Descriptive Language


What language techniques should I use to make my writing more engaging?

3 years ago


79 Replies




Oma O'reilly

79 Answers

Luke M Profile Picture
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Language techniques can be so powerful! They can persuade, advise, inform and, as you rightly say, make your writing more dynamic and engaging.

Consider the standard toolbox of techniques to start with. Something as simple as an adverb, or adjective can conjure up some fantastic imagery to really allow the reader to make their own picture in their mind. Personification can be used to boost that imagery and give a sense of place and purpose. Remember, personification is the art of giving voice or agency to inanimate objects; one example might be to describe a tree as 'tall, towering and chucking in the wind.'

Similes allow comparison, using 'as' and 'like' to create emotional connection and help the reader identify with the language. Metaphors, which are used to describe something as though it is actually something else, can also be used to heighten tension, create comparison and makes writing a bit more engaging.

Onomatopoeia can be used too; remember, this means you are using a word that almost sounds like a certain action; bang, crash, splash or whoosh for example.

Hyperbole (exaggeration) can really heighten the drama, tension and even the comedy in a piece, giving a really strong narrative viewpoint.

Finally, consider the benefits of higher level vocabulary to engage, provoke thought and grip your reader. Good luck!

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Sarviney Profile Picture
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Using descriptive language by the use of adjectives, similes, and imagery is a good way to start! Once you feel comfortable with this, using emotive language will boost your writing even more because you are showing the reader/examiner that you can also give ‘emotions and feelings to your character and story!

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Stephen C Profile Picture
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Use "Language Bounce Creative Writing" with a partner or a tutor - or if you are in a group use the "One Word Story" idea - both can involved the tutor/teacher and/or another person or people. If a tutor is involved, he or she would initiate the process by starting with a word- spoken and/or written down on the board. Then the baton is passed to another person in the room, who then adds another word - so for example if I start with the word "HAMSTERS" , you, the next person says "ARE" and the next person says "VERY" and so on. The only rule is that there must be a grammatical collocation between the words. The is activity lends itself to group or pair work creativity, is great fun, and can be used as a springboard to creative writing, especially after a group feedback is carried out on the whole "HAMSTER" story, suggesting room for improvements, expansion and text development

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Saad Bashouri

Hello Oma! To make your writing more engaging and reader friendly, I suggest using transitional signals at the beginning of each paragraph of your writing, using clift hangers to keep the reader interested and curious of what will happen next, and finally, if you want q more adavanced tip, you can always be obscure in your writing to get the reader to be more involved! Hope this helped!

Best regards,

Mr. Saad

Ju L Profile Picture
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Hi there! There's a variety of techniques you can use. It depends on the kind of writing you're doing, but here are some simple ones you can weave into your writing - this works especially well for narrative writing. (:

  1. Use of Show-not-tell
  2. One thing I've observed with many writers is that there is a tendency to describe a series of events "as is". Readers are looking for your character's emotional engagement with the events taking place in your writing. Include those! (: In addition, it pays to describe the specific emotion as well (eg. rather than simply writing "he was frustrated", you can describe specific parts of his body language, such as "eyebrows knitted into a frown".
  3. Painting a picture of the scene
  4. Whenever your character transitions to a new setting within a particular piece of writing, it works well to describe the new setting to your reader.
  5. Keeping your writing short and simple!
  6. This is often an overlooked point because many writers believe that the longer the writing, the better it is. However, that isn't always the case. Sometimes (especially in a narrative piece), keeping your story to a familiar setting, and avoiding too many twists and turns in your piece can help you focus on the parts of the story that matter (such as points 1 and 2 above). (:

I hope this helps! ((:

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Helen S Profile Picture
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To make your language more engaging, try to draw your readers into the scene. Although it may seem counterintuitive, this is not by long passages of description using adverbs and adjectives.. Rather, it is by using appropriate verbs, a variety of nouns, and where necessary, adjectives. Adverbs have their place, but shouldn't be used in every sentence. Advice to authors who are trying to get published (and it's a good idea to aim high!) is to use around one adverb every three or four paragraphs, maximum. This is because, the adverbs slow down the action, and actually can detract from what you are saying. If there isn't action in your piece but it is just a description, using more imaginative verbs, nouns and adjectives still makes for a more engaging and interesting piece. Let's give some examples.

