful essay of this type, but if you follow the advice below, it will be a breeze. 

How to Start a Descriptive Essay

Making sure you choose the right topic is the first hurdle to cross. A topic for a descriptive essay is vital because it is the main subject you will be writing about. Spend at least 20 minutes brainstorming different topic ideas and make sure you choose a topic that you know well.

Next, create an outline to better structure your thoughts and figure out the pieces of information you need to find out more about. The more time you spend creating a well-researched outline, the better your endpaper is going to be, and you’ll end up spending less time on actually writing the paper. Now you can move on the writing the descriptive essay introduction.

How to Write a Descriptive Essay Thesis

A thesis statement is the main argument you are trying to make in your paper. It is the main point you are trying to describe. A good thesis statement for descriptive essay is particular without being too brief. It should include not only just what the topic is, but also mention why the topic is important.

How to Write Body Paragraphs

You can have as many body paragraphs as you think are necessary to achieve the goal of describing something clearly. This means you could have just one body paragraph, the standard three, or more. 

Start every paragraph with a topic sentence that explains what the main purpose of the paragraph is. Next fill in sensory details, describing the emotions before moving on to describing the actual physical details. End each body paragraph with a transition sentence that helps each paragraph flow into the other. Not only does this make your writing stronger, but it also helps you create an immersive experience.

How to Write the Conclusion 

Summarize the main points of your essay and make sure that you reiterate the thesis statement. This reminds people of the point of your essay and ensures that when writing, you don’t stray too far from the point. 

Descriptive Essay Format 

There are 3 main formats of citation types for essays. Though the most common one is MLA, it is possible that you may have to use APA or Chicago Style citations. 

MLA stands for Modern Language Association and is used primarily for the arts and humanities.  MLA uses in-text parenthetical citation in the format of (Author, Page). The page at the end that contains all the sources is called the Works Cited page. The format of these entries is unique to MLA but is easy to make with a citation generator. 

APA stands for American Psychological Association and is used mostly for the sciences and social sciences. APA uses in-text parenthetical citations in the format (Author, Date). The page at the end that contains all the sources is called the References section

Chicago Style is used primarily for Business, History, and the Fine Arts. In-text citation can be either as footnotes or parenthetical citation in the format (Author, Date). The page at the end that contains all the sources is called the Bibliography. 

Most descriptive essays will follow the MLA style of citation, but if you need any more help, find a guide on Studyfy.com for more information about citation styles in general. 

Descriptive Essay Topics

The topic is crucial, because all the research you do, and the entire paper, will specifically be about describing the topic. Here are some descriptive essay prompts to inspire you!

The person you’ve most admired in your life
A movie scene that made you feel strong emotions
The time period you would travel to if you had a time machine
Why a beach is better than the mountains for a vacation (or vice versa)
The taste of a drink when you are incredibly tired
An author that inspired you 
Your favorite cuisine
The best place in the world to be by yourself
The best Christmas morning you’ve ever had
An accent that you really enjoy 
A time when you wanted something so much it burned
Describe the day in the life of your favorite celebrity 
The joy of escaping into a video game
What dancing means to you 
A life philosophy you believe in 
The feeling of holding a baby in our arms
The sound of crashing waves
Standing in front of a gorgeous view
A vacation that was meaningful 
Why fireworks are magical 
The first time you cosplayed 
How it feels to listen to music that you hate 
The best thing you have ever eaten in your life
What would it be like to live 100 years in the future
Why hearing people laugh is beautiful 
A day in the life of your favorite animal 
A strange superstition you believe in
The strangest person you’ve ever met
Your favorite tv show 
Playing your favorite sport 
What it’s like to be in love

Descriptive Essay Tips

Before we end, let’s go over some of the key points of information in this article.

  • Use figurative language including metaphors and similes 
  • Use your senses
  • Choose appropriate words
  • Show don't tell 
  • Focus on specific details
  • Spend time choosing the right topic
  • Create a detailed outline
  • Forget about the purpose of the essay
  • Submit your first draft
  • Make it too complicated
  • Ignore your audience 
  • Ignore any directions

In addition to the information provided in this article, there are various resources available to help with your writing needs. If you are struggling to write your descriptive essay, you can turn to professional writers and editors for assistance. You may consider hiring a research paper writing service or seeking help from dissertation writers .

Additionally, if you need someone to " write my admission essay ", there are various options available. You can hire a writer for a custom writing service or seek help from online tutors and teachers. Furthermore, if you need to write a strong admission essay, there are services available that specialize in providing guidance and assistance with this type of writing.

It is important to note that before submitting any work, it should be proofread and edited thoroughly to ensure its quality. Studyfy offers a range of services to help with this, including professional proofreaders and editors who can check your work for grammatical errors and ensure that it meets academic standards.

In summary, there are various resources available to help with your writing needs, including professional writing services, proofreaders, and editors. By utilizing these resources and following the guidelines outlined in this article, you can write a successful descriptive essay that effectively conveys your ideas and engages your readers.If you are looking for the query " I need someone to write an essay for me ", Studyfy has got you covered

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What is a Descriptive Essay? How to Write It (with Examples)

What is a Descriptive Essay? How to Write It (with Examples)

A descriptive essay is a type of creative writing that uses specific language to depict a person, object, experience, or event. The idea is to use illustrative language to show readers what the writer wants to convey – it could be as simple as a peaceful view from the top of a hill or as horrific as living in a war zone. By using descriptive language, authors can evoke a mental image in the readers’ minds, engaging readers and leaving a lasting impression, instead of just providing a play-by-play narrative.

Note that a description and descriptive essay are not the same thing. A descriptive essay typically consists of five or more well-written paragraphs with vivid imagery that can help readers visualize the content, as opposed to a description, which is typically one or more plain paragraphs with no particular structure or appeal. If you are still unsure about how to write a compelling descriptive essay, continue reading!

Table of Contents

What is a descriptive essay, types of descriptive essay topics.

  • Characteristics of descriptive essays

How to write a descriptive essay using a structured outline

Frequently asked questions.

A simple descriptive essay definition is that it is a piece of writing that gives a thorough and vivid description of an object, person, experience, or situation. It is sometimes focused more on the emotional aspect of the topic rather than the specifics. The author’s intention when writing a descriptive essay is to help readers visualize the subject at hand. Generally, students are asked to write a descriptive essay to test their ability to recreate a rich experience with artistic flair. Here are a few key points to consider when you begin writing these.

  • Look for a fascinating subject

You might be assigned a topic for your descriptive essay, but if not, you must think of a subject that interests you and about which you know enough facts. It might be about an emotion, place, event, or situation that you might have experienced.

prompt for descriptive essay

  • Acquire specific details about the topic

The next task is to collect relevant information about the topic of your choice. You should focus on including details that make the descriptive essay stand out and have a long-lasting impression on the readers. To put it simply, your aim is to make the reader feel as though they were a part of the experience in the first place, rather than merely describing the subject.

  • Be playful with your writing

To make the descriptive essay memorable, use figurative writing and imagery to lay emphasis on the specific aspect of the topic. The goal is to make sure that the reader experiences the content visually, so it must be captivating and colorful. Generally speaking, “don’t tell, show”! This can be accomplished by choosing phrases that evoke strong emotions and engage a variety of senses. Making use of metaphors and similes will enable you to compare different things. We will learn about them in the upcoming sections.

  • Capture all the different senses

Unlike other academic articles, descriptive essay writing uses sensory elements in addition to the main idea. In this type of essay writing, the topic is described by using sensory details such as smell, taste, feel, and touch. Example “ Mahira feels most at home when the lavender scent fills her senses as she lays on her bed after a long, tiring day at work . As the candle melts , so do her worries” . It is crucial to provide sensory details to make the character more nuanced and build intrigue to keep the reader hooked. Metaphors can also be employed to explain abstract concepts; for instance, “ A small act of kindness creates ripples that transcend oceans .” Here the writer used a metaphor to convey the emotion that even the smallest act of kindness can have a larger impact.

  • Maintain harmony between flavor and flow

The descriptive essay format is one that can be customized according to the topic. However, like other types of essays, it must have an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion. The number of body paragraphs can vary depending on the topic and available information.

It is crucial to remember that a descriptive essay should have a specific topic and goal, such as sharing personal experiences or expressing emotions like the satisfaction of a good meal. This is accomplished by employing exact language, imagery, and figurative language to illustrate concrete features. These language devices allow the writer to craft a descriptive essay that effectively transmits a particular mood, feeling, or incident to readers while also conjuring up strong mental imagery. A descriptive essay may be creative, or it may be based on the author’s own experiences. Below is a description of a few descriptive essay examples that fit into these categories.

  • Personal descriptive essay example

A personal essay can look like a descriptive account of your favorite activity, a place in your neighborhood, or an object that you value. Example: “ As I step out of the front door, the crisp morning air greets me with a gentle embrace; the big chestnut tree in front, sways in the wind as if saying hello to me. The world unfolds in a symphony of awakening colors, promising a day filled with untold possibilities that make me feel alive and grateful to be born again”.

  • Imaginative descriptive essay example

You may occasionally be required to write descriptive essays based on your imagination or on subjects unrelated to your own experiences. The prompts for these kinds of creative essays could be to describe the experience of someone going through heartbreak or to write about a day in the life of a barista. Imaginative descriptive essays also allow you to describe different emotions. Example, the feelings a parent experiences on holding their child for the first time.

Characteristics of descriptive essay s

The aim of a descriptive essay is to provide a detailed and vivid description of a person, place, object, event, or experience. The main goal is to create a sensory experience for the reader. Through a descriptive essay, the reader may be able to experience foods, locations, activities, or feelings that they might not otherwise be able to. Additionally, it gives the writer a way to relate to the readers by sharing a personal story. The following is a list of the essential elements of a descriptive essay:

  • Sensory details
  • Clear, succinct language
  • Organized structure
  • Thesis statement
  • Appeal to emotion

prompt for descriptive essay

How to write a descriptive essay, with examples

Writing an engaging descriptive essay is all about bringing the subject matter to life for the reader so they can experience it with their senses—smells, tastes, and textures. The upside of writing a descriptive essay is you don’t have to stick to the confinements of formal essay writing, rather you are free to use a figurative language, with sensory details, and clever word choices that can breathe life to your descriptive essay. Let’s take a closer look at how you can use these components to develop a descriptive essay that will stand out, using examples.

  • Figurative language

Have you ever heard the expression “shooting for the stars”? It refers to pushing someone to strive higher or establish lofty goals, but it does not actually mean shooting for the stars. This is an example of using figurative language for conveying strong motivational emotions. In a descriptive essay, figurative language is employed to grab attention and emphasize points by creatively drawing comparisons and exaggerations. But why should descriptive essays use metaphorical language? One it adds to the topic’s interest and humor; two, it facilitates the reader’s increased connection to the subject.

These are the five most often used figurative language techniques: personification, metaphor, simile, hyperbole, and allusion.

  • Simile: A simile is a figure of speech that is used to compare two things while emphasizing and enhancing the description using terms such as “like or as.”

Example: Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving – Albert Einstein

  • Metaphor: A metaphor are also used to draw similarities, but without using direct or literal comparisons like done in similes.   

Example: Books are the mirrors of the soul – Virginia Woolf, Between the acts

  • Personification: This is the process of giving nonhuman or abstract objects human traits. Any human quality, including an emotional component, a physical attribute, or an action, can be personified.

Example: Science knows no country, because knowledge belongs to humanity, and is the torch which illuminates the world – Louis Pasteur

  • Hyperbole: This is an extreme form of exaggeration, frequently impractical, and usually employed to emphasize a point or idea. It gives the character more nuance and complexity.

Example: The force will be with you, always – Star Wars

  • Allusion: This is when you reference a person, work, or event without specifically mentioning them; this leaves room for the reader’s creativity.  

Example: In the text below, Robert Frost uses the biblical Garden of Eden as an example to highlight the idea that nothing, not even paradise, endures forever.

Then leaf subsides to leaf.

So Eden sank to grief,

So dawn goes down to day.

Nothing gold can stay

– Nothing Gold Can Stay by Robert Frost (1923)

Descriptive essays need a combination of figurative language and strong sensory details to make the essay more memorable. This is when authors describe the subject matter employing senses like smell, sound, touch, and taste so that the reader can relate to it better.

Example of a sensory-based descriptive essay: The earthy fragrance of freshly roasted chestnuts and the sight of bright pink, red, orange fallen leaves on the street reminded her that winter was around the corner.

  • Word choice

Word choice is everything in a descriptive essay. For the description to be enchanting, it is essential to utilize the right adjectives and to carefully consider the verbs, nouns, and adverbs. Use unusual terms and phrases that offer a new viewpoint on your topic matter instead of overusing clichés like “fast as the wind” or “lost track of time,” which can make your descriptive essay seem uninteresting and unoriginal.

See the following examples:

Bad word choice: I was so happy because the sunset was really cool.

Good word choice: I experienced immense joy as the sunset captivated me with its remarkable colors and breathtaking beauty.

  • Descriptive essay format and outline

Descriptive essay writing does not have to be disorganized, it is advisable to use a structured format to organize your thoughts and ensure coherent flow in your writing. Here is a list of components that should be a part of your descriptive essay outline:

  • Introduction
  • Opening/hook sentence
  • Topic sentence
  • Body paragraphs
  • Concrete details
  • Clincher statement

prompt for descriptive essay

Introduction:

  • Hook: An opening statement that captures attention while introducing the subject.
  • Background: Includes a brief overview of the topic the descriptive essay is based on.
  • Thesis statement: Clearly states the main point or purpose of the descriptive essay.

Body paragraphs: Each paragraph should have

  • Topic sentence: Introduce the first aspect or feature you will describe. It informs the reader about what is coming next.
  • Sensory details: Use emphatic language to appeal to the reader’s senses (sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell).
  • Concrete details: These are actual details needed to understand the context of the descriptive essay.
  • Supporting details: Include relevant information or examples to improve the description.

Conclusion:

  • Summarize key points: Here you revisit the main features or aspects of the subject.
  • Restate thesis statement: Reinforce the central impression or emotion.
  • Clincher statement: Conclude with a statement that summarizes the entire essay and serve as the last words with a powerful message.

Revision and editing:

  • Go over your essay to make sure it is coherent, clear, and consistent.
  • Check for logical paragraph transitions by proofreading the content.
  • Examine text to ensure correct grammar, punctuation, and style.
  • Use the thesaurus or AI paraphrasing tools to find the right words.

A descriptive essay often consists of three body paragraphs or more, an introduction that concludes with a thesis statement, and a conclusion that summarizes the subject and leaves a lasting impression on readers.

A descriptive essay’s primary goal is to captivate the reader by writing a thorough and vivid explanation of the subject matter, while appealing to their various senses. A list of additional goals is as follows: – Spark feeling and imagination – Create a vivid experience – Paint a mental picture – Pique curiosity – Convey a mood or atmosphere – Highlight specific details

Although they both fall within the creative writing category, narrative essays and descriptive essays have different storytelling focuses. While the main goal of a narrative essay is to tell a story based on a real-life experience or a made-up event, the main goal of a descriptive essay is to vividly describe a person, location, event, or emotion.

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40 Topics to Help With Descriptive Writing Assignments

A Helpful List for Writing Paragraphs, Essays, and Speeches

  • Writing Essays
  • Writing Research Papers
  • English Grammar
  • Ph.D., Rhetoric and English, University of Georgia
  • M.A., Modern English and American Literature, University of Leicester
  • B.A., English, State University of New York

Descriptive writing calls for close attention to factual and sensory details: show, don't tell . Whether your subject is as small as a strawberry or as large as a fruit farm, you should begin by observing your subject closely. Examine it with all five senses, and write down any details and descriptions that come to mind.

Next, go a little further afield with your list and associate your chosen topic or object with memories, opinions, and impressions. This list may give you some ideas for metaphors and possibly even a direction for your paragraph or essay. Then make a list of verbs that could be associated with your topic or object. This will help you have more variety than just "buzzing be" verbs and keep the writing and imagery descriptive and active.

After your brainstorming phase, go through your list and decide which details and descriptions you like the most and are most significant. Don't cross off the others, though. At this point in the project, you want to be open to any direction your imagination and writing take you.

Good advice from Steven King from his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft :

If you want to be a successful writer, you must be able to describe [your subject], and in a way that will cause your reader to prickle with recognition. ... Thin description leaves the reader feeling bewildered and nearsighted. Overdescription buries him or her in details and images . The trick is to find a happy medium.

40 Topic Suggestions

To get you started, here are 40 topic suggestions for a descriptive paragraph, essay, or speech. These suggestions should help you discover a subject that especially interests  you . If you don't start out with a topic that you're willing to spend some time with, your writing will show your lack of enthusiasm. If 40 is not enough, try this list of more than 400 writing topics .

