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Differences between Descriptive and Analytical Essays

| March 15, 2013

This guide looks at the difference between descriptive and analytical essays. Other guides we’ve written help you write essays in general, and also different sorts of essay. This guide doesn’t attempt to help you write either descriptive or analytical essays, but rather helps you see how the two types differ.

  •  The most straightforward type of academic writing is descriptive. The aim is to give facts to the reader. An example of a critical essay analysisdescriptive essay is one which summarises a number of articles, or gives an overview of current research
  • Descriptive essays do not develop an argument, rather they give a comprehensive snapshot of a topic.
  • Descriptive essays can have one or more purposes: to describe what happened, to pick out the most important points, to summarise a field of knowledge. The type of descriptive essay required is liable to differ from subject to subject.
  • Key words to identify where descriptive writing is required, or to signify that you are writing in a descriptive way are describe, summarise, how
  • Descriptive essays should be clear, precise and accurate; ordered logically; to-the-point; and able to indicate the significance of what is described.  While easier than analytic writing, descriptive writing can still display differences in quality.
  • However, experts may disagree about the facts.  A descriptive essay needs to either acknowledge where controversy exists or stick to facts which are generally agreed.
  • The key to an analytic approach in essays is taking things apart. Analysis is the process of breaking something down into its constituent parts and seeing how those parts relate to each other.
  • Analytical writing includes descriptive writing, but it gives a new perspective on what is described. It doesn’t simply present information but re-organises it, for example comparing and contrasting categories, making new groupings, dividing data into groups or types, or creating new relationships.
  • Analytical writing might apply already existing categories to data, or create new organisational categories.
  • Analytical essays are more challenging than descriptive ones, and usually attract higher marks.
  • Many essays require a balance between description and analysis. It can be tempting to use most of the word count in description, but this can lead to lower marks.
  • Analytical writing involves understanding relationships between things. It therefore involves a greater ability to think abstractly.
  • Writing an analytical essay can involve developing an analytical framework (taxonomy) to describe the way information elements are grouped and how they relate to each other
  • Key words to identify where analytic writing is required, or to signify that you are writing in an analytic way are compare, contrast, analyse
  • Good analytic writing offers evidence to support the writer’s position; critically evaluates evidence; considers the merits of alternative positions bringing out their strengths and weaknesses.
  • Analytic writing is often associated with critical writing (see our guide on this for more details). Critical analytic essays use analytic tools to argue for a particular position or point of view.

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Angela Ruskin University (2013) ‘A Helpful Guide to Essay Writing’ [online] (cited 13th February 2013) available from

Edge Hill University (2013) ‘Academic Writing Guide: Critical Analysis Explained’, [online] (cited 13th February 2013) available from

London Metropolitan University (2013) ‘Essay writing’, [online] (cited 13th February 2013) available from

University of Surrey (2013) ‘The difference between descriptive writing and critical writing’,

[online] (cited 13th February 2013) available from

University of Sydney (2013) ‘What is the difference between descriptive, analytical, persuasive and critical writing? [online] (cited 13th February 2013) available from

University of Sydney (2013) ‘Module 5: Analytic Writing? [online] (cited 13th February 2013) available from

Also review our Free Essay on Journalism: Technology and Journalism

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Category: Essay Writing Guide

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