Monday Morning Essay Tip: Write Descriptively in Your Essay

Many writers tend to confuse adjectives and adverbs (“describing” words) with details. When adjectives and adverbs are used to emphasize an emotion or emotional state, they can actually end up adding very little to the description of an experience and possibly even undermine it. However, when that emotion or emotional state is described properly, it can add real life to a story. Consider the following example:

Example 1: “With the award in hand, I felt extremely proud of my accomplishment.”

In this example, the word “extremely” does not help create or enhance the reader’s mental picture; it merely states the obvious. After all, the difference between being “extremely proud” and “proud” is very little, considering that pride is naturally an “extreme” emotion. This just does not effectively convey how the writer actually felt. Now consider this second example:

Example 2: “Approaching the podium to receive the award, I felt faint. Even though my hands were shaking, I managed to give our company president a firm handshake when she passed me the award. As I began speaking to a crowd of my colleagues, I finally understood what being proud of myself really means.”

In this second example, the details of the story (“felt faint,” “my hands were shaking”) create an image in the reader’s mind. The reader is not relating to the simple adjectives that reinforce existing impressions, but experiencing details that bring color to the story. In the first example, the story does not change if the word “extremely” is removed, but in the second, real emotion is conveyed.

We encourage our candidates to avoid adjectives that reinforce an existing emotion and to write descriptively to capture a spirit.

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