If you need some advice for the drafting phase, see " Composing Descriptive Paragraphs and Essays " and " How to Write a Descriptive Paragraph ."

  • a waiting room
  • a basketball, baseball glove, or tennis racket
  • a smartphone
  • a treasured belonging
  • a laptop computer
  • a favorite restaurant
  • your dream house
  • your ideal roommate
  • your memory of a place that you visited as a child
  • an accident scene
  • a city bus or subway train
  • an unusual room
  • a child's secret hiding place
  • a bowl of fruit
  • an item left too long in your refrigerator
  • backstage during a play or concert
  • a vase of flowers
  • a restroom in a service station
  • a street that leads to your home or school
  • your favorite food
  • the inside of a spaceship
  • the scene at a concert or athletic event
  • an art exhibit
  • an ideal apartment
  • your old neighborhood
  • a small-town cemetery
  • a photograph
  • a hospital emergency room
  • a particular friend or family member
  • a storefront window
  • an inspiring view
  • a work table
  • a character from a book, movie, or television program
  • a refrigerator or washing machine
  • a Halloween costume

King, Stephen. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft . Scribner, 2000.

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Descriptive Essay

Descriptive Essay Writing

Last updated on: Feb 9, 2023

How To Write An Impactful Descriptive Essay?

By: Cathy A.

12 min read

Reviewed By: Melisa C.

Published on: Dec 17, 2019

Descriptive Essay

Wondering how to write an impressive descriptive essay? Writing a descriptive essay is both fun and challenging. You need to describe the main topic in detail and by engaging the five senses of the readers.

Students usually get this type of essay in high school and college. Writing a descriptive essay is different from other essays.

You need to focus on describing a certain person, place, or event.

Luckily for you, the following blog post will provide some helpful tips on how to create an engaging essay.

Continue reading to learn how to write an A-worthy descriptive essay.

Descriptive Essay

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What is a Descriptive Essay?

A descriptive essay is a detailed paper that describes a place, person, situation, object, or emotion. Different people have different points of view and your job is to explain yours in detail.

You may be asked to write a descriptive essay about the beach or forest or about a person or situation. The purpose of this essay is to test the writer’s ability in expressing and explaining their experiences.

Descriptive writing should create a picture in the reader’s mind. You may be required to write a descriptive essay as a high school or college essay assignment.

For a compelling essay, using adjectives and adverbs, details, and figurative language is fundamental. Without proper usage of words, you will not be able to invoke the readers' emotions.

What is the Purpose of a Descriptive Essay?

The purpose of a descriptive essay is to describe a person, place, or personal experience in vivid detail so that the reader can create a picture in his mind.

The descriptive essay is written to get the reader to understand by using descriptive language. It is different from narrative essays, where the writer tells the story about someone else. Usually, it starts with a real-life event and then the content follows the author's imagination.

Descriptive essays are not intended to persuade the reader or show facts and figures to prove something. Descriptive essays are like word paintings that contain personal and descriptive details and these are mostly assigned to students of creative writing.

How to Start a Descriptive Essay

A strong start for your descriptive essay is essential. Analyze your topic from every angle and document the following details:

Analyze the main subjects in detail and observe minute things.

  • Start with observing all the possible aspects of the subject.
  • Don't just observe the object but also its surroundings.
  • Focus on details and features of the subject and develop opinions about them.
  • Be thoughtful; this first step will be the basis for the essay.

Physical Settings

Describing the physical settings is a must in a descriptive essay. When describing, keep the following points in mind.

  • Focus on the subject's position and observe nearby objects
  • Note the time of day and kind of lighting: natural or imitated
  • Physical settings: all the basic and decorative elements
  • The position and shape of the objects
  • Alignment and any other observable information

Physical Features

When describing the physical features of the subject, living or nonliving, consider the following points.

  • Living or nonliving; describe the features in detail
  • The subject's skin color, texture, smoothness, expression, and age
  • The features of inanimate objects in the picture, color, surface, and texture

Create Drama

Storytelling and drama are the life and blood of a good descriptive essay. It turns your essay into an exciting and interesting piece of writing. However, be subtle about adding drama to your sentence structure and add it to complement your story only.

Focus On Your Feelings

Focus on how you feel about the particular topic or person and stick to it. It is easy to get involved when working on the essay. But, focus on your own feelings and write an essay based on them.

Use Of Specific Vocabulary

Vocabulary is important. Select the best words for describing an action or object. Don't always use the first word that comes to mind.

Write slowly and thoughtfully, and use specific words to convey your thoughts.

Psychological Aspects

Writing about a certain situation or behavior of a person focuses on the mental aspects and emotions involved in them.

For Example, describe your emotions when your friend misplaced your notes right before the exam.

You may have had several emotions in that incident. Maybe you were prepared for exams, but this situation put you under pressure and made you feel frustrated and hurt.

Explore those emotions and describe the feelings they aroused. Describe the body language also, if relevant.

Ask Yourself, WHY?

This is the most valuable tip for students. When you are looking at a particular subject, and having difficulty analyzing its aspects, ask yourself "WHY".

  • Why is the subject the way it is?
  • Why does the person you are describing have such a deep-set and cold eyes?
  • Why is the animal so wounded and terrified?
  • Why is this particular place famous?

It is a good practice and after some time you will do it naturally. Knowing the why is important if you want to describe your topic properly.

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How To Write A Descriptive Essay?

When you write a descriptive essay, you help your readers visualize an event, a person, or a story. It is written to make your readers feel what you feel about the respective subject.

A descriptive essay seeks to appeal to some or all of the audience’s five senses. Some key things to consider are:

  • Discussing your subject thoroughly
  • Focusing on details and adding them in your essay
  • Sharing your personal feelings and experience about the subject
  • Observing and describing all sensory details of your subject

Here are the steps to write a descriptive essay easily.

1- Choose an Engaging and Focused Essay Topic

An important step that all strong descriptive essays share is having a focused topic. Before you make the outline, identify the purpose of your essay and use it to create an appropriate thesis statement.This type of paper does not require much personal opinion from you. Its main goal should be focusing on information that will make a dominant impression in readers' minds instead.

2- Research and Gather Important Details

When writing a descriptive essay, it is important to make sure you include as many details and sensory information as possible. This helps your reader fully understand the images that are being presented in their mind's eye.You can organize these ideas into categories so they're easy for you to access when needed.

3- Create an Outline of Your Essay

Your essays must be organized by having subheadings that are clear and concise. Group your main points into individual body paragraphs, each of which should only cover one idea or topic at a time.

4- Write your Essay’s Introduction

A good introductory paragraph is much like a road map because it provides direction to your readers.

It provides relevant background information before diving into more specific details related to how something works or why something happens. These could include statistics or stories from real-life scenarios.

5- Write the Main Body Section of Your Essay

Each body paragraph should start with a topic sentence that keeps the reader hooked on what you are saying. Use specific details instead of making generalized statements, and make sure to give examples if necessary.

6- End with a Strong Conclusion

The conclusion of an essay is the final paragraph, and it should summarize all that you have said throughout. It's a good idea to restate the main points and key details from the essay in this section.

It is important so the reader has everything they need for better understanding before ending off on something new.

If necessary be sure not to introduce anything odd or unusual, to avoid any confusion.

7- Proofread and Revise the Essay Carefully

Once you are done writing the essay, proofread and revise it carefully. Make sure that it is free from all kinds of errors.

Descriptive Essay Outline

Like all the other essays, a descriptive essay also follows the usual 5-paragraph essay structure and format.Before starting, it is important to create an outline. Following are the fundamental elements of your descriptive essay outline:

Descriptive Essay Introduction

The introduction sets the footing for the entire essay. Before heading towards the body section, the reader will come across the introduction.

It is the first impression of your work. It is very important to write an engaging introduction so that the readers read the essay till the end.

Start the essay in an easy-to-understand way and language. Provide background information on your topic so they can understand it and its importance.

To make sure the reader feels your emotions and decides to continue reading further, incorporate the following points in your introduction.

The following tips will guide you on how to write a good introduction for a descriptive essay.

  • Attract the reader's attention with an interesting fact, phrase, or quote
  • Don't bombard them with information
  • Go straight to the main pointsInclude enough information to introduce the topic and its significance.
  • Summarize the argument and the main topic and craft your thesis statement

Descriptive Essay Thesis Statement

A thesis statement is an integral part of your essay. It focuses on the argument and the writer’s main idea, which is to be discussed in the essay.

This statement also provides the writer with a chance of explaining the purpose and scope of the topic. It is intriguing and engaging.

A thesis statement is written at the end of the introduction, it is mainly a single sentence that describes the essay objective. The thesis statement should act as a guide to the reader on what to expect in the essay body. It is like a table of contents of a book, to the reader on contents you will get an idea of what the book is all about so you get to understand it better.

It is like a table of contents of a book. By reading it, you will get an idea of what the book is all about.

A good thesis should contain the following things:

  • Define the essay scope - it should narrow down all the points to clarify its purpose.
  • Avoid using common words - you should be creative with your choice of words.
  • Create suspense - it should attract the reader to the body paragraphs of the essay.

For further information on how to write a thesis for a descriptive essay, check out the following examples.

  • Descriptive essay example about a Place

“Even though monarchy is long gone, Buckingham Palace is here to remind us of the aesthetic beauty of that era.”

  • Descriptive essay example about a Person

“One of the characteristics of Spider-Man is his youthfulness, and the fact that he talks to himself more than Hamlet.”

  • Descriptive essay example about an Emotion

“For numerous reasons, the dark forest is my greatest fear, though not a fear which is necessarily smart to face.”

Descriptive Essay Body Paragraphs

Body paragraphs of the essay come next after the introduction and thesis statement. It is the main part that continues your essay.

Usually, an essay consists of three body paragraphs but you can add more if needed.

Don't add more than one central idea in one paragraph. Fusing different ideas will confuse the reader.

Build your paragraphs according to the thesis and introduction.

  • Start each body paragraph with the main sentence
  • Use transitions to move between paragraphs smoothly
  • Each paragraph should be five to six sentences long

Descriptive Essay Conclusion

The concluding paragraph is the last part of an essay, and probably your last chance to impress your reader.

The last part that the reader can keep in mind is the conclusion, which is as important as the rest of the essay.

To make it interesting and thought-provoking, include the following points:

  • Restate the thesis statement
  • Summarize the main points
  • Add an intriguing closing statement

After writing the conclusion, make a review of your essay, identify the mistakes and maintain a good tone throughout the essay.

Descriptive Essay Format Sample

Here is the descriptive essay format to help you understand how you can write a winning descriptive essay.

DESCRIPTIVE ESSAY FORMAT (PDF)

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Descriptive Essay Topics Ideas

Descriptive essay topics are often related to physical settings, locations, living beings, and objects.

Make sure that your essay includes the five senses, touch, taste, smell, sight, hearing, or at least one of them. It depends on the topic and the kind of feeling that you want to arouse.

Below are some descriptive essay ideas and ways to achieve them.

Living Beings

When you want to write about a person like a family member, consider the following elements:

  • Gender, age, complexion, and expressions
  • Physical features
  • Height, body type, and approximate weight
  • Kind of clothes

These details will add depth to the description and your readers will actually see your narrative.

When animals are the subject, you can add the above points plus the following details:

  • Species and animal
  • Size, weight, color
  • Behavior patterns
  • Temperament
  • Trained or wild?
  • Real or fictional?

Inanimate Subjects

Geographic locations and structures.

When your subject is a place or a building, add the following points:

  • Research about the place and its historical background
  • The color and the building's type
  • A famous place or landmark to draw a comparison and inspire interest

Human behavior and psychology is a compelling descriptive essay subject. When writing about it:

  • Describe the consequences of a particular behavior
  • Discuss the emotional dimension of the topic and how you perceive it personally

Event Or Travel Experience

A travel experience makes a good descriptive essay since you have experienced the event first hand.

Give a detailed description of the place, people at the venue, and the atmosphere of the location.

Idea, Concept, or Occupation

When writing on such topics, focus on how an idea or concept affects society and its different aspects.

Example Descriptive Essay Topics for Students

Choosing a topic for your descriptive essay is quite interesting. You get to choose something that you have an emotional connection with.

When writing a descriptive essay about a person or place, adding their personal traits will be helpful.

Some examples of descriptive essay topics include:

  • Compose a detailed descriptive essay about your best friend.
  • Describe a fancy place that you have created.
  • Describe your dream vacation destination.
  • Describe your favorite mall or store.
  • Describe your childhood home.
  • Descriptive essay about nature.
  • Descriptive essay about a place you visited.
  • Describe the personality of your Maths teacher.
  • Discuss the main characters of your favorite movie.
  • Descriptive essay about chocolate.
  • Write an essay using unique Words to describe yourself.
  • What makes me unique?
  • My first love.

Descriptive Essay Examples

Study these descriptive essay examples and sample papers to understand the main idea, structure, and purpose of descriptive essays.

DESCRIPTIVE ESSAY ON MARKET (PDF)

DESCRIPTIVE ESSAY EXAMPLE PERSON (PDF)

To help you understand how to write a great descriptive essay, we have a whole blog post dedicated to it. We know that talking about something is one thing and demonstrating it is completely different.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What are the features of a descriptive essay.

A descriptive essay provides a perfect opportunity for writers to express their feelings on any subject. Descriptive writing has rich sensory details which appeal to all of your senses.

How do you start a descriptive essay introduction?

The introduction to the descriptive essay should set the scene and introduce the main topic. You can use these sensory details to get a sense of what the essay is all about.

What are the two types of descriptive essays?

There are two types of descriptive essays. The first type deals with people, and the second one is about objects.

What are the elements of a descriptive essay?

Here are the key elements of a descriptive essay.

  • Sensory details
  • Figurative language
  • Central and main theme
  • Precise and clear language
  • Proper organization of ideas

What makes good descriptive writing?

Good and effective descriptive writing consists of vivid sensory details that appeal to all senses including the sense of sight, smell, touch, hearing, and taste. Moreover, these essays also explain people’s feelings in writing.

Cathy A.

Finance Essay, Literature

Cathy has been been working as an author on our platform for over five years now. She has a Masters degree in mass communication and is well-versed in the art of writing. Cathy is a professional who takes her work seriously and is widely appreciated by clients for her excellent writing skills.

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50 Descriptive Essay Topics

Make your reader see, smell, hear and feel with these inspirational descriptive essay topics ! We’ve collected 50 descriptive essay topics to sprout some flowery language. Our descriptive essay topics are designed to spark creative thinking and can be modified for students in elementary, middle and high school. They are grouped by topic for easy student and teacher reference. Feel free to print the entire list for plenty of inspiration for your next descriptive essay assignment!

Descriptive Essay Topics: Place

  • Describe your favorite place.
  • Describe your ideal bedroom.
  • Describe the house in which you grew up.
  • Describe what the first house on the moon would look like.
  • Describe some of your favorite places in your hometown.
  • Describe a peaceful place that you’ve visited.
  • Describe a place that exists only in your imagination.
  • Describe a friend’s or family member’s house where you enjoy spending time.
  • Describe your perfect fantasy vacation destination.
  • Describe your favorite store.
  • Describe your favorite teacher’s classroom.
  • Describe a museum that you’ve visited recently.
  • Describe a place you have dreamed about that doesn’t exist in real life.
  • Describe a place where your pet likes spending time.
  • Describe an outdoor place that you know well.

Descriptive Essay Topics: People

  • Describe your favorite person.
  • Describe each of your family members.
  • Describe a famous person that you would like to meet.
  • Describe one of your friends.
  • Describe one aspect of someone that you like (for example: laugh, style of dress, words that the person likes to use, etc.)
  • Describe yourself to someone who has never met you.
  • Describe the average human to an alien who has never before seen a person.
  • Describe your pet.
  • Look at some old family photos and describe an older family member as he or she was when at your age.
  • Describe someone whom you miss.

Descriptive Essay Topics: Objects

  • Describe an object that is special to you.
  • Give a tour of one room in your house by describing the most important objects in that room.
  • Describe one of your favorite outfits.
  • Describe your favorite toy as a child.
  • Describe how you get around (for example: a bicycle, skateboard, sneakers, your parents’ car, the school bus).
  • Describe your favorite piece of furniture where you like to spend time and relax.
  • Describe something that you would bury in a time capsule to tell people about what life is like today.
  • Describe an object that has been in your family for a long time.
  • Choose a piece of food to eat; then, write a description of it that includes the way it looks, smells and tastes.
  • Describe a smartphone to a time traveler from the 1900s.