The sun shone brilliantly on the elegant little town of Bashville, nestled comfortingly in the hollow of a hill. The warmly inviting buildings boasted many delights inside, meals cooked lovingly, baths run maternally, rooms displayed decoratively and intruiguingly in pink and green.

OK. While this passage may at first glance look interesting and well written, let's try to make it a little more engaging.

Bashville. A hamlet stowed like a bird's egg in the nest of a hill. The buildings look so inviting, they could just as well have their doors flung open to welcome you. Take a peek inside. You will see home cooked meals prepared by flour-covered mothers, steaming hot baths waiting for children's muddy bodies at the end of a play-filled day, rooms which becken you with walls patterned in pink and green, with a mish-mash of matching furniture to compliment.

The second passage is longer, but draws you more into the picture. We have replaced many of the adverbs with more appropriate verbs.

A simple way to do this is this easy exercise.

Try to find a way to say these sentences using a verb instead of a verb and adverb and a description:


The man walked slowly and confusedly across the road.

The man stumbled across the road.

Your turn

The man walked across the road without a care in the world.

The woman turned around swiftly.

The dog lashed out aggressively.

Bob was absolutely useless at Maths.

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Helene G Profile Picture
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Use a range of techniques which will transport the reader into the situation you are describing. If this is creative writing, the acronym GOMASSIVE is really helpful. Group of three, onomatopoeia, metaphor, alliteration, simile, senses, imagery, vocabulary, emotive language. Not to mention that personification and pathetic fallacy are also wonderful techniques! Really bring everything to life.

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Jodie Profile Picture
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You should use a range of devices such as; metaphor, simile, onomatopoeia, alliteration, speech, personification and assonance. A range of different sentence structures also helps to improve the quality of your writing. If you are being assessed and you are given a text to read and answer questions on, look out for the devices used in the text and mimic them.

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Ellena Murray

What language technique makes your writing more engaging? Answer: the rhetorical question!

Using a well-placed rhetorical question can cut through even a wordy essay and help your reader focus on the pith of your argument. It also helps you, as a writer, to focus your ideas into a single question that you can answer clearly.

Top tips:

  • Keep your question relatively short and easy to follow.
  • Use it when you need to refocus your essay and, if you can, refer to terms of the essay title. One good place might be at the tail end of your introduction.
  • If you're losing track of your important points in an exam essay, use a rhetorical question to bring yourself and your reader back on track.

Here is an example of me using a rhetorical question in the introduction of an unpublished essay on morality in literary classics, where I used Wuthering Heights as a case study:

Critics and students alike are both drawn to and troubled by Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights because of its lack of what David Cole describes as a ‘moral centre’. He recounts ‘the despair of a bright student who exclaimed, ‘Where is its moral centre?’’ and who then ‘went on to argue that Wuthering Heights failed as a novel because in fact it had no moral centre’. Indeed, many critics identify this resistance in the novel to a single moral interpretation, yet most follow this statement in the same manner as Cole: ‘But perhaps this moral centre may be found by pursuing…’ Rather than adding to this ever-growing quantity of interpretations that such an open text can easily support, it is perhaps worth paying attention instead to the text’s exclusion of a satisfactory or consistent moral reading, especially given Frank Kermode’s argument that this ‘plurality of meaning’ is what makes Wuthering Heights a ‘classic’. This quality is one that Emma Smith calls ‘gappiness’ and identifies it as a defining feature of Shakespeare and the reason behind his literary prestige: ‘ambiguity is the oxygen of these works, making them alive in unpredictable and changing ways’. If a lack of a moral centre is part of what elevates a text to ‘classic’ status, then what can be said about the relationship between literature and morality?

