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Descriptive and Narrative Essay Styles

Published by at August 17th, 2021 , Revised On August 22, 2023

Argumentative essays are the most common type of essays, but you could be asked to write a descriptive or narrative essay by your tutor.

These two types of essays are different from argumentative essays, as they permit the writer to express the content in a natural yet comprehensive manner. Hence, readers can grasp the exact concept without any confusion.

Argumentative essays, as the name suggests, are more about arguments and providing counterarguments. On the contrary, descriptive and narrative essays can be used to win an argument by appealing to the audience’s emotions.

This tactic can be really helpful, particularly when starting a personal statement for admission to a college or university.


Descriptive and narrative essays are structured so that a deliberate effort is made in portraying a specific meaning to drive the reader’s perception. This is usually in a style that alters the meaning of something that one perceives.

Differences Between Descriptive and Narrative Essays

In this article, we will come to know the characteristics of descriptive as well as narrative essays. Let’s discuss these below:

Descriptive Essays

Descriptive essays need to share experiences and events with readers so that they experience the same feelings. You should express the subject-object relationship so that the readers feel so close to the experience it is like they went through it themselves.

Which Approach Should You Take?

There are two main approaches to a descriptive essay. The personal essay will require you to talk about your feelings and responses. This is the type of essay where you will use evocative and vivid language in order to describe an experience and gain empathy from your readers.

A more academic descriptive essay that describes, for example, political or historical events, will likely require writing in more academic language. This type of essay will describe in detail something that is not connected to you personally. The essay can still be engaging, as long as it is not excessively formal.

The Theme of Your Descriptive Essay

There are different themes that you can be instructed to write about in a descriptive essay:


  • Describe someone who has had an impact on your life.
  • Describe a situation or experience that changed your opinion on something.

Essays such as these will require you to draw from your own experience and memory. The aim is to show the reader how something impacted your life or how an experience taught you a valuable lesson. In doing so, you should work to make this as real as you can for your readers.


  • Describe the experience of a slave in 18th century USA.
  • Describe how it might feel to have to flee your home country because of war.

Themes like these are likely to be outside of your lived experience and as such you will have to best portray them using your imagination.


  • Describe the feeling of inspiration.
  • Describe how it is to be in despair.

Describing feelings and emotions in detail can be quite challenging, and many people struggle. People know the meanings of the words, but it will be down to your writing skills to convey them to your reader. How can this be done without writing something that appears like an extended dictionary definition?

Tips for Writing Descriptive Essays

Find Appropriate Words

Writers with good essay writing skills pay attention to each word they write in an essay. They want to make sure the words convey the intended meanings to the reader.

To make their writing more understandable, many writers prefer to use sensory language (related to the senses) in their essays over cerebral language (related to the intellect). Expert writers will describe things using the five senses, bringing a descriptive essay to life. Using figurative language in metaphors and similes allows for memorable images, and it is acceptable to use very strong descriptions where needed.

Your essay will benefit if you employ this use of language. But you should be careful not to overuse things. And there are some things you should not do.

Use Writing Tools in Moderation

Try to resist the habit to overuse certain writing tools. Sometimes more is less, meaning that if you use something too much, it ends up being less effective. Avoid the use of clichés; describing something as “dry as a bone” is the same as saying “it is dry”. Everyone knows the meaning and it adds nothing to your work. Using a thesaurus will increase your vocabulary and help you structure original descriptions and sentences.

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Design the Sentence Structure Carefully

The structure of a sentence depends on its length. Keeping your sentences too short can make your writing appear unsophisticated and your ideas seem disconnected. On the other hand, consistently writing very long sentences, despite having properly placed transitions, could make the essay lose its focus.

Also Read: How to Use Parallel Structure in Writing?

The best way to cut down a long sentence is to figure out your main points. The length of sentences in an essay creates the essay’s overall mood, which can divert the reader’s attention if not paid necessary attention. This is also true of formal academic writing in a descriptive essay; the tone and voice are important.

What is the Difference between Essays and Reports?

If you have made notes on a certain experience that you are going to describe, it will allow you to gather and present your statement more compactly. Whether you share the actual experience or your imagination of it, it always helps deliver your message fully to the readers when you provide all the relevant information.

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Narrative Essay Topics

It is advisable to study the keywords in your essay prompt. There might not be quite enough detail in the prompt, so you could find that you have to choose and develop a topic. There are many themes you may be expected to cover in your essay. The following list covers some of the main principles:

  • Showing conflict or challenge – An event or experience where you or another encountered a conflict, challenge, or were tested.
  • Prevailing against the odds – Either where two parties are in opposition to each other or one party prevails against natural forces, for example.
  • Personal growth – An honest account of how an experience changed you for the better.
  • Something of value to you – An explanation about why something is important to you. Make the reader really feel how strongly you value this.

Tips for Writing Narrative Essays

Make an Outline for Your Narrative Essay

It is recommended to plan your essay, as the idea of narrative essays is to communicate to your readers about the subject clearly. Tell your readers what you intend to talk about, why you chose this subject, and why it is important.

To make a better sentence structure for your narrative essay, you can use foreshadowing and past events. Remember to tell the story in chronological order, do not deviate from the plot, and try to show rather than tell as much as possible.

Bring Your Narrative to Life

You cannot show your reader pictures, you only have words to use. But you can use words to create pictures in the reader’s mind with visual, descriptive language. You can also give them words to listen to: Instead of he told me to stop, use direct quotes, Stop right there!” he said, and jabbed a thick finger menacingly into my chest. These are the kind of quotations you can use freely, likely with no need for referencing.

Explain the Narrator as a Character

If you want to play the role of the narrator yourself, you need to pick the character traits you can share as a narrator. A compact narrative essay will explain the narrator’s identity, which will consequently have a deep impact on the story and its focus.

Readers will not get to know the narration’s main theme unless they get to know about the narrator. Let’s understand this through an example: If the narrator is not reliable or trustworthy, you can let him narrate his story in his own voice and indirectly raise questions about the approach.

In contrast to this, you can use a reliable narrator and support the argument by providing evidence and opinions that support the narrator’s arguments.

Also Read: How to Write an Essay?

To conclude, a narrative essay is all about narrating a story, while the idea of a descriptive essay is to describe something in a way that the reader should perceive perfectly for himself. Essayists find it challenging to narrowly focus on a narrative essay, while a descriptive essay is difficult in terms of organisation.
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Descriptive and Narrative Essays Checklist

Frequently Asked Questions

Yes, an essay can combine descriptive and narrative elements. A well-crafted essay can use descriptive language to vividly portray scenes and events while incorporating a narrative structure to tell a story, engaging readers on both sensory and storytelling levels for a richer experience.

About Grace Graffin

Avatar for Grace GraffinGrace has a bachelor's and a master's degree from Loughborough University, so she's an expert at writing a flawless essay at ResearchProspect. She has worked as a professional writer and editor, helping students of at all academic levels to improve their academic writing skills.