Descriptive Essay Topics: Memories

  • Describe your oldest memory.
  • Describe your best summer vacation.
  • Describe a memorable concert you attended.
  • Describe a memorable trip you took.
  • Describe a special time that you and your family had together.
  • Describe the first time you met one of your friends.
  • Describe a time you met someone famous.
  • Describe one of your happiest memories.
  • Describe one of your saddest memories.
  • Describe a time that you felt scared.
  • Describe a time that you felt excited.
  • Describe a time that something totally unexpected happened.
  • Describe a memory of someone whom you miss.
  • Describe one of your most memorable first days of school.
  • Describe one of your most embarrassing moments.

Looking for more essay topics? Compare and Contrast Essay Topics Cause and Effect Essay Topics Narrative Essay Topics Persuasive Essay and Speech Topics

Descriptive Essay Writing

Descriptive Essay Examples

Barbara P

Amazing Descriptive Essay Examples for Your Help

Published on: Jun 21, 2023

Last updated on: Mar 1, 2024

Descriptive Essay Examples

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Interesting Descriptive Essay Topics - 2024

Writing a Descriptive Essay Outline - Tips & Examples

Descriptive Essay: Definition, Tips & Examples

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Descriptive essays are very commonly assigned essays. This type of essay enhances students' writing skills and allows them to think critically. 

A descriptive essay is often referred to as the parent essay type. Other essays like argumentative essays, narrative essays, and expository essays fall into descriptive essays. Also, this essay helps the student enhance their ability to imagine the whole scene in mind by appealing senses.

It is assigned to high school students and all other students at different academic levels. Students make use of the human senses like touch, smell, etc., to make the descriptive essay more engaging for the readers. 

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Examples make it easy for readers to understand things in a better way. Also, in a descriptive essay, different types of descriptions can be discussed. 

Here are some amazing examples of a descriptive essay to make the concept easier for you. 

Descriptive Essay Example 5 Paragraph

5 paragraphs essay writing format is the most common method of composing an essay. This format has 5 paragraphs in total. The sequence of the paragraphs is as follows;

  • Introduction
  • Body Paragraph 1
  • Body Paragraph 2 
  • Body Paragraph 3
  • Conclusion 

Following is an example of a descriptive essay written using the famous 5 paragraph method. 

5 Paragraph Descriptive Essay

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Descriptive Essay Example About A Person

Descriptive essays are the best option when it comes to describing and writing about a person.  A descriptive essay is written using the five human senses. It helps in creating a vivid image in the reader’s mind and understanding what the writer is trying to convey. 

Here is one of the best descriptive essay examples about a person. Read it thoroughly and try to understand how a good descriptive essay is written on someone’s personality.

Descriptive Essay Example About a Person

Descriptive Essay Example About A Place

If you have visited a good holiday spot or any other place and want to let your friends know about it. A descriptive essay can help you explain every detail and moment you had at that place. 

Here is one of the good descriptive essay examples about a place. Use it as a sample and learn how you can write such an essay. 

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Descriptive Essay Example for Grade 6

Descriptive essays are frequently assigned to school students. This type of essay helps the students enhance their writing skills and helps them see things in a more analytical way.

If you are a 6 grader and looking for a good descriptive essay example, you are in the right place.  

Descriptive Essay Example for Grade 7

Here is one of the best descriptive essay examples for grade 7. 

Descriptive Essay Example for Grade 8

If you are looking for some amazing descriptive essay examples for grade 8, you have already found one. Look at the given example and see what a well-written descriptive essay looks like. 

Descriptive Essay Example for Grade 10

Essay writing is an inevitable part of a student's academic life . No matter your grade, you will get to write some sort of essay at least once. 

Here is an example of a descriptive essay writing for grade10. If you are also a student of this grade, this example might help you to complete your assignment.

Descriptive Essay Example for Grade 12

If you are a senior student and looking for some essay examples, you are exactly where you should be. 

Use the below-mentioned example and learn how to write a good essay according to the instructions given to you. 

Descriptive Essay Example College

Descriptive essays are a great way to teach students how they can become better writers. Writing a descriptive essay encourages them to see the world more analytically.

Below is an example that will help you and make your writing process easy.

College Descriptive Essay Example

Descriptive Essay Example for University

Descriptive essays are assigned to students at all academic levels. University students are also assigned descriptive essay writing assignments. As they are students of higher educational levels, they are often given a bit of difficult and more descriptive topics. 

See the example below and know what a descriptive essay at the university level looks like. 

Short Descriptive Essay Example

Every time a descriptive essay isn't written in detail. It depends on the topic of how long the essay will be.  

For instance, look at one of the short descriptive essay examples given below. See how the writer has conveyed the concept in a composed way. 

Objective Descriptive Essay Example

When writing an objective description essay, you focus on describing the object without conveying your emotions, feelings, or personal reactions. The writer uses sight, sound, or touch for readers' minds to bring life into pictures that were painted by words.

Here is an example that you can use for your help. 

Narrative and Descriptive Essay Example

A narrative descriptive essay can be a great way to share your experiences with others. It is a story that teaches a lesson you have learned. The following is an example of a perfect narrative descriptive essay to help you get started.

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How to Start a Descriptive Essay? - Example

If you don't know how to start your descriptive essay, check this example and create a perfect one. 

How to Start a Descriptive Essay - Example

Subjective Descriptive Essay Example

It is a common concept that a descriptive essay revolves around one subject. Be it a place, person, event, or any other object you can think of. 

Following is one of the subjective descriptive, easy examples. Use it as a guide to writing an effective descriptive essay yourself. 

Writing a descriptive essay is a time-consuming yet tricky task. It needs some very strong writing, analytical, and critical thinking skills. Also, this is a type of essay that a student can not avoid and bypass. 

But if you think wisely, work smart, and stay calm, you can get over it easily. Learn how to write a descriptive essay from a short guide given below. 

How to Write a Descriptive Essay?

A writer writes a descriptive essay from their knowledge and imaginative mind. In this essay, the writer describes what he has seen or experienced, or ever heard from someone. For a descriptive essay, it is important to stay focused on one point. Also, the writer should use figurative language so that the reader can imagine the situation in mind. 

The following are some very basic yet important steps that can help you write an amazing descriptive essay easily. 

  • Choose a Topic

For a descriptive essay, you must choose a vast topic to allow you to express yourself freely. Also, make sure that the topic you choose is not overdone. An overdone will not grab the attention of your intended audience. Check out our descriptive essay topics blog for a variety of intriguing topic suggestions.

  • Create a Strong Thesis Statement

A thesis statement is the essence of any academic writing. When you select the descriptive essay topic, then you create a strong thesis statement for your essay.  

A thesis statement is a sentence or two that explains the whole idea of your essay to the reader. It is stated in the introductory paragraph of the essay. The word choice for creating the thesis statement must be very expressive, composed, and meaningful. Also, use vivid language for the thesis statement.  

  • Collect the Necessary Information

Once you have created the thesis statement and are done writing your essay introduction . Now, it's time to move toward the body paragraphs. 

Collect all necessary information related to your topic. You would be adding this information to your essay to support your thesis statement. Make sure that you collect information from authentic sources. 

To enhance your essay, make use of some adjectives and adverbs. To make your descriptive essay more vivid, try to incorporate sensory details like touch, taste, sight, and smell.

  • Create a Descriptive Essay Outline

An outline is yet another necessary element of your college essay. By reading the descriptive essay outline , the reader feels a sense of logic and a guide for the essay. 

In the outline, you need to write an introduction, thesis statement, body paragraphs and end up with a formal conclusion.

Proofreading is a simple procedure in which the writer revises the written essay. This is done in order to rectify the document for any kind of spelling or grammatical mistakes. Thus, proofreading makes high-quality content and gives a professional touch to it. 

You might be uncertain about writing a good enough descriptive essay and impress your teacher. However, it is very common, so you do not need to stress out. 

Hit us up at CollegeEssay.org and get an essay written by our professional descriptive essay writers. Our essay writing service for students aims to help clients in every way possible and ease their stress. Get in touch with our customer support team, and they will take care of all your queries related to your writing. 

You can always enhance your writing skills by leveraging the power of our AI essay writing tools .

Place your order now and let all your stress go away in a blink! 

Barbara P (Literature)

Barbara is a highly educated and qualified author with a Ph.D. in public health from an Ivy League university. She has spent a significant amount of time working in the medical field, conducting a thorough study on a variety of health issues. Her work has been published in several major publications.

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Student Opinion

650 Prompts for Narrative and Personal Writing

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By Michael Gonchar

  • Oct. 20, 2016

Update, Sept. 4, 2019: Check out our newest evergreen collection of “ 550 Prompts for Narrative and Personal Writing ” that includes dozens of new prompts.

Update, Feb. 15, 2019: Learn more about how to use our 1000s of writing prompts by watching our free on-demand webinar: “ Give Them Something to Write About: Teach Across the Curriculum With New York Times-Inspired Daily Prompts. ”

Every school day since 2009 we’ve asked students a question based on an article in The New York Times.

Now, seven years later, and in honor of the Oct. 20 National Day on Writing , we’ve collected 650 of them that invite narrative and personal writing and listed them by category below. Consider it an update of a previous post, and a companion to the list of 301 argumentative writing prompts we published in 2015.

Here is a PDF of all 650 prompts , and we also have a related lesson plan, From ‘Lives’ to ‘Modern Love’: Writing Personal Essays With Help From The New York Times .

Below, a list that touches on everything from sports to travel, education, gender roles, video games, fashion, family, pop culture, social media and more. Like all our Student Opinion questions , each links to a related Times article and includes a series of follow-up questions. All questions published since May 2015 are still open to comment by any student 13 or older.

So dive into this admittedly overwhelming list and pick the questions that most inspire you to tell an interesting story, describe a memorable event, observe the details in your world, imagine a possibility, or reflect on who you are and what you believe.

Overcoming Adversity

1. What Challenges Have You Overcome? 2. What Are Your Secret Survival Strategies? 3. What Do You Do When You Encounter Obstacles to Success? 4. When Have You Failed? What Did You Learn From It? 5. When Have You Ever Succeeded When You Thought You Might Fail? 6. What Life Lessons Has Adversity Taught You? 7. What Work Went Into Reaching Your Most Difficult Goals? 8. How Often Do You Leave Your ‘Comfort Zone’? 9. When Was the Last Time You Did Something That Scared or Challenged You? 10. What Are You Afraid Of? 11. What Are Your Fears and Phobias? 12. What Are Your Personal Superstitions? 13. Do You Like Being Alone? 14. How Often Do You Cry? 15. Do You Ever Feel Overlooked and Underappreciated? 16. How Have You Handled Being the ‘New Kid’? 17. How Do You Deal With Haters? 18. How Do You React When Provoked? 19. What Role Does Stress Play in Your Life? 20. Does Stress Affect Your Ability to Make Good Decisions? 21. How Do You Relieve Stress? 22. How Do You Find Peace in Your Life? 23. Does Your Life Leave You Enough Time to Relax? 24. Do You Set Rules for Yourself About How You Use Your Time? 25. Is ‘Doing Nothing’ a Good Use of Your Time? 26. What Did You Once Hate but Now Like? 27. What Kind of Feedback Helps You Improve? 28. Is Trying Too Hard to Be Happy Making You Sad? 29. Do Adults Who Are ‘Only Trying to Help’ Sometimes Make Things Worse?

Your Personality

30. What Is Your Personal Credo? 31. What Motivates You? 32. What Makes You Happy? 33. What Are You Good At? 34. When in Your Life Have You Been a Leader? 35. How Well Do You Perform Under Pressure? 36. How Well Do You Take Criticism? 37. Are You Hard or Easy on Yourself? 38. How Full Is Your Glass? 39. Do You Have a Hard Time Making Decisions? 40. How Much Self-Control Do You Have? 41. How Good Are You at Waiting for What You Really Want? 42. What Role Does Procrastination Play in Your Life? 43. How Good Are You at Time Management? 44. How Productive and Organized Are You? 45. Under What Conditions Do You Do Your Best Work? 46. How Do You Express Yourself Creatively? 47. Are You a Good Listener? 48. How Competitive Are You? 49. Do You Perform Better When You’re Competing or When You’re Collaborating? 50. How Emotionally Intelligent Are You? 51. Do You Take More Risks When You Are Around Your Friends? 52. Do You Unknowingly Submit to Peer Pressure? 53. Do You Think You’re Brave? 54. How Much of a Daredevil Are You? 55. What Pranks, Jokes, Hoaxes or Tricks Have You Ever Fallen For or Perpetrated? 56. How Impulsive Are You? 57. Are You a Novelty-Seeker? 58. How Do You Deal With Boredom? 59. What Annoys You? 60. Do You Apologize Too Much? 61. Do You Have Good Manners? 62. How Materialistic Are You? 63. Are You a Saver or a Tosser? 64. Are You a Hoarder or a Minimalist? 65. Are You an Introvert or an Extrovert? 66. Are You Popular, Quirky or Conformist? 67. Are You a Nerd or a Geek? 68. What Would Your Personal Mascot Be? 69. What Assumptions Do People Make About You? 70. How Good Are You at Saying Goodbye?

Role Models

71. Who Is Your Role Model? 72. Who Inspires You? 73. Who Are the People – Famous or Not – You Admire Most? 74. Who Are Your Heroes? 75. What Heroic Acts Have You Performed or Witnessed? 76. What’s the Best Advice You’ve Gotten? 77. What Are Some ‘Words of Wisdom’ That Guide Your Life? 78. Who Outside Your Family Has Made a Difference in Your Life? 79. If You Had Your Own Talk Show, Whom Would You Want to Interview? 80. To Whom, or What, Would You Like to Write a Thank-You Note? 81. What Leader Would You Invite to Speak at Your School? 82. What Six People, Living or Dead, Would You Invite to Dinner? 83. Who’s Your ‘Outsider Role Model’?

84. Who Is Your Family? 85. How Do You Define ‘Family’? 86. What Have You and Your Family Accomplished Together? 87. What Events Have Brought You Closer to Your Family? 88. What’s Your Role in Your Family? 89. Have You Ever Changed a Family Member’s Mind? 90. How Well Do You Get Along With Your Siblings? 91. What Are Your Family Stories of Sacrifice? 92. What Possessions Does Your Family Treasure? 93. What Hobbies Have Been Passed Down in Your Family? 94. What’s the Story Behind Your Name? 95. What Are Your Favorite Names? 96. How Have You Paid Tribute to Loved Ones? 97. What Do You Know About Your Family’s History? 98. Did Your Parents Have a Life Before They Had Kids? 99. What Family Traditions Do You Want to Carry On When You Get Older?

Parents & Parenting

100. How Close Are You to Your Parents? 101. How Are You and Your Parents Alike and Different? 102. How Much Freedom Have Your Parents Given You? 103. How Permissive Are Your Parents? 104. Do You Have Helicopter Parents? 105. How Do Your Parents Teach You to Behave? 106. How Do You Make Parenting Difficult for Your Parents? 107. How Often Do You Fight With Your Parents? 108. What Advice Would You Give to Your Mom, Dad or Guardian on How to Be a Better Parent? 109. Is Your Family Stressed, Tired and Rushed? 110. Do Your Parents Try Too Hard to Be Cool? 111. Do You Ever Feel Embarrassed by Your Parents? 112. Do Your Parents Support Your Learning? 113. Do You Talk About Report Cards With Your Parents? 114. Do You Want Your Parents to Stop Asking You ‘How Was School?’ 115. How Much Do Your Parents Help With Your Homework? 116. How Has Your Family Helped or Hindered Your Transition to a New School? 117. Have Your Parents and Teachers Given You Room to Create?

Your Neighborhood

118. How Much Does Your Neighborhood Define Who You Are? 119. What’s Special About Your Hometown? 120. What Marketing Slogan Would You Use for Your Town or City? 121. What Would You Name Your Neighborhood? 122. Who Are the ‘Characters’ That Make Your Town Interesting? 123. Who Is the ‘Mayor’ of Your School or Neighborhood? 124. What Would a TV Show About Your Town Spoof? 125. What ‘Urban Legends’ Are There About Places in Your Area? 126. Do You Know Your Way Around Your City or Town? 127. How Well Do You Know Your Neighbors? 128. What Is Your Favorite Place? 129. What’s Your Favorite Neighborhood Joint? 130. What Is Your Favorite Street? 131. Do You Hang Out in the Park? 132. How Much Time Do You Spend in Nature? 133. What Small Things Have You Seen and Taken Note Of Today? 134. What Buildings Do You Love? What Buildings Do You Hate? 135. What Are the Sounds That Make Up the Background Noise in Your Life? 136. What Sounds Annoy You? 137. What Public Behavior Annoys You Most? 138. Have You Ever Interacted With the Police? 139. What Local Problems Do You Think Your Mayor Should Try to Solve? 140. What Ideas Do You Have for Enhancing Your Community? 141. Where Do You Think You Will Live When You Are an Adult? 142. Would You Most Want to Live in a City, a Suburb or the Country?

