Good Descriptions Guidelines


for Writing Good Descriptions


  • OVERVIEW. Begin with a brief overview that reveals the object’s
    (a) overall framework, arrangement, or shape, and
    (b) purpose or function.
  • PARTS. Divide the object into parts and describe each part
    (a) in enough detail to use, make, or draw it, and
    (b) in a way that reveals its role, its relation to other parts.
  • ORDER. Organize the part descriptions to help your reader:
    (a) spatial order (top to bottom, outside to inside), or
    (b) priority order (most to least important), or
    (c) chronological order (order of [dis]assembly).


    • Include relevant specific features (such as size, shape, color, material, technical names).
    • Omit irrelevant background, confusing details, and needless words.
  • COMPARISON. Compare features or parts with other things already familiar.
  • CONTRAST. Contrast properties with different ones to reveal their significance.

Signals for Your Reader

  • FORMAT. Clarify your text with:
    • Heads. Identify topics with clear, nested section headings.
    • Lists. Itemize related features with indenting and marks.
    • Figures. Integrate figures and text with labels and references.
  • VERBAL CUES. Guide your reader’s expectations with:
    • Parallelism. Use parallel words and phrases for parallel ideas.
    • Proleptics. Use verbal links (also, but, however, etc.) to signal how your description fits together.