A descriptive essay is a paper that describes a thing, event, process or person. An effective descriptive essay creates an evocative portrait of its topic in the reader's mind. Writing in this style gives the author ample creative autonomy with regard to content and format. The goal is to stimulate the reader's imagination and all five senses.

Descriptive essays are not intended to persuade or argue with the reader or to present a list of facts and figures. These essays are word paintings. Descriptive essays are often assigned to students of creative writing, but they also appear in literary journals, magazines, blogs and essay compilations. Skilled authors of descriptive essays use rich, colorful, specific and vivid language to engage all of the reader's senses. By the conclusion, the reader has a multifaceted visualization and understanding of the topic.

Although descriptive essays are free-form compositions, they need logical organization that progressively reveals the topic to the reader. The most important element of this organized framework is the topic itself. If the reader does not understand what the essay is about, it is a jumbled, random and confusing mess. According to the staff of the Academic Writing Support Center at Indian River State College, the best way to avoid these problems is to craft an outline before writing the essay itself.