143. Is Your Bedroom a Nightmare? 144. What is Your Favorite Place in Your House? 145. How Important Is Keeping a Clean House? 146. Do You Need to De-Clutter Your Life? 147. Do You Plan on Saving Any of Your Belongings for the Future? 148. With Your Home in Danger, What Would You Try to Save? 149. What Would You Grab in a Fire? 150. What Would You Put in Your Emergency ‘Go-Bag’? 151. Who Lived Long Ago Where You Live Now? 152. What Would Your Dream Home Be Like?

Childhood Memories

153. What Was Your Most Precious Childhood Possession? 154. What Objects Tell the Story of Your Life? 155. What Do You Collect? 156. What Were Your Favorite Childhood Shows and Characters? 157. Do You Have Childhood Memories of Being Read Aloud To? 158. What Were Your Favorite Picture Books When You Were Little? 159. What Things Did You Create When You Were a Child? 160. What Places Do You Remember Fondly From Childhood? 161. What Food or Flavor Do You Remember Tasting for the First Time? 162. What Do You Wish You Could See, Hear, Read or Experience for the First Time All Over Again? 163. Have You Ever Felt Embarrassed by Things You Used to Like? 164. Do You Wish You Could Return to Moments From Your Past? 165. Was There a Toy You Wanted as a Child but Never Got? 166. What’s the Best Gift You’ve Ever Given or Received? 167. What’s the Most Memorable Thing You Ever Got in the Mail? 168. Have You Ever Lost (or Found) Something Valuable? 169. What Nicknames Have You Ever Gotten or Given? 170. What Are Your Best Sleepover Memories? 171. What Old, Worn Out Thing Can You Just Not Part With? 172. What Is Your Most Prized Possession?

173. What Have You Learned in Your Teens? 174. What Do You Remember Best About Being 12? 175. What Personal Achievements Make You Proud? 176. What Are Some Recent Moments of Happiness in Your Life? 177. What Rites of Passage Have You Participated In? 178. What Are You Grateful For? 179. What Advice Would You Give Younger Kids About Middle or High School? 180. What Have You Learned From Older People? 181. What Can Older People Learn From Your Generation? 182. What Do Older Generations Misunderstand About Yours? 183. Do You Recognize Yourself in Descriptions of ‘Generation Z’?

184. What Ethical Dilemmas Have You Faced? 185. Have You Ever Had to Make a Sacrifice to Help Someone You Care About? 186. Have You Ever Donated Your Time, Talents, Possessions or Money to Support Anyone in Need? 187. When Is the Last Time You Did Something Nice for a Stranger? 188. Have You Ever ‘Paid It Forward’? 189. How Trustworthy Are You? 190. How Comfortable Are You With Lying? 191. When Do You Lie? 192. Have You Ever Lied to Your Parents or Done Something Behind Their Backs? 193. If You Drink or Use Drugs, Do Your Parents Know? 194. Have You Ever Taken Something You Weren’t Supposed To? 195. Do You Ever Eavesdrop? 196. How Much Do You Gossip?

Religion & Spirituality

197. What Is the Role of Religion or Spirituality in Your Life? 198. How Important Is Your Spiritual Life? 199. Do You Believe That Everything Happens for a Reason? 200. How Much Control Do You Think You Have Over Your Fate? 201. Can You Be Good Without God? 202. Are You Less Religious Than Your Parents? 203. Can You Pass a Basic Religion Test? 204. What Can You Learn From Other Religions?

Gender & Sexuality

205. How Do Male and Female Roles Differ in Your Family? 206. Do Parents Have Different Hopes and Standards for Their Sons Than for Their Daughters? 207. How Do Your Parents Share the Responsibilities of Parenting? 208. Is There Too Much Pressure on Girls to Have ‘Perfect’ Bodies? 209. How Much Pressure Do Boys Face to Have the Perfect Body? 210. How Did You Learn About Sex? 211. What Experiences Have You Had With Gender Bias in School? 212. What Have Been Your Experiences With Catcalling or Other Kinds of Street Harassment? 213. What Does it Mean to Be ‘a Real Man’? 214. Do You Consider Yourself a Feminist? 215. What Does Feminism Mean to You?

Race & Ethnicity

216. What Is Your Racial and Ethnic Identity? 217. Have You Ever Tried to Hide Your Racial or Ethnic Identity? 218. How Often Do You Interact With People of Another Race or Ethnicity? 219. Do You Ever Talk About Issues of Race and Class With Your Friends? 220. Is Your Generation Really ‘Postracial’? 221. What’s the Racial Makeup of Your School? 222. Does Your School Seem Integrated? 223. Have You Experienced Racism or Other Kinds of Discrimination in School?

Money & Social Class

224. What Are Your Attitudes Toward Money? 225. Are You a Saver or a Spender? 226. What Have Your Parents Taught You About Money? 227. Do You Expect Your Parents to Give You Money? 228. How Important a Role Has Money, Work or Social Class Played in Your Life? 229. Do You See Great Disparities of Wealth in Your Community? 230. Can Money Buy You Happiness? 231. What Are the Best Things in Life and Are They Free?

232. Are You Distracted by Technology? 233. Are You Distracted by Your Phone? 234. Are You ‘Addicted’ to Texting? 235. Do You Always Have Your Phone or Tablet at Your Side? 236. Do Screens Get in the Way of the Rest of Your Life? 237. Do You Experience FOMO When You Unplug? 238. Does Your Digital Life Have Side Effects? 239. Do You Spend Too Much Time on Smartphones Playing ‘Stupid Games’? 240. Do Apps Help You or Just Waste Your Time? 241. What Tech Tools Play the Biggest Role in Your Life? 242. What New Technologies or Tech Toys Are You Most Excited About? 243. To What Piece of Technology Would You Write a ‘Love Letter’?

The Internet

244. What’s So Great About YouTube? 245. What Has YouTube Taught You? 246. What Are Your Favorite Viral Videos? 247. What Are Your Favorite Internet Spoofs? 248. What Would You Teach the World in an Online Video? 249. Do You Ever Seek Advice on the Internet? 250. Would You Share an Embarrassing Story Online? 251. How Do You Know if What You Read Online Is True? 252. What Are Your Experiences With Internet-Based Urban Legends? 253. How Much Do You Trust Online Reviews? 254. How Do You Use Wikipedia? 255. How Careful Are You Online? 256. What Story Does Your Personal Data Tell? 257. Do You Worry About the Lack of Anonymity in the Digital Age? 258. Would You Mind if Your Parents Blogged About You? 259. Do You Wish You Had More Privacy Online? 260. Have You Ever Been Scammed? 261. Whom Would You Share Your Passwords With?

Social Media

262. How Do You Use Facebook? 263. What Is Your Facebook Persona? 264. How Real Are You on Social Media? 265. What Memorable Experiences Have You Had on Facebook? 266. Does Facebook Ever Make You Feel Bad? 267. Would You Consider Deleting Your Facebook Account? 268. Do You Have ‘Instagram Envy’? 269. Do You Use Twitter? 270. Why Do You Share Photos? 271. How Do You Archive Your Life? 272. Have You Ever Posted, Emailed or Texted Something You Wish You Could Take Back? 273. Have You Ever Sent an Odd Message Because of Auto-Correct? 274. Would You Want Your Photo or Video to Go Viral? 275. Do You Worry Colleges or Employers Might Read Your Social Media Posts Someday? 276. What Advice Do You Have for Younger Kids About Navigating Social Media?

277. What Are You Listening To? 278. What Songs Are on Your Favorite Playlist? 279. What Musicians or Bands Mean the Most to You? 280. What Music Inspires You? 281. Who in Your Life Introduces You to New Music? 282. How Much Is Your Taste in Music Based on What Your Friends Like? 283. What Role Does Hip-Hop Play in Your Life? 284. Which Pop Music Stars Fascinate You? 285. Who Is Your Favorite Pop Diva? 286. What’s Your Karaoke Song? 287. Which Artists Would You Like to See Team Up? 288. How Closely Do You Listen to Lyrics? 289. What Are Your Earliest Memories of Music?

290. What Are the Best Things You’ve Watched, Read, Heard or Played This Year? 291. What Are Your TV Habits? 292. Do Your Television Viewing Habits Include ‘Binge-Watching’? 293. What Role Does Television Play in Your Life and the Life of Your Family? 294. What Television Shows Have Mattered to You? 295. How Often Do You Watch a Television Show When It Originally Airs? 296. Have You Fallen Into ‘Friends’ or Any Other Older Television Shows? 297. What Old Television Shows Would You Bring Back? 298. Why Do We Like Reality Shows So Much? 299. What Ideas Do You Have for a Reality Show? 300. What Reality TV Show Would You Want to Be a Guest Star On? 301. What Are Your Favorite Cartoons? 302. What Are Your Favorite Commercials? 303. How Much Are You Influenced by Advertising?

Movies & Theater

304. What Are Your Favorite Movies Ever? 305. What Were the Best Movies You Saw in the Past Year? 306. What Movies Do You Watch, or Reference, Over and Over? 307. What Movies, Shows or Books Do You Wish Had Sequels, Spinoffs or New Episodes? 308. Do You Like Horror Movies? 309. What Is Your Favorite Comedy? 310. Who Are Your Favorite Movie Stars? 311. Would You Pay Extra for a 3-D Movie? 312. Where, and How, Do You Watch Movies? 313. What Are the Best Live Theatrical Performances You’ve Ever Seen? 314. Have You Ever Stumbled Upon a Cool Public Performance?

Video Games

315. What Are Your Favorite Video Games? 316. What Have You Learned Playing Video Games? 317. Do You Play Violent Video Games? 318. When Should You Feel Guilty for Killing Zombies? 319. Who Are Your Opponents in Online Gaming? 320. Do You Like Watching Other People Play Video Games? 321. How Excited Are You About the Possibilities of Virtual Reality?

Books & Reading

322. Read Any Good Books Lately? 323. What Are the Best Books You’ve Read This Year? 324. What Are Your Favorite Books and Authors? 325. What Are Your Favorite Young Adult Novels? 326. Do You Read for Pleasure? 327. What Memorable Poetry Have You Ever Read or Heard? 328. What Magazines Do You Read, and How Do You Read Them? 329. Do You Enjoy Reading Tabloid Gossip? 330. When Have You Seen Yourself and Your Life Reflected in a Book or Other Media? 331. Has a Book, Movie, Television Show, Song or Video Game Ever Inspired You to Do Something New? 332. Do You Prefer Your Children’s Book Characters Obedient or Contrary? 333. Do You Read E-Books? 334. Would You Trade Your Paper Books for Digital Versions? 335. To What Writer Would You Award a Prize?

336. Why Do You Write? 337. Are You a Good Storyteller? 338. What’s Your Favorite Joke? 339. Do You Keep a Diary or Journal? 340. Do You Have a Blog? 341. Do You Want to Write a Book? 342. When Do You Write by Hand? 343. Do You Write in Cursive? 344. Do You Write in Your Books? 345. What ‘Mundane Moments’ From Your Life Might Make Great Essay Material? 346. What Is Your Most Memorable Writing Assignment? 347. Do You Ever Write About Challenges You Face in Life?

348. What’s the Coolest Thing You’ve Ever Seen in a Museum? 349. What Are the Most Memorable Works of Visual Art You Have Seen? 350. What Are Your Favorite Works of Art? 351. How Important Is Arts Education? 352. What Has Arts Education Done For You?

Language & Speech

353. What Words Do You Hate? 354. What Words or Phrases Do You Think Are Overused? 355. How Much Slang Do You Use? What Are Your Favorite Words? 356. What Current Slang Words and Expressions Do You Think Will Endure? 357. Why Do So Many People Say ‘Like’ and ‘Totally’ All the Time? 358. Do You Say ‘Kind of, Sort of’ More Than You Realize? 359. How Much Do You Curse? 360. How Good Are You at Coming Up With Witty Comebacks? 361. When Did You Last Have a Great Conversation? 362. How Often Do You Have ‘Deep Discussions’? 363. Do You Wish Your Conversations Were Less Small Talk and More ‘Big Talk’? 364. When Do You Choose Making a Phone Call Over Sending a Text? 365. How Much Information Is ‘Too Much Information’? 366. Do You Sometimes ‘Hide’ Behind Irony? 367. How Good Is Your Grammar? 368. Do You Speak a Second, or Third, Language? 369. When Do You Remember Learning a New Word? 370. What Does Your Body Language Communicate?

371. Do You Like School? 372. Are You Stressed About School? 373. Are High School Students Being Worked Too Hard? 374. What Are You Really Learning at School? 375. What Are You Looking Forward To, or Dreading, This School Year? 376. Would You Want to Be Home-Schooled? 377. Would You Like to Take a Class Online? 378. Would You Rather Attend a Public or a Private High School? 379. How Much Does It Matter to You Which High School You Attend? 380. How Would You Grade Your School? 381. What Can Other Schools Learn — and Copy — From Your School? 382. What Would You Miss if You Left Your School? 383. Is Your School Day Too Short? 384. What Do You Hope to Get Out of High School?

Learning & Studying

385. Do You Have Too Much Homework? 386. Does Your Homework Help You Learn? 387. Do You Participate in Class? 388. What Is Your Best Subject? 389. What’s the Most Challenging Assignment You’ve Ever Had? 390. What Memorable Experiences Have You Had in Learning Science or Math? 391. Are You Afraid of Math? 392. Do We Need a Better Way to Teach Math? 393. What Are the Best Ways to Learn About History? 394. How Would You Do on a Civics Test? 395. Does Your School Offer Enough Opportunities to Learn Computer Programming? 396. Does Your School Value Students’ Digital Skills? 397. Do You Know How to Code? Would You Like to Learn? 398. What Career or Technical Classes Do You Wish Your School Offered? 399. What Was Your Favorite Field Trip? 400. What Are Your Best Tips for Studying? 401. Do You Use Study Guides? 402. Is Everything You’ve Been Taught About Study Habits Wrong? 403. What Would You Like to Have Memorized? 404. How Well Do You Think Standardized Tests Measure Your Abilities? 405. Do Your Test Scores Reflect How Good Your Teachers Are?

406. What Do You Wish Your Teachers Knew About You? 407. When Has a Teacher Inspired You? 408. What Teacher Would You Like to Thank? 409. What Makes a Good Teacher? 410. Have You Ever Been Humiliated by a Teacher? How Did it Affect You? 411. Have Your Teachers or Textbooks Ever Gotten It Wrong? 412. Do Your Teachers Use Technology Well? 413. Do You Have a Tutor?

School Life

414. How Do You Feel About Proms? 415. Do You Want to Be ‘Promposed’ To? 416. Is Prom Worth It? 417. What Role Do School Clubs and Teams Play in Your Life? 418. How Big a Problem Is Bullying or Cyberbullying in Your School or Community? 419. Would You Ever Go Through Hazing to Be Part of a Group? 420. Is Your School a ‘Party School’? 421. Have You Been To Parties That Have Gotten Out of Control? 422. How Common Is Drug Use in Your School? 423. Can Students at Your School Talk Openly About Their Mental Health Issues? 424. How Does Your School Deal With Students Who Misbehave? 425. Do You Know People Who Cheat on High-Stakes Tests? 426. How Much Does Your Life in School Intersect With Your Life Outside School? 427. Do You Ever ‘Mix It Up’ and Socialize With Different People at School? 428. What Fads Are You and Your Friends Into Right Now?

429. Where Do You Want to Go to College? 430. What Are Your Sources for Information About Colleges and Universities? 431. What Role Has Community College Played in Your Life or the Life of Someone You Know? 432. Is College Overrated? 433. How Much Do You Worry About Taking the SAT or ACT? 434. What Personal Essay Topic Would You Assign to College Applicants? 435. What Qualities Would You Look For in a College Roommate? 436. Would You Want to Take a Gap Year After High School? 437. What Makes a Graduation Ceremony Memorable?

Work & Careers

438. What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up? 439. Do You Have a Life Calling? 440. What’s Your Dream Job? 441. What Are Your Longtime Interests or Passions? 442. Do You Think You Will Have a Career That You Love? 443. What Do You Want More From a Career: Happiness or Wealth? 444. What Investment Are You Willing to Make to Get Your Dream Job? 445. Would You Consider a Nontraditional Occupation? 446. Would You Rather Work From Home or in an Office? 447. Would You Want to Be a Teacher? 448. What Hidden Talents Might You Have? 449. What ‘Back-to-the-Land’ Skills Do You Have, or Wish You Had? 450. What Skill Could You Teach in Two Minutes? 451. What Have You Made Yourself? 452. Do You Have an Idea for a Business or App? 453. What Would You Create if You Had Funding? 454. How Did You Start Doing Something You Love? 455. Did You Ever Take a Break From Doing Something You Love? 456. What Have You Done to Earn Money? 457. Do You Have a Job? 458. Would You Quit if Your Values Did Not Match Your Employer’s? 459. What Do You Hope to Be Doing the Year After You Graduate From College? 460. Where Do You See Yourself in 10 Years?

