How to Write a Descriptive Essay for a Cultural Narrative

Selecting a cultural topic that interests you will make the writing process more enjoyable and effective.
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Whether you write about another culture or your own, the key to writing an effective cultural narrative is to focus on a single aspect of the culture. Your descriptive essay should have a central idea that guides the content and provides description -- or specific details -- about the topic. The narrative should also include analysis and reflection in which you think about the content, draw connections and come to conclusions.

1 Content

The content of your essay can address various aspects of culture, including traditions, family, holidays, religious and spiritual practices, gender roles, art, music, methods of communication and oral history. If you're writing about a particular aspect of culture in the U.S., California State University in Fresno suggests writing about topics such as the civil rights movement, racism and discrimination, blues and gospel music or Mexican immigration. Once you have selected a topic, you can compose a thesis statement for your essay.

2 Thesis Statement

Even a personal narrative essay needs to have a main point. So while the essay presents a description of the topic, it should also be guided by a single, clear thesis statement. For example, the main idea of your cultural narrative can be, "The practice of orally passing history and traditions through generations has helped preserve aspects of African culture in American society today." Be as specific as possible in the diction and phrasing of the thesis statement to avoid making the scope of the topic too large to address successfully in a single essay.

3 Details

According to Butte College, a descriptive essay shows the content rather than tells it. This involves proper organization and the ability to discern between relevant and irrelevant information. In the essay's body paragraphs, give plenty of specific examples to support your main idea. This evidence can come in the form of anecdotes, historical references, hypothetical examples or statistics. Providing details and examples allows the reader to visualize and understand the essay's conceptual claims in more concrete terms.

4 Analysis

Since your essay has a main idea, to some degree you must prove that central idea to the reader. Through analysis and reflection you can show the reader how you identified relationships and drew conclusions about the topic. Questions to address while writing include why something happens, how it happens, why it matters, who it affects and what the long-term effects are. The analysis, like the examples, belong in the body paragraphs of your cultural narrative essay.

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.