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How to Write a Descriptive Essay on an Influential Person in Your Life

by Soheila Battaglia, Demand Media

    A descriptive essay on an influential person can be about someone who has had a positive or negative impact on your life. This person can be a teacher, a coach, a family member, a friend, an employer, a political figure, a historical figure or even a fictional character. The key element of writing this type of essay is to reflect on how and why the person has influenced you.

    Focus Your Essay

    As in any essay, when writing about an influential person in your life you should include a thesis statement. In this case, the thesis statement declares how or why this person has influenced you life. For example, if writing about your soccer coach, you may write, "Through his advice and the example of his character, my soccer coach has inspired me to never be lazy, to get back up after a fall, and to be a confident leader." The thesis statement gives you, the writer, a focus and direction so that you are not only describing a person, but exploring the causes and effects of that person's impact on you.

    Start With an Anecdote

    Instead of starting the essay with an explicit physical or personal description of the person, you can more meaningfully reveal who the individual is by sharing a personal story. For example, if you are writing about your sibling, you can begin the essay with a specific memory of a moment or experience you shared in which your relationship or your sibling's strengths and weaknesses are revealed through actions. This is an engaging way to entertain the reader while imparting valuable information about the person you are describing.

    Describe the Person

    At some point in the descriptive essay, you need to describe the influential person. This description -- which can include physical attributes, biographical information and personality traits -- should be related with concrete language. The description should paint a vivid picture of all that matters about the person. The writer needs to be judicious in which descriptive material she selects for inclusion in the essay; the information should be determined by the overall point being made in the essay. For example, if your thesis statement is about how Abraham Lincoln is your hero because of all his accomplishments relative to the social and political conditions of the time, descriptions of his favorite hobbies or hair color may not be pertinent. The description serves to give a deeper and more vivid portrait of the influential person, but should ultimately serve the higher cause of the thesis statement and the effect of the person on the writer.

    Describe Your Relationship

    When writing about an influential person, you have to talk not just about the person, but also about the reason the person has made an impact on your life; this means you have to talk about yourself, what specific things you have learned from this person, and how those lessons affect you today. An important strategy for successfully describing the relationship between the person and the writer is to give specific examples. For example, don't just say, "my grandmother is generous"; give specific examples of her generosity: "she always makes sure everyone is fed before eating," or "she sold her jewelry to help pay for a car so that I could drive to work." These specific examples are more powerful and evoke more empathy than general descriptive words such as "kind" or "generous."

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    About the Author

    Soheila Battaglia is a published and award-winning author and filmmaker. She holds an MA in literary cultures from New York University and a BA in ethnic studies from UC Berkeley. She is a college professor of literature and composition.

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