461. Do You Have a Best Friend? 462. How Often Do You Spend One-on-One Time With Your Closest Friends? 463. How Do You Feel About Introducing Friends from Different Parts of Your Life? 464. Do You Find It Easier to Make New Friends Online or In Person? 465. How Good a Friend Are You? 466. How Have You Helped a Friend in a Time of Need? 467. Do You Like Your Friends? 468. Is Competitiveness an Obstacle to Making or Keeping Friendships? 469. How Should You Handle the End of a Friendship? 470. Have You Ever Felt Left Out?

471. Have You Ever Been in Love? 472. What Are the Most Meaningful Relationships in Your Life? 473. What Advice Would You Give to Somebody Who Just Started Dating? 474. Are You Allowed to Date? 475. Is Dating a Thing of the Past? 476. Is Hookup Culture Leaving Your Generation Unhappy and Unprepared for Love? 477. What Are the Basic ‘Rules’ for Handling Breakups? 478. What’s the Best Way to Get Over a Breakup? 479. What Are Your Beliefs About Marriage?

Sports & Games

480. What’s the Most Impressive Sports Moment You’ve Seen? 481. Who Are Your Sports Heroes? 482. What Sports Teams Do You Root For? 483. Does Being a Fan Help Define Who You Are? 484. How Far Would You Go to Express Loyalty to Your Favorite Teams? 485. Are You a Fair-Weather Fan? 486. When Has a Sports Team Most Disappointed You? 487. Do You Watch the Super Bowl? 488. What Fan Memorabilia Would You Pay Big Bucks For? 489. What Extreme Sports Interest You Most? 490. Why Do You Play Sports? 491. What Rules Would You Like to See Changed in Your Favorite Sports? 492. Do You Enjoy Playing Games or Solving Puzzles? 493. What Are Your Favorite Board Games? 494. What Are Your Favorite Games? 495. What Game Would You Like to Redesign?

496. Where in the World Would You Most Like to Travel? 497. What Is Your Fantasy Vacation? 498. What Would Your Fantasy Road Trip Be Like? 499. What Crazy Adventure Would You Want to Take? 500. What Local ‘Microadventures’ Would You Like to Go On? 501. What’s Your Perfect Family Vacation? 502. How Has Travel Affected You? 503. What Kind of Tourist Are You? 504. What Are the Best Souvenirs You’ve Ever Collected While Traveling? 505. What Famous Landmarks Have You Visited? 506. What’s the Coolest Thing You’ve Ever Seen in Nature? 507. How Much Do You Know About the Rest of the World? 508. Would You Like to Live in Another Country? 509. Would You Want to Be a Space Tourist? 510. If You Could Time-Travel, Where Would You Go?

Looks & Fashion

511. What Is Your All-Time Favorite Piece of Clothing? 512. Do You Have a Signature Clothing Item? 513. What’s Your Favorite T-Shirt? 514. Do You Care What You Wear? 515. Does What You Wear Say Anything About You as a Person? 516. What Does Your Hairstyle Say About You? 517. What’s on Your Fashion Shopping List? 518. How Far Would You Go for Fashion? 519. What Are the Hot Fashion Trends at Your School Right Now? 520. What Current Trends Annoy You? 521. Would You Ever Consider Getting a Tattoo? 522. What Are Your Opinions on Cosmetic Surgery? 523. Do Photoshopped Images Make You Feel Bad About Your Own Looks? 524. Have You Inherited Your Parents’ Attitudes Toward Their Looks? 525. Has Anyone Ever Said That You Look Like Someone Famous?

Exercise, Health & Sleep

526. Do You Like to Exercise? 527. Do You Get Enough Exercise? 528. How Has Exercise Changed Your Health, Your Body or Your Life? 529. How Much Do You Think About Your Weight? 530. How Often Do You Engage in ‘Fat Talk’? 531. Do You Pay Attention to Calorie Counts for Food? 532. Do You Pay Attention to Nutrition Labels on Food? 533. How Concerned Are You About Where Your Food Comes From? 534. Are Your Eating Habits Healthy? 535. Do You Eat Too Quickly? 536. What Are Your ‘Food Rules’? 537. What Are Your Healthy Habits? 538. What Health Tips Have Worked for You? 539. What Rules Do You Have for Staying Healthy? 540. How Careful Are You in the Sun? 541. What Are Your Sleep Habits? 542. How Much of a Priority Do You Make Sleep? 543. Do You Get Enough Sleep?

Meals & Food

544. What Are the Most Memorable Meals You’ve Ever Had? 545. What’s Your Favorite Holiday Food Memory? 546. What’s Your Comfort Food? 547. What Are Your Favorite Junk Foods? 548. What’s Your Favorite Candy? 549. What’s Your Favorite Sandwich? 550. Do You Prefer Your Tacos ‘Authentic’ or ‘Appropriated’? 551. What Food Would You Like to Judge in a Taste-Off? 552. Do You Cook? 553. What Would You Most Like to Learn to Cook or Bake? 554. What Messages About Food and Eating Have You Learned From Your Family? 555. How Often Does Your Family Eat Together? 556. What Are Your Favorite Restaurants? 557. What Restaurant Would You Most Like to Review? 558. What Do You Eat During the School Day? 559. Do You Eat Cafeteria Food? 560. Is School Lunch Really All That Bad?

Holidays & Seasons

561. How Do You Celebrate Your Birthday? 562. Will You Be Wearing a Halloween Costume This Year? 563. Do You Like Scary Movies and Books? 564. Do You Believe in Ghosts? 565. What Are Your Thanksgiving Traditions? 566. What Do You Look Forward to Most – and Least – During the Holiday Season? 567. What Are Your Tips for Enjoying the Holiday Season? 568. How Will You Spend the Holiday Break? 569. What Does Santa Claus Mean to You? 570. Do You Look Forward to New Year’s Eve? 571. Do You Make New Year’s Resolutions? 572. How Do You Fight the Winter Blues? 573. What Would You Do on a Snow Day? 574. What Are Your Experiences With Severe Weather? 575. How Do You Feel About Valentine’s Day? 576. How Do You Celebrate Spring? 577. What Would Your Fantasy Spring Break Be Like? 578. What Are You Looking Forward to This Summer? 579. What Would Your Ideal Summer Camp Be Like? 580. What Are Your Favorite Summer Hangouts? 581. What’s Your Favorite Summer Food? 582. What Is Your Favorite Summer Movie? 583. What’s on Your Summer Reading List? 584. Do You Have a Summer Job? 585. Do You Choose Summer Activities to Look Good on Applications? 586. What Are the Best Things You Did This Summer? 587. How Do You Prepare to Go Back to School? 588. How Can People Make the Most of Long Holiday Weekends? 589. What’s Your Sunday Routine?

590. What’s Your Favorite Store? 591. To What Company Would You Write a Letter of Complaint or Admiration? 592. To What Business Would You Like to Give Advice? 593. Do You Ever Hang Out at the Mall? 594. How Would You Make Over Your Mall? 595. Do You Shop at Locally Owned Businesses? 596. What Are the Best Things You’ve Acquired Secondhand?

Cars & Driving

597. How Important Is It to Have a Driver’s License? 598. Are You a Good Driver? 599. Do You Have a Dream Car? 600. Would You Like to Ride in a Car That Drives Itself?

Animals & Pets

601. What Are the Animals in Your Life? 602. What’s Your Relationship Like With Your Pet? 603. How Well Do You Know Your Pet? 604. What Are Your Thoughts on Cats? 605. Would You Want to Hang Out at a Cat Cafe? 606. Why Do We Love Watching Animal Videos So Much? 607. What Are Your Most Memorable Stories About Wildlife? 608. How Do You Feel About Zoos?

Environmental Issues

609. How Green Are You? 610. How Do You Try to Reduce Your Impact on the Environment? 611. Do You Ever Feel Guilty About What, or How Much, You Throw Away? 612. How Much Food Does Your Family Waste? 613. What Could You Live Without? 614. How Do You Celebrate Earth Day?

Politics & Beliefs

615. How Would You Like to Help Our World? 616. What Cause Would Get You Into the Streets? 617. Have Your Ever Taken Part in a Protest? 618. What Would You Risk Your Life For? 619. When Have You Spoken Out About Something You Felt Had to Change? 620. What Would You Invent to Make the World a Better Place? 621. Given Unlimited Resources, What Scientific or Medical Problem Would You Investigate? 622. What Organizations Do You Think People Should Give to This Holiday Season? 623. Do You Trust Your Government? 624. When You Are Old Enough to Vote, Will You? 625. Do You Consider Yourself a Republican, Democrat or Independent?

History & Current Events

626. What Event in the Past Do You Wish You Could Have Witnessed? 627. What Are the Most Important Changes, in Your Life and in the World, in the Last Decade? 628. What National or International Events That You Lived Through Do You Remember Best? 629. Why Should We Care About Events in Other Parts of the World? 630. What News Stories Are You Following? 631. How Do You Get Your News? 632. Is Your Online World Just a ‘Filter Bubble’ of People With the Same Opinions? 633. Do Your Friends on Social Media All Have the Same Political Opinions You Do?

634. What Would You Do if You Won the Lottery? 635. What Superpower Do You Wish You Had? 636. What Era Do You Wish You Had Lived In? 637. Would You Want to Be a Tween or Teen Star? 638. Would You Want to Be a Child Prodigy? 639. Would You Want to Grow Up in the Public Eye? 640. What Kind of Robot Would You Want? 641. What Would You Outsource if You Could? 642. What Would You Like to Learn on Your Own? 643. What Would You Be Willing to Wait in a Really Long Line For? 644. If You Were a Super Rich Philanthropist, What Causes Would You Support? 645. What Would You Do if You Were President? 646. What Famous Person Would You Like to Visit Your School? 647. Who Would Be the Ideal Celebrity Neighbor? 648. What Do You Want to Be Doing When You’re 80? 649. Do You Want to Live to 100? 650. What Do You Want Your Obituary to Say?

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Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning

Developing writing prompts.

A writing prompt introduces and focuses the writing topic. The purposes of a writing prompt are to encourage the student’s interest in a topic and encourage them to write about it in a thoughtful and creative way. While an effective prompt introduces and limits the writing topic, it should also provide clear instructions about the writing task.

An effective writing prompt includes two basic components;

  • A situation: The situation presents the general topic students are to write about. It is intended to spark the students interest and be consistent with their experience; and
  • Directions: The directions, describing the task students must complete, should be stated in a way that encourages students to share their knowledge and experience or inspires their thought and creativity.

When developing a writing prompt, the instructor should consider:

  • Essay type : The type of essay can influence the type and content of the prompt. When writing a prompt, first determine which type of essay the students will be writing. Common essay types include: argument, descriptive, expository (also known as evaluative, reflective, or analytic), narrative, opinion, and persuasive.
  • Prompt construction: One useful approach to prompt writing is to break it into three parts. The first part introduces the topic to the students; the second part encourages students to think about the topic, possibly with a pre-writing activity in which students brainstorm for ideas; the final part describes the writing task
  • Brevity: Writing prompt should be short and focused to avoid confusing students, but the instructor must ensure they provide sufficient information in order for students to clearly understand the assigned writing task.
  • Repetition: The parts of the prompt may be repetitive. Using parallel wording helps students remain focused on the specific writing task.
  • Bias and sensitivity: Topics should be inclusive of and equitable to all of your students. Prompts should be written in a manner that all students will have knowledge and experience to understand them regardless of cultural and other factors. Prompts should avoid cultural, ethnic, gender, or other stereotyping.

Writing prompt construction:

  • Part 1. Introduce the topic or writing situation with a statement or generalization to orient the student to the topic.
  • Part 2. Encourage students to brainstorm and to make a personal connection with the topic. The instructor might include specific ideas promote ideas.
  • Part 3. Describe the writing task, purpose, and audience. The instructor should provide sufficient information for the students to fully understand their task.

Before writing your prompt, be sure to determine the purpose of the assignment, how the assignment aligns with the learning objectives, and the criteria evaluate the writing, and, finally, which type of prompt will achieve those goals best. Writing prompts can be:

  • Descriptive: Asks students to create or describe an image or experience;
  • Narrative: Describes a real or fictitious scenario and invites students to tell a story about it;
  • Expository: Asks students to provide information about a topic. or
  • Persuasive:. Presents an opinion or viewpoint, requiring students to take a stance and defend it.

Descriptive Prompts

Descriptive prompts often contain cue terms, such as “describe in detail”, “describe how something looked/felt/smelled/tasted”, to help the reader to experience the same thing. This is in contrast to an expository prompt which would ask the student explain or tell “why”. Example descriptive prompt

Many people have a favorite childhood toy. Sometimes these favorite childhood toys are not even expensive but were giving to you by someone special or as a reward.. Think about your favorite toy. It could be a stuffed animal or doll. It could even be the toy you made out of an everyday object, such as a blanket. Think about this favorite childhood toy, memories created with this toy, what it looked like, how it felt to have it with you. Write an essay that will be posted in your e-portfolio in which you describe your favorite childhood toy. Make sure you provide enough details so your readers can see it and feel what it is like to be there.

Narrative Prompts

Narrative writing recounts a personal or fictional experience or tells a story based on real or imagined events. Narrative writing is often characterized by insight, creativity, drama, suspense, humor, and/or fantasy. Narrative prompts use cue terms such as “tell about…”, “tell what happened”, or “write a story.” Similar to descriptive prompts, narrative prompts should avoid asking the students to explain “why.”

Example Narrative Prompt

Vacations can create some wonderful and not-so-wonderful memories. Sometimes vacations turn out to be funny, strange, scary, or weird. Think about a vacation with your family or friends that either became a favorite memory because it was the best, strangest, funniest, or worst vacation. Think about what you did, what else was happening at the time, where you were, who was involved, and the time of day or year it happened.

Write a story about the best, strangest, funniest, or worst vacation. Make sure you include enough details so the instructor can understand and follow your story.

Expository Prompts

Expository writing informs, clarifies, explains, defines, and/or instructs. Problem and solution, cause and effect, and how-to essays are subtypes of expository writing. Expository writing is guided by a purpose and with a specific audience in mind, therefore the voice and essay organization must align with the subject and audience. Expository prompts use the cue words: why, how, what, and explain.

Example Expository Prompt

Some animals have evolved to live and thrive under extreme climate conditions or to eat a very specific diet. Think about an animal that has evolved to live under extreme climate conditions or to eat a very specific diet. Think about where this animal lives, what the climate conditions are like, the types of food it eats, and how it gets its food. Think about the possible advantage and disadvantages for the animal of living in this habitat or eating this diet. Write an essay for your e-portfolio that identifies the animal and its unique habitat or diet and explains (with specific details to support your explanation) why it is an advantage for the animal to have evolved this way.

Persuasive Prompts

Persuasive writing is intended to convince the reader that a point of view is valid or to take a specific action. Persuasive writing should address the strengths and weakness of both sides of an issue but ultimately support one perspective. Persuasive prompts use the cue words “convince”, “persuade”, and “why,” rather than using terms like “how.”

Example Persuasive Prompt

Some parents are concerned about administering vaccines to their infants and children because they believe vaccines can lead to autism. Your sister who is currently pregnant is considering not vaccinating her child. Think about whether you agree or disagree with her plan to not vaccinate her child. Think about the advantages and disadvantages of vaccinating a child and what the scientific literature says. Write a letter to your pregnant sister in which you state your opinion on the decision to not vaccinate. Include enough specific details to support your opinion and to convince your sister that your position on the issue is correct.

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The Historic Trump Court Cases That We Cannot See

By Neal Katyal

A photo of Donald Trump pictured on the screen of a video camera.

Over the past month, in two courtrooms some two hundred and fifty miles apart, the government was hearing arguments in two of the most consequential court cases in American history. In New York, at the Manhattan Criminal Courthouse, a judge was presiding over the first criminal trial of a former U.S. President. Meanwhile, in Washington D.C., at the United States Supreme Court, the nine Justices were mulling over a grave question of constitutional law—whether a former President is immune from criminal prosecution.

