How to Write Detailed Descriptions

Core Word Classes

So how to write these detailed descriptions that you need for the exam? The best place to start is with your core word classes, which are: 

Use Adjectives

Size, shape and colour can be a good start , so try and use 1-2 adjectives before the noun.

For example….

apple, CIE IGCSE English

“Here’s is an apple”. That does the job – but there’s nothing distinctive about that description. So be more detailed by adding a couple of adjectives. Make it a “large, green apple”.

That’s getting there, but it’s still a bit vague. So let’s add more detail, this time to a hairbrush:


“A medium-sized, round, red hairbrush with several rows of bristles.”

This detail gives the reader a much clearer image of your object. But it sounds a little forensic – almost like a piece of evidence at a crime scene. So we need to bring our descriptions to life a bit more….

red rotten apple

Try to make your objects slightly extraordinary or unusual.

So perhaps your apple is “misshapen and battered, with a bruise on one side”.

Here are some more examples of how to use adjectives.

  • She was wearing red shoes = ruby-red ballet-style shoes without a heel.
  • He was wearing a tie = blue and pink polka-dot tie that was slightly too tight.
  • She took out a cookie = chocolate-chip cookie slightly larger than the palm of her hand.

Specify Your Nouns

Pug Dog, CIE IGCSE English

Be as specific as you can with your objects. 

Tell the reader what type of apple you’re describing: is it a Granny Smith, or a Pink Lady or an uncooked baking apple?

If you’re describing a scene with a dog in it, specify what type of breed: perhaps a small, overweight pug. 

It’s these extra details that show your examiner that you have some imagination, but also that you also are aware of cultural details around you.

Upgrade Your Verbs & Adverbs

If someone is walking in your scene, think about HOW they’re walking, but also WHY they’re walking in the first place. 

So are they’re strolling because it’s a casual walk, or are they creeping because they don’t want to get caught doing something? Is someone sauntering because they have a bit of an attitude? There are lots of different ways of walking so you should specify the exact manner because it will give a much clearer and more nuanced image, plus it adds extra connotations to your writing.

When they’re deliberate, and you’ve added them for effect, connotations make your writing more sophisticated because they influence the emotions going on; they can make the scene more uplifting or eerie or sombre etc.

This also makes your writing more suspenseful and dramatic, and can add much more depth by creating an atmosphere which can enhance or foreshadow some drama that’s about to happen:

Spiral staircase, CIE IGCSE English

“She meandered in the hallway a while – slightly unsteadily – before creeping up the second flight of stairs.”

Obviously the writer could have just said “She walked around in the hallway before she went upstairs.”

But the words “meander” and “creep” have slightly ominous connotations so immediately our reader knows something sinister might be about to happen. All because we’ve carefully chosen the precise verbs to suit the scene.

Finally, the other detail in that example which gives it its ominous effect is the adverb unsteadily, which shows how also enhancing your adverbs helps to increase the level of detail in your writing. 

Here are some examples of some adverbs you can use:

Helplessly       Nervously        Passionately    Boldly 

Absently          Coolly             Guiltily            Knowingly 

Viciously         Energetically  Stealthily         Queasily 

Rudely             Sedately          Solemnly         Reluctantly 

Righteously     Shrilly             Silently            Respectfully 

Righteously     Coolly             Passionately

Think about the connotations of each of these words, and how they might change the emotions of a sentence.

There are obviously hundreds of others you can use! But this short list should gives you an idea about how much more exciting and realistic your writing can be.

Author: Paul

Paul has been a professional tutor for over 14 years. He’s helped countless students boost their grades, mostly via 1:1 tutoring, and has also run large revision events. He has a 1st Class Degree in English Literature, and before joining Save My Exams he ran an education publishing company, where he edited over 100 books on GCSE/A Level exam texts.