Descriptive Writing Exercises for College Students

"The Lord of the Rings," "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" and the Harry Potter series are all books famous for transporting readers into a detailed, magical world. While a college writing class might seem far away from Middle Earth or Narnia, you, too, may be expected to take readers on a journey. Descriptive writing exercises can help you gain details and material from your own life and practice writing in a vivid, concrete manner that will grab the attention of readers.


Author Virginia Hamilton writes that "Capturing an event through descriptive writing involves paying close attention to the details by using all of your five senses." Writing with strong sensory detail will make them taste the tang of lemon juice, hear the crackle and snap of a bonfire, and feel the smooth, soft fur of a puppy. By tapping into your own memories, you can write descriptions that will evoke those same memories in your reader. Practice writing about the sensory details that are most unforgettable about a favorite memory.


Whether it is a biography, short story or novel, all good writing is filled with dynamic, multifaceted characters who become real people to readers. Many college English classes include an essay that profiles another person. Bringing that subject to life for audiences in these assignments will require strong use of description and detail. To practice these skills, first go to a public place. Pick out a person who looks interesting and observe him or her while taking notes. Then, write a brief piece where you imagine who this person might be and what his life might be like.


According to the University of Berkeley, Americans hold an average of five to six jobs in their lifetime. Work is, therefore, an experience that readers can easily relate to. Describe an activity you do at your job. It could be manufacturing parts at a shop, taking orders at a drive-through or babysitting small children. Tell what it feels like physically and mentally to do this job, as well as the task's most prominent sensory details.


Many writers think that using lots of adjectives and adverbs is the same thing as good description. In fact, using too many of them can actually weaken your writing. Always look for the most concise, specific way to describe something; for example, rather than saying, "She walked smoothly," try saying "She glided." This phrase is concrete and, in the end, easier for the reader to visualize. Go through something you have written and circle all the adjectives and adverbs. Then, ask yourself whether each one is necessary to the description's success, or whether a more compact phrase would work better.