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What Is the Dominant Impression in Descriptive Writing?

by Rebecca Epstein, Demand Media

    Descriptive writing can be tricky to accomplish because without the proper preparation, you can feel forced to maintain a description of an object or person for two or more pages. If you use a concept called the dominant impression in your description, you may find that the essay coalesces more easily. According to the University of West Florida's Online Writing Lab, the dominant impression is "the feeling you are trying to convey condensed into a single word or phrase."

    The Descriptive Essay

    The purpose of a descriptive essay is to describe an object, place or person in detail so the reader gets a clear sense of the essay's subject. Descriptive essays are often assigned in classes, particularly in college writing classes. If the assignment is to describe a person, you might describe the person's appearance, demeanor and habits.

    Why to Use a Dominant Impression

    Much like a thesis statement, the dominant impression unifies and organizes the essay. It informs the reader of the author's angle and it creates a lens through which the reader sees the rest of the essay. For example, if the essay is a description of your kid sister, you might make your dominant impression about how resilient and strong she is and the reader will keep this in mind as you describe everything else about your sister.

    Differences Between Descriptive Essays and Other Essays

    A descriptive essay follows the same format that other types of essays (such as the persuasive essay and the narrative essay) follow. The only difference is that the descriptive essay has a dominant impression in place of the typical thesis statement. While other types of essays may contain a descriptive section (for example, a persuasive essay may describe the way things should be), descriptive essays use the space of the entire essay to describe the subject.

    Tips For Writing a Descriptive Essay

    The most important element of your descriptive essay will be the dominant impression. Reflect on what strikes you most readily about your subject and turn it into a sentence that includes your subject, such as, "My younger sister Emily is remarkably resilient and strong-willed." Choose three aspects of your subject that support your dominant impression and turn each into a body paragraph. Examine the descriptions you've provided and make sure each one is concrete instead of abstract, and detailed. Also make sure each description supports your dominant impression.

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    About the Author

    Rebecca Epstein has been writing since 2004 with work appearing in journals such as "The Seneca Review" and "Arts and Letters." She received her Bachelor of Science in human development with a concentration in neuropsychology from Cornell University and a Master of Fine Arts in fiction from the University of Arizona. Epstein is a MFA candidate in nonfiction at the University of Iowa.

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