The two courtrooms could hardly be more different, with the polished white marble of the U.S. Supreme Court contrasting with the more ramshackle wooden court furnishings in Manhattan. And yet both rooms are similarly opaque, with most Americans unable to see what’s happening inside of either one. Cameras are prohibited, and so the only way to observe the proceedings is to wait in line outside, in hopes of snagging one of the few seats reserved for members of the public. (The Supreme Court saves room for fifty public spectators; the Manhattan Criminal Courthouse has been able to accommodate around ten.) This is despite the fact that the American people pay for these courtrooms with their tax dollars, and the fact that prosecutions are brought in their name. The New York case is called the People v. Donald J. Trump.

Like grownups who abstain from tequila because of a bad experience with it in high school, the bans on cameras are the lingering effects of some early issues with courtroom photography. In 1935, Bruno Hauptmann was put on trial in New Jersey for kidnapping and murdering the nearly two-year-old son of the aviator Charles Lindbergh. At that trial, cameras were allowed under certain conditions: they could film during trial recesses but not while witnesses were testifying. And yet camera footage of the trial testimony leaked, and Hauptmann’s trial became a media circus. This defiance of court restrictions, paired with the bright flashes in the courtroom and the general mayhem caused by the cameramen, ultimately led the trial judge to ban photography for the rest of the proceedings. Many states followed suit.

Once television became ubiquitous, in the nineteen-fifties, the prohibitions on cameras began to seem antiquated. Some states rolled back their anti-camera legislation, and, today, most permit some form of audiovisual coverage in court, whether it be still photography during testimony, audio recordings, or live broadcasts on television. Federal appellate courts, too, permit live broadcasts, as does the International Criminal Court. But not so New York. In 1952, the state adopted a statute still in place today, banning all cameras in the courtroom—a law so broad that one court-reform organization, the Fund for Modern Courts, has called it “an extreme outlier among the states.” The U.S. Supreme Court, for its part, prohibits cameras but makes live audio of oral arguments available. That puts the Court in better audiovisual stead than New York, and yet there’s a lot that happens in court that cannot be captured by either audio or transcript.

As a member of the Supreme Court bar, I was able to sit at the front of the courtroom for the arguments in Trump v. United States, the Presidential-immunity case. I could see Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s face twist into an expression of utter incredulity as Trump’s lawyer D. John Sauer claimed that a President sending a Navy SEAL team to assassinate a political rival was not an indictable crime. I was able to watch Michael Dreeben, the lawyer for the special counsel Jack Smith, painstakingly describe the counts in one of the federal indictments against Trump, relating to his abuse of the Justice Department. Dreeben outlined how Trump tried to pressure top Justice Department officials into sending letters to state legislatures expressing doubt about the election counts, and how Trump threatened to fire those officials if they didn’t comply. After Dreeben relayed this information, almost two hours into the proceedings, I could see the Court dynamics shift. The Justices began to listen far more closely to him, sitting up in their chairs.

I’ve personally seen more than four hundred oral arguments at the Supreme Court. Why bother trudging all the way to One First Street when I could just listen to audio recordings or read a transcript? Because neither is any sort of substitute for watching the way in which these arguments are delivered, and for observing the dynamics on display in the courtroom. The Court itself isn’t satisfied with just reading a bunch of written words in briefs; it insists on seeing advocates deliver their arguments in person. More than fifty Americans should get that same basic opportunity.

The judiciary is the least democratic of the three branches of the government. Supreme Court Justices, who have lifetime tenure, are appointed, not elected. And so they are required to justify their decisions in ways that elected officials are not. President Joe Biden can sign an executive order without explaining his reasoning behind it. (It might cause a P.R. crisis, but it’s certainly within his power to do this.) By contrast, when the Justices overturn a longtime legal precedent, or when they create a new one, whether major or minor, they must issue written opinions explaining their decision-making process. This process might be as significant as the opinion itself. Oral arguments are, undoubtedly, a major part of that process, and yet most Americans are barely even aware that oral arguments are happening—let alone what arguments are being made—creating a situation in which the public receives a pile of controversial opinions, every June, with little context. One can imagine that if oral arguments were televised, Americans might spend the year doing what the Justices do: thinking through a bunch of complicated, nuanced questions before ultimately reaching their own conclusions.

The Court today is relying far too much on the idea that Americans are going to seek out audio feeds of oral arguments. This is unrealistic in an age of TV and Instagram. It’s not 1936, and Americans aren’t huddled around a radio in the family room. Without the visual component, it is unlikely that they are going to pay attention to the arguments in a Supreme Court case, even if the decision that’s eventually rendered may directly affect their lives. It would serve the Court well for Americans to be confronted with the same questions that are raised during oral arguments. It would also serve Americans well to see how the Court, which is increasingly seen as a politically motivated entity, is genuinely grappling with questions about governance, such as how to draw the line between an official Presidential act (like appointing a Cabinet member), and a private one (like taking a bribe from said Cabinet member).

The public is missing even more when it comes to Trump’s criminal trial in Manhattan, which, ironically, is all about whether Trump committed crimes in his efforts to keep information from the American people, in the run-up to the 2016 Presidential election. Last week, the adult-film actor Stormy Daniels went on the stand and told the full story of her relationship with Trump, from their initial sexual encounter, in 2006, to the hush-money agreement that she negotiated with Trump and his former lawyer Michael Cohen some ten years later. We were unable to watch her tell it, or to watch how she handled being cross-examined, in the same way that we were unable to watch Hope Hicks, a witness called by the government, tearfully testify about her old boss, or the former tabloid C.E.O. David Pecker speak to the dozens of stories that the National Enquirer has killed about Trump and other politicians over the years. We can read quotes published online, but it is much harder, from behind our computer screens, to read between the lines. Did Hope Hicks start crying because she felt bad about turning on Trump, or because she was overwhelmed by the trial, or because of something else? Different reporters have had different takes, but we’ve been denied the opportunity to watch her testimony and decide for ourselves. And, of course, we’ve been unable to observe the behavior of the defendant, Donald Trump: how he comports himself in the room, how he reacts to the testimony of witnesses, how he carries himself, and so much more. (Just imagine how different the O. J. Simpson “gloves don’t fit” testimony would have been, had it been reduced to a transcript—or even a highly descriptive newspaper article.) Journalists have done their best to describe what’s happening in the room, and yet even the most faithful retellings can be subjective, skewed by something as simple as where the writer was sitting in the courtroom, and what kind of view they may have had. Some reports, for example, say that Trump keeps falling asleep during the trial; others disagree.

On Monday, Cohen is on the stand—more important testimony that we will not see. There’s also a chance, albeit a small one, that Trump himself will eventually testify in the New York trial. If he does, the American people will not be able to witness some of the most significant trial testimony given in our lifetimes. And if he does not testify, cameras would be the only way for us to see Trump’s true reaction to the case being presented against him. Instead, the lack of cameras has catalyzed a lopsided spin cycle outside the courtroom. Trump leaves the courtroom each day, where the reporters waiting outside for him do have cameras, and he characterizes the proceedings in a gravely slanted way, which then gets broadcast on cable news. The lawyers for the prosecution cannot publicly grandstand like this; rules of prosecutorial ethics require them to make their arguments inside the courtroom, not outside of it. The result is a structural asymmetry, which isn’t just confined to the two sides of the court case. The characters appearing on the witness stand, from Daniels to Cohen, are all subject to innuendo and character attacks, with the public unable to fact-check how these individuals are portrayed by the media. The same goes for the Supreme Court. Don’t believe what I said about Justice Barrett’s facial expression during oral arguments? Tough luck, you can’t go back and check the video, because there isn’t one.

Even if one accepts these rules for a normal trial, you’d think that there’d be an exception for ones that are so clearly in the public interest. Trump is not just a former President but a candidate for President, and twenty-four per cent of Republicans say they would not vote for him if he were convicted of a felony by a jury. The immunity case, too, is of grave concern to the public, as the Justices are essentially deciding whether Trump’s other trials should move forward. The risk is of a double darkness—that a Supreme Court the American public cannot see will render a decision preventing Americans from even hearing the rest of evidence against Trump, by stopping his trials from taking place altogether.

What possible rationale can there be for having a courtroom placed out of view of the people who paid for it? To be sure, confidentiality is sometimes required, from the Constitutional Convention of 1787 to the modern-day jury room. But courtroom proceedings are, by their nature, meant to be transparent, centered on a fact-gathering and argumentation process. Expecting cameras in the courtroom is not unlike expecting body cameras to be worn by police officers, who, like judges, are sworn to uphold the rule of law.

Some fear that courtroom cameras will prompt witnesses to be intimidated and scared. I understand this concern; indeed, I once shared it. From 2020 to 2023, I was privileged to serve as special prosecutor in one of the most high-profile trials in modern history, the trial of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd . Up until this case, Minnesota had never televised a criminal trial. As prosecutors in the case, and in accordance with Minnesota law and practice, we requested that cameras be forbidden. We feared, in particular, for the safety and comfort of a seventeen-year-old witness, who had taken the video of Floyd’s murder.

The judge, fortunately, overruled us. Americans were able to see, with their own eyes, what happened in that courtroom. They could see the evidence that both sides were able to muster, examine Chauvin’s demeanor in court, and assess the credibility of the on-the-scene witnesses and medical experts. The result was public confidence in the outcome of the trial. When Chauvin was ultimately convicted, there were no mass riots or protests, despite speculation beforehand that either outcome would result in unrest. The trial underscored the importance of courtroom cameras, just as the initial video of Floyd’s murder, recorded by that young witness, was critical in drawing public attention to the incident in the first place.

There have been concerns, too, that televised legal proceedings create perverse incentives for lawyers and judges, who may be tempted to play for the public, and distort the truth-seeking function of the court. That is a possibility, although the democratic benefits strongly outweigh that risk, just as they do for Congress (televised) and the President (extensively televised). And the reverse is more likely, as courtroom participants are incentivized to act with greater care when their actions will be viewable by millions. In 2017, I argued against President Trump’s Muslim ban in the federal appeals court in Seattle, and the oral argument was covered on live television. If anything, the cameras induced us attorneys to be even more conscious of keeping the proceedings solemn. Ultimately, cameras would allow Americans to see what I get to see when I am in court: a bunch of judges who are trying their hardest to resolve difficult cases in a straightforward and honest way. Judge Juan Merchan, who is presiding over Trump’s criminal trial in Manhattan, is a perfect example. Those in the courtroom describe an even-keeled and balanced judge, but Trump goes out every day blasting him as a biased accomplice of President Biden. Televised proceedings would empower Americans to make these judgments for themselves.

The mechanism to fix all of this is not difficult to implement. Changing the rules in New York would likely require the state legislature to lift its ban on cameras, although it is conceivable that a court may try to do so on its own, as Minnesota did in the Chauvin case. Televising Supreme Court arguments would not even require legislation; it could be done by mere Court rule. And, should the Court not act, legislation has been introduced by Senators Chuck Grassley and Dick Durbin to force them to do so. The bill, known as the Cameras in the Courtroom Act, would require the Supreme Court to permit television coverage of oral arguments and other open sessions. It’s accompanied by another bill, the Sunshine in the Courtroom Act, which extends to all open federal court proceedings. Both bills are pieces of bipartisan legislation; Grassley and Durbin don’t agree on much, but they agree on this. Even the Justices themselves have, in other contexts, recognized the importance of governmental transparency in a democracy. The person who famously said that sunlight is the best disinfectant was none other than Justice Louis Brandeis. ♦

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The Historic Court Cases That We Cannot See

By Jeannie Suk Gersen

King Donald’s Day at the Supreme Court

By Susan B. Glasser

What Is Hope Hicks Crying About?

By Eric Lach

The Art of Survival

In living with cancer, Suleika Jaouad has learned to wrench meaning from our short time on Earth.

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T he first time I met Suleika Jaouad, I fell in love with her a little. This, I would soon learn, is a fairly common reaction to Suleika: Everyone who meets her falls in love with her a little. It was 2015, and Suleika was just 26 years old—buoyant, finally off maintenance chemo, and radiant on account of it, her thick brown hair arranged in a boop-a-doop pixie cut. We were attending the same conference, and her boyfriend, a young New Orleans musician named Jon Batiste, was there too. The couple had an irresistible backstory: They first met at band camp as teenagers (she in Birkenstocks, he with a mouthful of train-track orthodonture), and then reconnected romantically as adults. They made for a captivating pair, though the weather systems surrounding them couldn’t have been more different: She was enveloping and collected people; he was shy and abstracted, as if involved in a long, vigorous conversation with himself.

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At some point, I was told that Jon was going to be the new bandleader on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert . I remember thinking, Cool , but not much more, having no idea what kind of genius he was. Yet one knew from just looking at them that Jon and Suleika were destined for an unusual life. They were sophisticated and great-looking, ambitious and disciplined, adoring and mutually invested in each other’s success. Suleika had written a column for The New York Times called “ Life, Interrupted ” about the brutal challenges of living with acute myeloid leukemia, had beaten the disease, and was now doing advocacy work and writing a memoir. Jon would soon be appearing nightly on our television sets and continuing to make music of his own.

They are married now. He’s the more famous of the two, with an Academy Award, a Golden Globe, and five Grammys; he’s also the focus of the documentary American Symphony , which earned him a 2024 Oscar nomination for Best Original Song. (Additionally, Jon is The Atlantic ’s first music director .)

But Suleika has her own passionate following. I recently told a friend that I was writing about her, and she started burbling with envy, saying how much she loved The Isolation Journals , Suleika’s Substack newsletter; how much she loved her memoir, Between Two Kingdoms ; how certain she was that the two of them would be fast friends if only they could meet in real life. I didn’t have the heart to say: Well, yes, I’m sure that’s true, you guys probably would be friends, but I’m also fairly certain that her hundreds of thousands of readers and quarter-million-plus Instagram followers feel the exact same way.

Suleika Jaouad: I survived cancer, and then I needed to remember how to live

That’s the thing about Suleika: She’s like O-negative blood, compatible with any type. The awful irony is that almost no one’s lifeblood is compatible with Suleika’s, at least not in the most meaningful sense. Because Suleika had not, in fact, left her cancer behind her. In 2021, she spun out of remission, requiring a second bone-marrow transplant. But her only compatible donor was her brother, Adam, and it was his bone marrow that her cancer cells had managed to outfox in the first place. That means she’ll very likely need a third transplant in the years ahead, ideally from someone else. But there is no one else. Yet.

When Suleika was first diagnosed, in 2011, her doctors put her odds of survival at 35 percent. I asked her in October what her odds are now. “Less than that,” she said slowly, though she added that her prognosis could change if the science does, or if a new suitable donor materializes.

Suleika likes to say that “survival is a creative act,” which has a slightly peculiar ring to it, at once too tidy and too obscure. But what she means, really, is: Living with the implicit or explicit threat of cancer for your entire adulthood forces you to strain the limits of your imagination to find life’s fulfillments. She has surrounded herself with loyal, loving friends. She has made her environments warm and stylish. (Her Brooklyn brownstone was recently featured in Architectural Digest .) But most important, she has made a daily practice of converting pain into art. (She’s fond of quoting the poet Louise Glück: “Writing is a kind of revenge against circumstance.”) Between Two Kingdoms spent 22 weeks as a New York Times best seller. This summer, she will have her first art exhibition, inspired by the watercolors she did in the hospital during her second transplant. She has a contract for two more books, one a compendium of writing prompts and meditations on journaling, the other a collection of her paintings and essays.

The self-help aisles are heaving with advice about how to be happy. But it’s one thing to read such guidance; it’s another to actually live it . Yet at 35, Suleika is sharing with her readers how she’s trying to do the hardest thing, even if it’s the most basic thing: wrench meaning from our short time here.

A brief confession before we go any further. I had a meta-motive for wanting to sit down with Suleika: When our interviews began, I was on month 16 of long COVID. There’d be days when I was too dizzy to sit, let alone stand, and my head would judder and vibrate like a lawn mower if I started to walk. Suleika was the one person I knew I could interview while lying down.

I was all too aware that there was an existential gap in our suffering, but I still wondered if, from observing her, I’d learn something about how to cope, just as thousands of other physically and spiritually broken people had. She’d figured out how to stop resisting her illness, spending many productive hours from bed, hadn’t she? Whereas I was still in an iron mode of resistance, braying at the gods.

photo of woman with shaved head lying in hospital bed painting on easel with watercolors and hospital equipment on wall behind

It’s easy to miss Jon and Suleika’s home in the Delaware River Valley. It is also easy, once you find it, to mistakenly believe that it is inhabited by hobbits. They live in a compact, cheery farmhouse, the walkway lined with solar-powered lanterns, the grounds checkered with wild shrubs and pyramids of gourds. This is where the couple retreated during the pandemic, and it is where I went the first night I had dinner with Jon and Suleika, along with four of their friends. The atmosphere at the table was relaxed and festive, and everyone was almost unnaturally attractive, like castoffs from a rom-com that never went into production. After dinner, Jon took a seat at the piano in the living room, and one of his friends, the saxophonist and mathematician Marcus Miller, joined him. Their improvising was exactly as great as you’d imagine. Crazier still? Everyone acted like it was no big deal. To me, it was a penthouse scene in a Noël Coward play; to them, it was a Monday.

