EDNA: Description

Many years ago when I began to teach English at the Kent School in Connecticut, I devised an acronym for my students based on two primary sources: Aristotle’s Rhetoric (4th century BCE) and Modern Rhetoric (1949) co-authored by Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren. 

Since then, I have introduced the acronym to thousands of students n the classroom and to even more executives in the workshops and seminars I have conducted.


Exposition explains with information

Description makes vivid with compelling images

Narration tells a story or explains a sequence

Argumentation convinces with evidence and/or logic (deduction and/or induction)

*     *     *

Almost all communications involve two or more of these levels of rhetoric. Let’s take a closer look at Description.

The Greek word literally means to recreate, represent, reproduce, replicate, etc. and I think it is (by far) the most difficult of the four to master. 


Using figurative language such as simile (business is like war”) and metaphor (“business is war”). It is more common in fiction than in non-fiction.  The greatest novelists use description to “bring to life” not only characters and their relationships but also events.

Figurative language activates our senses.  In Tolstoy’s War and Peace, we almost (not quite) “hear” the French cannons blasting away at Moscow and later, the bells in the cathedrals chiming in celebration of the Russian victory.

I recall a brief conversation between a little girl and her teacher. She said “my foot’s asleep.” What does it feel like? “Ginger ale.”

You get the idea.



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