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Hi Oma,

There's loads of great advice in this thread already, so I'll just add a few tricks from my toolbox as a poet.

  1. Always think about what MOOD or FEELING you want your reader to get. And whatever devices you choose, make sure they make that feeling happen. You can practice by writing the same little scenario so that it makes your reader laugh, or feel sad, or scared.
  2. COLOURS are a really simple way of getting across ideas and feelings. They all have their own connotations, as you'll know. So red can be danger, romantic love or excitement. Why not bring a zingy romance to your story by including little details of red things strung through your writing? A rose here, a strawberry there, the words crimson, vermillion, lipstick etc.
  3. PATTERNS are actually how many of the devices work, so think about using more than one of the same time of device. If you choose an image, or a certain kind of sound (some soft alliteration of s, f and l maybe for that love story?) then try to repeat them throughout the writing, a bit like a sound track to a movie.
  4. Finally, the NECKLACE TECHNIQUE can be a great way of linking up your beginning and end. Why not use a metaphor or image at the start, like perhaps a person's eyes like jewels, and link it up in the last paragraph returning to a similar image, maybe the jewels are now in a ring, or two people's eyes are now like matching jewels. Or there's a shut window at the start and an open window at the end? This is like doing the clasp up fastening the opening and the ending of a necklace.
  5. Use at least one VERY SHORT SENTENCE. Her lips shut. It was over.

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David M

Hello Oma. A good place to start would be by looking at whether your sentences are too long and overly academic. To help the reader engage with your writing, consider shortening your sentences (particularly those longer than 20 words). Save your most powerful content for concise phrases that will really stand out rather than being drowned in a sea of words. It's all about getting the right balance as you don't want to sound too long winded, but neither should your paragraphs be made up of staccato sentences that have no flow.

I hope that this has been of some help.

David McCormack

English and History tutor

Julia C Profile Picture
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Hi Oma,

As a reader I want to be immersed in the imaginary world that you are creating. Use the senses to allow me to share your reality. Perhaps there are smells, sounds, sights and textures that will bring your writing to life and captivate your reader? These might lead you to use similes and metaphors that encourage the reader to compare your world with their own. This will encourage us to be engaged not just with our minds but with our feelings too.

The art of keeping your reader guessing by dropping clues is called foreshadowing. It suggests that something is going to change. It is another skill worth developing to engage and hold our interest.

This is an excellent question and one that I could happily expand upon further.

I hope that helps for now.

Best wishes

Julia Homan

English Language Tutor

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Kate W Profile Picture
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Especially for poetry or stories it can help to use metaphors, similes, personification and so on, just to create a more engaging or ‘unique’ perspective to your writing! Good luck! ☺️

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David M

Hello Oma - In order to make your writing more engaging you should begin by considering the reader as they are much more likely to be engaged if your piece feels relevant to them. Be clear about what you want to say and spend some time planning before you make a start. A strong introduction should serve as the shop window for your piece as the reader should be able to see your clear signposting and outline of the structure. If you are writing a creative piece be descriptive, invoking multiple senses by immersing the reader in the sights, sounds, scents, tastes, and tactile sensations of your story. Don't forget to create intriguing characters who evoke strong emotions through their actions/voice. For answering essay questions, make your writing flow by using connectives and signposting. The reader should know that you have not just read, but have also understood the question. Your introduction should indicate that you have a thesis statement developed from the question. Remember to use PEEL paragraphs. Point to the question, provide Examples, then Explain their relevance, and finally, Link back to the question. By using this method your essay will remain focused and in doing so will engage the reader.

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You should try to include a range of devices such as; adverbs, adjectives, metaphors, similes, onomatopoeia, alliteration, speech, personification and assonance. Using a range of different sentence structures also helps to improve the quality of your writing.

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