The next morning, I opened my phone to reexperience my favorite moment of the evening. We are all still eating dinner. Jon has called up a song on his phone from the gospel artist JJ Hairston’s Not Holding Back , one of two featuring Pastor David Wilford. Jon is not just luxuriating in it; he’s doing that thing , that Aeolian-harp thing, where he lets the music ripple through him, practically becoming it. He’s involved in some dialogue with Marcus about it too, one that’s primarily gestural, marveling at all the choices Hairston and Wilford made, chuckling at them, nodding, pointing, and exuberantly mugging: Jon fans himself as if he’s an overheated lady at church; he mock-plays along on an imaginary piano; he stomps his foot; he jumps and hops; he opens his eyes wide and punctuates every few bars with “Ohhhhh!”

“We gotta start it back from the beginning!” Jon cries, holding his hand up. And he replays the song.

“OHHHH!” Jon whoops.

You’re gonna live … You’re gonna live … You’re gonna live … You’re gonna live … You’re gonna live … to see it happen.

(Jon fans himself.)

You’re gonna live … to seeeeeeeeee it happen. I said live live live live live!

(Jubilant piano riff here, which Jon pantomimes with a flourish.)

Live live live live live!

Jon is now singing to everyone at the table, pointing at us, serenading us with: “You’re gonna live … to seeeeeeeeee it happen.”

“I don’t know what you’re going through,” Pastor Wilford sings.

“But whatever it is—” Marcus’s fiancée says, spontaneously.

“—I’m gonna live,” Suleika replies.

Only then did I notice the lyrics.

I’d heard them at the time, but they hadn’t really registered.

She’s going to live: a prediction, a command, a dearly held wish.

photo of dark-haired woman in red, yellow, and black dress sitting in front of easel near fireplace mantel

A chilly Monday morning in Brooklyn this past October. I meet Suleika at her brownstone at 7 a.m. Her left eyelid has been drooping for months, and her doctors want an MRI of her brain to rule out anything ominous. As we head off to the brand-new Brooklyn arm of Memorial Sloan Kettering, she pulls on a giant overcoat with a Basquiat design. “My hospital jacket,” she explains. She especially loved wearing it after her hair and eyebrows had fallen out. “Instead of looking at me, people would look at my coat.”

Our Uber pulls up in front of Sloan Kettering, and I sit in the waiting room. After about 45 minutes, Suleika emerges. I ask how it went. The usual clanging and banging, she says. “The story I told myself this morning is that I was in an avant-garde nightclub, and the band playing was called the Woodpecker Collective.”

Suleika’s cancer started, as she wrote in Between Two Kingdoms , with an itch. It was a tenacious itch, one that originated on the tops of her feet and gradually coiled up her legs. Then came the naps. Naps begetting naps begetting more naps. But this was 2010, Suleika’s senior year at Princeton, and everyone was tired their senior year, right? She powered her way through with energy drinks, Adderall, and the occasional line of coke.

prompt for descriptive essay

That fall, Suleika got a tiny furnished apartment in Paris, went to work as a paralegal, and was soon joined by her then-boyfriend. For a few months, life was grand. But she was still tired, so tired, and she kept getting infections that drove her to the local health clinic. On the day she finally dragged herself to the American Hospital of Paris, she fainted on the sidewalk. The doctors tested her for everything “from HIV to lupus to cat scratch fever,” she wrote. But never leukemia.

Suleika stayed in the American Hospital of Paris for a week, buoyed by fresh croissants and steroids. But shortly after being discharged, she was back, her mouth covered in sores, her complexion “blue-gray, like dead meat.” The doctor told her that if her red-blood-cell count got any lower, she wouldn’t be allowed to board an airplane. She flew home. Two weeks later, she received her diagnosis.

In 2021, when she feared she had relapsed, Suleika’s medical team didn’t recommend doing a bone-marrow biopsy, even though her blood counts had been dropping for two straight years and she’d been feeling depleted. There were plausible explanations, of course: She’d had Lyme disease and a host of infections; she was, as always, working without cease. But ultimately, Suleika had to demand a biopsy, and she likely wouldn’t have gone through with it if her friend, the writer Elizabeth Gilbert, hadn’t cleared her schedule to accompany her.

“I get there, and they’re like, ‘We don’t have to do this. We’re just doing this to ease your anxiety,’ ” Suleika tells me. “And I felt so embarrassed, like I was being melodramatic.” Women: so high-strung, so fluttery.

Suleika could go on about the tar pit of biases that lurks beneath her medical encounters. At 22, for instance, she wasn’t told by a single doctor that her treatments would likely leave her infertile; she found out on the internet (and quickly harvested her eggs ). Nor did she know that her leukemia protocols would shunt her into menopause; her fellow female patients had to tell her. And certainly no one told her that she had multiple options for mitigating her pain; she had to learn about that from her younger friends in the pediatrics ward.

“Why can’t we apply the same principles that we do in pediatrics to adult care?” she asks me. “Small things, like putting on numbing gel for accessing ports.” Or big things, like biopsies. They’re positively medieval procedures, with a long, wide needle boring deep into the core of your pelvis. Kids get them under sedation. Adults typically receive only a local anesthetic. During her 2021 biopsy, it took the doctor four tries to get what she needed. Suleika bit down so hard on her hand that it bled.

“It was the grisliest thing I’ve ever seen,” Gilbert told me. “It was like a paper punch going through bone.”

Now, for her biopsies, Suleika asks to be knocked out.

It is tempting to look at Suleika’s illness as an origin story, the thing that forced her to live an exceptional life. But another way to think about it is that Suleika is an exceptional person to whom illness happened. Speak with her friends, and you get the sense that she has always lived her life like the rest of us, but in a much larger font.

When Suleika falls in love, she falls ferociously in love; with female friends, she’s the queen of the grown-up sleepover and intimate discussion. Her intensity revealed itself early. In fourth grade, she started the double bass, and by the time she was 14, she was practicing five hours a day. In 11th grade, she was rising at 4 a.m. each Saturday to commute to Juilliard from her home in upstate New York. At Princeton, she also played in the orchestra, but almost no one knew about it, because her life already looked so full. Lizzie Presser, her closest friend, remembers being at a costume party when Suleika abruptly turned to her and said, “Shit, I’m late.”

She had to be onstage with the Princeton University Orchestra in a matter of minutes.

“She never talked about playing,” Presser told me. But they left the party, and Presser went to the balcony of the main campus auditorium. “The curtain comes up, and there’s Suleika in the center, in a white flapper dress that barely covered her thighs, and she’s in the role of principal bass—flanked by men in tuxes! Surrounded by them like a flock of birds .”

After Suleika was finally diagnosed with cancer, roughly a year after graduation, she got very, very sick, and to make her better, her doctors had to make her sicker, poisoning her with what they hoped would be enough chemotherapy to drive her leukemic blasts below 5 percent, a requirement for receiving a bone-marrow transplant. The process took nearly a year.

For a few months, she stared bleakly at the television, watching episodes of Grey’s Anatomy . She tried reading cancer memoirs, but most of them disgusted her, with their tyrannical emphasis on grit and story arcs ending in triumph. “At that point, I was going into bone-marrow failure,” she says. “I frankly didn’t think I was going to make it to transplant. So reading those stories sort of felt like a middle finger.”

Yet she always kept a journal. Eventually, that journal became a blog, and one of her blog entries became a story in HuffPost and earned her a call from an editor at The New York Times . Sensing that her time was now limited, Suleika found herself asking, at 23, if she could have her own weekly column about what it was like to be a young person with cancer—oh, and could it have an accompanying video component too?

The series would win her an Emmy .

Suleika’s column became a phenomenon, speaking to a far greater range of people than she ever imagined. She heard from a senator’s wife who was struggling with fertility issues, a high-school teacher in California who’d lost a son, a prisoner in Texas who was trapped on death row. Everyone seemed to have a shame-and-pain part of themselves, or an unreconciled sadness, a private perdition.

In April 2012, she underwent a bone-marrow transplant, and a few months later, her doctors told her it seemed to be working, but cautioned that it would be many months more before they knew for certain. She spent the next two years mainlining a toxic slurry of maintenance chemo, which left her feeling wretched, exhausted, seasick. When the treatments were finished, she realized that she no longer had any idea how to live among the well . So she cooked up an ambitious project for herself, deciding that she and her dog would make a 15,000-mile, 33-state loop around America, with the aim of visiting many of the correspondents who’d moved or inspired her.

It should be noted at this point that Suleika did not yet have a driver’s license.

That trip became the second half of her memoir, which became one of the best modern chronicles of cancer and its aftermath, a broad-spectrum rendering of illness’s many physical and psychological hues. (Especially the fury. God, how I loved the parts about the fury.) In a review on Instagram , the author Ann Patchett went so far as to say that she might not have had to write Truth & Beauty , her stunning book about her friend Lucy Grealy, had Suleika’s book already existed.

black-and-white photo of Jon sitting on log turned toward Suleika who is crouching next to him and smiilng

In the years since, Suleika has continued to write, both essays and reportage. (An article she did for The New York Times Magazine about prison hospice was especially good.) She made dogged but unsuccessful efforts to get her Texas prison correspondent off death row . And she has built a variety of communities, both virtual and embodied.

She originally purchased her home in the Delaware River Valley, for example, to be among an enclave of artists and writers who had already settled there, but she has also since befriended the locals, including her neighbor Jody, a building-trades guy with four missing fingers (childhood accident) and a business card that says I’m 60. I know shit. Call me. In Brooklyn, Suleika lives within a couple blocks of Lizzie Presser, but she also socializes with Presser’s mother, sometimes independently, and she’s become so close to the couple next door that she now plans to build a walkway between her back terrace and theirs.

And Suleika has magicked an entire community into existence with The Isolation Journals, a virtual salon designed to help readers access their own creativity when the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune have punctured their lives. Hatched during the third week of the pandemic (Suleika reckoned she knew a thing or two about the unnatural rationing of human contact), the newsletter offers writing prompts, video discussions with artists about the creative process, and reflections on how to focus on the good while acknowledging the terrible.

Suleika discovered that she’d tapped into a deep human need. Her Substack now has more than 160,000 subscribers. When she informed them in December 2021 that her cancer had returned, she received hundreds of care packages and old-fashioned letters in the first week alone.

During her relapse, Suleika startled everyone with yet another reinvention, declaring, after completing her first watercolor, that she was going to be a painter. “It seemed,” her friend Carmen Radley told me, “like it came out of nowhere.”

But it both did and didn’t. Suleika tends to live in generative mode; that’s her reflex. Part of the reason she took up painting was because she was on such a potent drip of psychoactive medication to subdue her pain that it blurred her vision too much to write. (A combination of ketamine and fentanyl. At one point, she hallucinated a menacing French child named George.) Her paintings from Sloan Kettering have a visceral, fantastical quality, usually featuring some colorful mix of animals and her ravaged body threaded with tubes. She likes how wild and imprecise watercolor is, how improvisational, so different from the careful calibration of writing. It’s an adventure in “happy accidents.”

In the late fall, during an event at Princeton, she was asked by an audience member what advice she’d give to someone who was hesitant to mine their emotional reserves to create something.

“Give yourself permission to be a bad artist,” she said.

I ’m back at Suleika’s house in the Delaware River Valley. She greets me at the door and shows me into the kitchen, where on the counter I see a rainbow box of pills. Inside is a monster’s miscellany of antivirals and antiemetics, antibiotics and immunosuppressants—and she’s not even doing chemotherapy, in defiance of her doctors’ wishes. This is the minimum that a transplant patient like Suleika requires.

Suleika and I start chatting on her couch in the living room. At some point, Jon, who’s been fussing in his music studio, pads into the room carrying three books, one so corpulent, it looks like it might bust its own spine. It’s David J. Garrow’s 1,472-page volume about Barack Obama.

“What do you think?” he asks me.

I tell him I haven’t read it and therefore cannot offer an opinion.

He gives a sly smile. “Oh yes, you can.”

What to make of Jon? At first, he terrifies me. He plays 12 instruments, the bulk of which he taught himself. He’s a man of unflagging Christian faith, pure and indivisible: You sense that he’s living for a higher and more serious purpose, faithfully reading scripture, never indulging in caffeine or drugs or alcohol. But most striking is his magpie creativity, his hungry and wayfaring brain. For a while, I worried I was boring him.

Beyond that, Jon is often hard to read, and he’s a person who tests a writer’s descriptive powers. What you really long for when you’re near him is the accompaniment of sound effects, audiotape, videotape; without them, it’s almost impossible to give the full measure of the man. He talks to you slightly sideways, his body angled away from you at 45 degrees. When he’s energized, he doesn’t jump so much as boing. He’s a mesmerizing combination of gnomic insights and probing questions, of silences and sudden joyous yowls (“Yeaaaaaaaahhhhhh,” “Woooooooo,” etc.).

Read: Jon Batiste on the powerful tune that drives “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”

Suleika mentions that Jon spent forever lugging around a box set of Stephen Sondheim lyrics. I ask if he knew Sondheim. Turns out that he not only knew him, but also corresponded with him until he died—and did a special arrangement of two pieces from Assassins for him for his birthday.

“Is there a recording of it somewhere?” I ask.

“On my phone!” Sure. Because we all keep private birthday gifts to Stephen Sondheim on our phone. “You want to hear it?”

Not long after that, I become relaxed around Jon. The turning point arrives when Suleika briefly steps outside with their dogs. I confess that in the face of other people’s suffering, I sometimes become a stammering stumblebum. How does he always seem to know the right thing to say to Suleika?

“It’s like music, to say the right thing,” he says. Then a long pause, even by Jon standards. “It requires”—another pause—“being attuned to the moment. And the person. And yourself all at once.” A third pause. “It’s really less about the right or wrong thing to say—or to play. Because people feel what you’re saying more than hear what you’re saying.”

His phone rings. He goes outside to take the call.

In that moment, it dawned on me: Jon and Suleika are both emotional seismographs, keenly aware of other people’s sensitivities and vulnerabilities. They’re just outfitted with different drums.

“That’s a common misconception about Jon—that he’s in his own world, that he’s lost in the music in his mind,” Suleika says. “But Jon sees, notices, everything . Everything. He can sense when I’m anxious even when I don’t realize I’m anxious.”

And honestly, I should have known this before, based on Matthew Heineman’s American Symphony . It’s a beautiful film, following a co-occurring high and low in the couple’s life in 2022 , with Jon reaching the pinnacle of his career—nominated for 11 Grammy awards, hard at work on an original piece of music to be performed at Carnegie Hall—at just the same moment that Suleika is vividly relapsing. You see Jon tenderly shaving Suleika’s head; you see the two of them playing a version of Simon Says, with him mirroring her every movement as she makes her way down a hospital hallway, yoked to an IV pole.

He takes the “in sickness and in health” part of his job extremely seriously. Jon proposed 24 hours after Suleika discovered that she’d relapsed.

But when Suleika is well, she’s the one who makes Jon’s life possible. Until he began dating Suleika, Jon lived like a nomad, touring with his band around Europe and the U.S., usually in a rented van, and staying in run-down hotels. His apartment was a dragon’s nest of, in Jon’s words, “papers, music, manuscripts, gifts, awards, clothes, pawn-shop instruments, laptops.” The first time Suleika spent the night, a spider bit her on the eye.

Whereas Suleika has an abiding urge to nest, having lived on three continents with her Swiss mother and Tunisian father by the time she was 12 years old. (And she always lived modestly—her mother came from a tiny village and her father’s parents could not read or write.) Her focus on home and friendship has provided Jon a bulwark against the devouring demands of fame. If it weren’t for Suleika, it’s also possible that he’d work until he expired. He has the nocturnal rhythms of a bat.

Jon wanders back inside again. The call has clearly keyed him up. He beelines for the couch and climbs on top of Suleika, planting himself face down in her lap. “Mmmmmmmm,” he moans. “I’m an overstimulated introvert.”

“I think one of my roles in Jon’s life is to soothe his nervous system.”

If you hadn’t met Suleika, I ask, what would your life look like?

“I don’t know,” he says. He thinks. “I’d be going too fast for the machine.”

So she’s a brake pedal?

“More elegant than that. A brake pedal  ? No.”

Sorry, I say. I can’t do machine metaphors.

“She’s the software that calibrates the machine ,” he explains, his face still buried in her lap.

