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Understanding Description Texts

Before you start reading about description, you should first determine if you know how to arrange ideas in logical order so that you will be able to organize your own thoughts effectively when it is time for you to do the writing activities hereinafter.

Try arranging in logical order the parts of the descriptive comment of the Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, which was adapted from “Who Is Nelson Mandela? A Reader’s Digest Exclusive Interview“. Write letter A for the statement which you think is the main idea and then use Arabic numbers 1-3 in arranging the statements which you consider as the supporting points. By accomplishing this activity, you will be able to show the proper order of the events. Write your answers on the blanks.

• ______ The Springbok emblem was controversial, with many blacks rejecting it as a symbol of the apartheid past when blacks could not represent their country in the same team as their white compatriots.
• ______ And the whole stadium erupted with ecstatic shouts of “Nelson, Nelson” and most of the spectators were Afrikaners.
• ______ When the Springboks played the All Blacks in the World Cup rugby final at Ellis Park in 1995, Mandela strode onto the turf wearing a Springbok jersey with Francois Pienaar’s number on the back, the captain’s number.
• ______ With this magnanimous gesture, Mandela had, in one stroke, rehabilitated the Springbok much loved and revered by white enthusiasts.

If you answered 4-3-2-1, then you are correct. The last statement is the most general description (With this magnanimous gesture, Mandela had, in one stroke, rehabilitated the Springbok much loved and revered by white enthusiasts) and is therefore your main idea. The other statements are more specific and are thus your supporting points. In addition, the last sentence is to be considered the main idea because it contains both the topic (i.e. Mandela’s gesture of wearing the Springbok’s emblem) and the writer’s opinion on the topic (i.e. magnanimous and rehabilitated). The other sentences provide specific details that prove how magnanimous the gesture is and how it rehabilitated the Springbok. The proper order of specific details depends on the logical spatial order.

In a description pattern, proper spatial order is considered logical arrangement, too. Thus, it makes most sense to put item 3 as the first supporting point, 2 as the second, and / as the last, considering that it is logical to start from the entrance of Mandela into the stadium, before the ecstatic shouting, and before focusing on the emblem.

You may have also noticed the descriptive phrases used in some of the sentences such as stadium erupted and ecstatic shouts of “Nelson, Nelson.” The writer did not just mentioned that the people in the audience were very excited and that they were shouting Nelson’s name very loudly and repetitively. The writer tried to capture the scene by making the readers experience it through specific, descriptive words and phrases that appeal to the senses. The phrase stadium erupted appealed to the readers’ sense of sight and the specificity of the phrase ecstatic shouts of “Nelson, Nelson” made the readers almost hear the shouts in their minds.

As you may have realized by now, a descriptive text is a type of writing that creates a clear picture of a single scene, object, person, place, or anything visible. When you are writing a descriptive text, think of yourself as a camera. You must remember to focus your discussion on one single item to describe because a camera cannot focus on many items or spots at the same time.

Remember also the properties of a well-written text which is summarized in the table below:

 Organization Arrange details in a specific spatial order (e.g., from top to bottom, left to right, outside to inside, or vice versa. Coherence and Cohesion Use transitional devices that signal spatial order (e.g., As 1 enter the room . . . , etc.) Appropriate Language Use Use details that appeal to the senses—sight, smell, touch, taste, and hearing (e.g., sight: I felt like I was blinded by the glow of the silver sequined dress . . .; hearing: The roaring engine of the old train was deafening . . .). Avoid using vague words such as better, greater, etc. Proper Mechanics Make sure capitalization, spelling, and punctuation are correct.
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