Whenever Suleika is at her lowest, she always manages, somehow, to make her most creative leaps. During her last transplant, even when she was at her most despairing, even when she was as close to death as she thinks she’s ever come—her throat too scorched to speak, her body simmering with three different infections—she summoned the strength to prop herself up and paint at 2 a.m., when she was seized by an image of a marionette being borne away by birds. She kept paper and watercolors right next to her bed.

But me? Even with a far more benign illness, I do no such thing. I have not taken up knitting, or making collages, or writing fiction or doing macramé or conjuring an online haven for long-haulers. Instead, I’m just sad and stuck. How, I ask her one day, has she managed to make such a productive life for herself, in spite of all the shit? It requires so much energy.

“It takes a lot more energy to do battle with demons,” she points out. Meaning one’s own depression.

Yes, I say, but that’s a rational answer. Demons aren’t rational. Some of us feel like we’re made of those demons. I would currently say I am 86 percent demons.

“I think I had to get to a place where my sense of despair—and boredom, honestly—was so great, I had to do something,” she says. “That sent me on this research project about all the different bedridden artists and writers and musicians throughout history who’d figured out creative work-arounds.” Like Frida Kahlo. “Her mom gifted her a sort of lap easel and attached a mirror to the canopy of her bed.” Or Henri Matisse, she adds, who, when he was old and infirm, affixed a bit of charcoal to the end of a long stick and drew studies for the Chapel of the Rosary on the walls of his apartment, all while lying in bed.

But Suleika recognizes she’s had many years of practice when it comes to living horizontally. “I can also understand,” she tells me, “as I’m saying all this, if your response is a bit like, Fuck you. Nothing about this feels good or will ever feel good or can ever be useful. I’ve been in that place too.”

Like binge-watching Grey’s Anatomy , for instance. Which is about where I’m at, I tell her.

“I sometimes worry that I’ve become the kind of person who makes people who are not ‘suffering well’ feel like shit,” she confesses.

Suleika makes her living in the first person, actively writing about her life and pressing “Send” each week. But at some point, I begin to wonder whether there’s another Suleika, a more private Suleika, tucked inside the public one. Her readers now expect her to be a certain kind of inspirational person. Does she even have the freedom to maneuver through the world without being that woman?

It took time for me to realize that Suleika is sometimes selective about what she shares.

Here is one part that we do not always see, for instance: how much she suffers. Those high-gigawatt drugs she takes can have brutal side effects, and she’s routinely subjected to torturous procedures.

“Suleika is who she is on the page,” Elizabeth Gilbert said. “But that identity is flanked by two characteristics that I’m not sure anyone understands the extent of.” One is that she’s got a punk, rebellious streak. But the other “is how fucking tough she is,” Gilbert said. “How fucking stoic. She’s a Marine.” After that excruciating biopsy, she and Suleika went out to dinner. “If that had been me, you wouldn’t have seen me for a week.”

Some discomfort is so routine for Suleika that she never bothers to discuss it. In January, shortly after she appeared on the Today show with Jon to promote American Symphony , I told her she did great.

“I projectile-vomited in broad daylight in the streets of New York City afterwards,” she replies, with startling matter-of-factness. “Right before my next thing on Park Avenue.”

She … what? I try to imagine Suleika, made up for television and in a blazer of elegant blue velvet, vomiting on the Upper East Side.

“I have vomited in public more times than I can count,” she says. “I’m always trying to find a private spot between two parked cars or behind a tree. Often I don’t get there.”

So: Chronic nausea barely rates a mention in her work. Also underdiscussed: Suleika is always and forever tired. But how many times can you write that you are always and forever tired? Yet she is, with only a few good hours a day, usually. Nor does Suleika dwell on the fact that she’s a regular stewpot of respiratory infections. She’s been sick all winter with one thing or another.

“Every dinner since you’ve been to my house,” she says, “I’ve left either halfway through or shortly after while everyone’s hanging out and having fun. I go straight to bed and I don’t say a word. I call it my ‘Tunisian exit.’ ”

Her relentless fatigue and nausea and infections have an ancillary consequence: anxiety about making plans. “Like, will I be well enough?” she explains. “Should I just cancel now so that I don’t mess up anybody else’s schedule? Or will I feel well that day and regret that I canceled? I have that conversation with myself about every single preplanned social activity or work commitment.”

On December 24, Suleika’s Isolation Journals newsletter talked about her first experience hosting Christmas , for which her mother, father, and brother flew in from Tunis. She described the “obnoxiously” large tree she purchased, the two-hour meeting her family had about their dinner feast, the old-school paper snowflakes her mom pasted to the windows.

What she didn’t write about was how she felt, which was terrible, or how many holiday plans with her family came undone. “Since pretty much mid-December, I’ve barely been able to function,” she tells me. “I spent all of Christmas in bed. We were going to go ice-skating. We were going to go Christmas shopping in the city. We were going to do all the things, and I didn’t do a single one.”

Suleika often writes about trying “to hold the beauty and cruelty of life in the same palm.” But one wonders if writing so publicly and so frequently—if being an inspiration to so many—makes her feel some unconscious obligation to focus more on the former. When Between Two Kingdoms came out in February 2021, Suleika already suspected something was amiss. Her blood counts were dropping, she was always tired, and she had blistering migraines. But she was so elated that her memoir was finally out there in the world that the joy energized her. On her publicity tour, she told interviewers that yes, she was cured.

“I would hear all the time from people with similar illnesses,” Suleika says. “People who’d write to me and say, ‘You give me hope that this can be my life too, 10 years out.’ ” When her doctors finally confirmed she’d relapsed, in the fall of 2021, it spooked her so much that she didn’t share the news in The Isolation Journals for three weeks. “I felt awful,” she says. “The very particular weirdness of having a public platform related not just to illness but to survival …” She trails off.

“Because Suleika has the exuberance that she has, the force of will that she has, I sometimes forget that she has gone through what she’s gone through,” her friend Carmen Radley said. “Superhuman people aren’t afraid of getting sick again, are they? But I think she was terrified of it.”

That’s really the thing her readers don’t always see: the fear.

And it’s not because Suleika is dishonest. It’s because she is, as Gilbert says, so fucking stoic. It’s because her quotidian nausea is relative to the pain of, let’s say, vomiting up the entire lining of her esophagus, which she has done more than once. It’s because she doesn’t want to cause a fuss over every upset when there may come a day when she needs the cavalry to come charging in at full gallop. It’s because she doesn’t want her relationship with Jon to be defined as that of a patient and caregiver. “I don’t want people to view me first and foremost as a sick person,” she says.

But fear is what she is now experiencing, during our phone conversation in January: the prospect of a second relapse and a third transplant. Why is she getting so many respiratory infections? Why is she always so tired? Why, when she went back on Adderall recently (common for post-transplant patients, to boost their energy), did it do absolutely nothing? “I’m like, Did I get some dud pills?   ”

She has not written about this anxiety. “To say it out loud,” she says, “is to make it real.”

She is bracing herself for another biopsy next week. If the cancer has returned, her brother remains her only donor option. The bone-marrow registry tilts very heavily toward white people, because the bulk of the donors are white—a problem so personally relevant and galling to Suleika that she’s become involved with an organization called NMDP , formerly called Be the Match, to encourage more people to donate.

Ever since her second transplant, in 2022, Suleika has had night terrors. Once, while fast asleep, she hit Jon with a closed fist. “And then I did it again the next night,” she says. “I was so scared of doing it again, I wanted to sleep in the guest room, and Jon said, ‘No, we have to sleep in the same bed.’ ” For six weeks, she saw a sleep therapist.

Suleika both writes and talks, with surprising clarity, about the philosophical problem of living with uncertainty. But there’s a reason that liminal places are often depicted as more hellish than hell. The betwixt and between is where the tortured ghost of Hamlet’s father rattles around, boiling with rage and sorrow. It’s where Hamlet himself dwells—trapped between childhood and adulthood, uncertain whether he wants to live or die.

It’s the time between biopsy and results. Which in some larger sense is every day if you’re Suleika—not knowing, with the recurring specter of acute myeloid leukemia, if you have months left on this planet or 50 years.

“I do feel like I’m living my own double life sometimes,” Suleika says, “in terms of how I’m feeling and what I’m sharing and showing—not just to the world, but even to the people closest to me. And to myself.”

Jon is playing a concert at Carnegie Hall in the run-up to his 2022 appearance at the Grammys. He’s seated at the piano.

“I want to dedicate this last one to Suleika,” he tells the audience.

Then there’s silence. And more silence. And more and more silence. Jon is staring intently at the keys. This is perhaps the most spellbinding moment in American Symphony . The camera becomes so uncomfortable with Jon’s stillness that it pans slowly down to Jon’s fingers, still lingering on those keys, and then slowly back up to his face.

The live audience, even the viewing audience, doesn’t know it, but Suleika’s hospital bracelet is in his pocket.

photo of piano keyboard and music rack with record album, sheet music, and framed picture of Suleika in high school holding her double bass

He finally begins to play. Tunefully and deliberately at first, but soon frenetically and repetitively, and then dissonantly and angrily, a blur of hydraulics, until out of this chaos emerges something utterly freaking majestic.

I later ask Jon what was running through his head in that long moment of quiet.

“Mmmmmmm,” he says. “ Don’t force life. ”

“I understood you to be in prayer,” Suleika says.

“That’s what it is,” he says, looking appreciatively at her. “Psalm 46: ‘Be still and know I am God.’ The most natural state is in a state of prayer. Stillness. Knowing. Connected to the love. And then you can send it to the person.”

He turns back to me. “That whole concert—the concept was to sit at the piano for two hours straight with no music and no preparation,” he says. “It was called ‘Streams,’ like stream of consciousness. The divine stream, where all things creative come from. You can always dip into it if you have access to that.”

Suleika’s. Latest. Biopsy. Is. Negative! When we speak on the phone again in late January, I can hear her relief.

But I still hear anxiety, even fear. As if she’d received dreadful news. In fact, she had.

Just before her biopsy, two of her young friends with acute myeloid leukemia had relapsed. One is in her mid-30s and has two young children. The other had been doing great, jetting off to weddings and resuming her day job. Then, one week after receiving perfect labs, she went into cardiac arrest. Her doctors told her she was likely out of options.

The day before her biopsy, Suleika and her father went to visit this friend in the hospital. “It was just heartbreaking,” she says, “and, selfishly, terrifying.” The experience was like staring at a green-gray hologram of the potential future. When she saw her own nurse, she asked for one, just one, reassuring anecdote. “And she was like, ‘Well, we have one guy who just had a second bone-marrow transplant, and he’s doing great.’ And I was like, ‘That’s not helpful to me. I want stories of people who are 20 years out and thriving.’ ”

Suleika’s case is practically without analogy. Her team likes to call her “a medical unicorn”: Almost no one relapses as far into remission as Suleika did.

“When you have a recurrence, the tenor shifts,” Suleika says. “People are no longer saying, ‘You’re going to beat this; everything’s going to be okay.’ ”

Seeing her friend reminded Suleika, for the umpteenth time, that the membrane between health and illness is thin. And Suleika had just enough reason to remain nervous about her present state. Her “chimerism”—the percentage of her brother’s donor cells versus her own—had recently slipped down to 99 percent. The doctors had assured her that small fluctuations were normal. But she wasn’t going to exhale, clearly, until she learned she wasn’t continuing her descent. “I’ve gone from being in a mode of recovering from this most recent transplant and trying to get my life together,” she says, “to shifting into a place of being afraid of relapse.”

I wonder whether forgoing maintenance chemo this time around has also compounded her anxiety. After her second transplant, Suleika’s doctors urged her to continue it in perpetuity. She lasted less than a year. There was no life in her life, just intolerable nausea and listlessness. On one of the rare evenings that she rallied to leave her home— a state dinner at the White House in December 2022; Jon was performing—she felt queasy throughout, terrified that at any moment she’d throw up in front of the Bidens. She decided to stop chemo.

But Suleika says she has no regrets about having stopped, given that she was never especially convinced that chemo would even extend her life. Rather, what frightens her is that remission is a fragile state—something she learned firsthand in 2021. “I have a ticking clock in the back of my head,” she says. “Now I’m thinking I’ll be lucky if I get to five years before relapse.”

So here we are, back where we started: How does one live with an everyday, every-hour awareness of how much healthy time might remain—perhaps all the time that might remain—as a very specific math equation? How does this translate into creative habits, a modus vivendi, a philosophy of life?

Read: What to read when you need to start over

“For me,” Suleika says, “it means building a world in my home right now. It means gathering the people I love most and spending as much time as I can with them. It means bringing home foster dogs every month, practically, even though nothing about that makes sense for our lives right now.” During her spells of insomnia, when the cancer goblins are rapping at her consciousness, Suleika scours Petfinder.com for underloved runts. “It means drilling into projects I’m most excited about,” she continues, “but it also means creating unstructured time for reading and exploring and painting.”

She’s doing, as she likes to say, “all the things.” Or as Anthony Burgess wrote in Little Wilson and Big God : “Wedged as we are between two eternities of idleness, there is no excuse for being idle now.”

A few months earlier, while we were lying on the couch in her Brooklyn brownstone, I had screwed up the courage to ask Suleika how often she thinks about her own mortality.

“I think about it,” she told me. “I’m not afraid of death. I’ve now witnessed enough people die and been with them in those moments.”

How about Jon?

“Jon is deeply afraid of death.”

His or yours?

“Everyone’s. But very afraid of his own death.”

Has he talked with you about how he’d do—or what he’d do—if you weren’t there?

“He won’t talk about that with me.”

Do you want him to?

“No. Because I don’t think he can. It’s too painful for him.”

He is carrying a lot. And he’s more vulnerable, more sensitive, than his iridescent shell would suggest.

“I know Jon is not my child,” she said. “But I also worry about—I was going to say orphaning him, but that’s a little too Freudian.”

Actually, I said, I think it’s pretty common for spouses to fear abandoning each other.

“I think I feel that way in particular about Jon because …” She spoke carefully, thoughtfully. “I know him so deeply and I know how unknown he is to most.”

Yet it is also Jon, powered by his faith and his bottomless drive, who helps keep Suleika moving toward that future he’s determined to have.

“Daydreaming can feel really dangerous when you don’t know if you’re going to exist in the future,” she told me. “It becomes an act of willful defiance. So I force myself to have a five-year plan.”

And part of that plan, she now informs me, isn’t just completing two books, but a very different sort of birth.

She and Jon would like to take concrete steps toward having a child in the near future.

In spite of the uncertainty.

In spite of what Suleika calls her “survival math.”

“Jon is really helpful to me here,” she says. “It’s the same logic he applied to getting married the night before the bone-marrow transplant, which is: We had a plan, and we are not going to let this get in the way of our plan. This is how Jon operates in his life in general. He dreams as big as he can dream and lets nothing hold him back until he’s done absolutely everything in his power.”

Suleika has written about how she doesn’t want to have a baby only to abandon the child. She still has those concerns.

“But I’ve talked about it with the Miles family.” She’s referring to dear friends with three kids of their own. “I’ve talked about it with Lizzie G. and Lizzie P.” Meaning Gilbert, Presser. “And they were like, If that were to happen, your kid will be surrounded by so much love .” From Jon above all, but also from them, from many others. “What Jon has ultimately said to me,” she says, “is that the most important thing is for a child to know how deeply loved they are. And whatever future child we have—whether it’s biologically our own or adopted or we become foster parents or just really doting aunties and uncles to the other people’s kids—there are many ways to do this.”

Two days after we speak, I get a text from Suleika: “Some good news just rolled in!!! Back to 100, baby.” Her chimerism is no longer at 99 percent. With this news, her mood improves; the familiar buoyancy returns.

Yet even before she knew this, Suleika was forging ahead, refusing to let her past define her future. How many of us can do that? The past is the ragged territory from which we take our cues, make our most basic assumptions. But planning for a child: That is a rejection of a life interrupted. That’s an insistence on continuity.

Continuity is the implicit subject in one of her most striking paintings. It’s a colorful oceanscape of jellyfish, a life form that fascinates Suleika, particularly the Turritopsis dohrnii , considered in some sense to be immortal. Whenever it’s injured, it reverts back into a polyp, eventually releasing tiny jellyfish genetically identical to its previous adult self. It’s a creature that reincarnates, continues on, in response to—and in spite of—mortal threat.

Children and art: the two most meaningful things, Stephen Sondheim famously wrote, we mortals can leave behind. Suleika’s life’s emphasis, always, has been on the act of creation—and communicating to others how essential it is to who we are. Children and art, children or art, the courage to create: Those will be her legacy, no matter what.

This article appears in the June 2024 print edition with the headline “The Art of Survival.”

​When you buy a book using a link on this page, we receive a commission. Thank you for supporting The Atlantic.

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