'In the Frame' Description

Due Session 4

Purpose: As we read in Roger Rosenblatt’s essay “The Desire to Tell a Story,” a courtroom trial largely consists of competing descriptions of events, places, and people. Similarly, effective science articles describe unfamiliar subjects in accessible and deliberate ways to engage the public and shape their perspective. This experiment is your opportunity to describe an object, person, or place clearly and persuasively for your readers, and then learn firsthand how your audience interprets your writing. Analysis will be a necessary component of assignments later in the semester, but first it is important to be able to present meaningful details in a precise, accessible, and intentional manner.

Part 1. Description

Describe any thing you want. The object, person, or place you describe does not need to be related to science or technology. However, you should experience the object/person/place of your description shortly before or even during your writing process, rather than describe something from memory alone (i.e. do not describe an object or place from your childhood). Real-time descriptive writing will enable you to discover and select more meaningful details about your subject.

Your description should remain ‘inside the frame'—focused on the subject in its present state. For example, if you are describing a scene at a concert, your description should not stray ‘beyond the frame’ by discussing the history of the band, venue, or city. Instead, your description should focus on your immediate focal point, such as an aspect of the building, a musician, or a member of the audience. Remember, the thing you describe also contains you—your sensory details. Communicating sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch can help convey your perspective.

You description should include the following:

  • Intentional naming convention(s)
  • Moments of comparison (metaphor, simile)
  • At least two sensory observations (sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch)
  • A meaningful title for your description, which presents your reader with a first impression of the subject.

Audience: Your audience consists of your fellow classmates and teacher: an educated and diverse group that is not familiar with the object/place/person that you have chosen to describe. Therefore, you must produce an engaging and accessible description that enables the audience to experience the object through your words.

Format: Your description should be brief (around 250-500 words), single-spaced. Bring a printed copy for your partner to read in class on Session 3. Before you print your description, re-read your writing, preferably aloud, to detect ideas that need to be tightened and/or reorganized for clarity.

Part 2. Reflection

Here’s where your description becomes an experiment: One of your classmates will read your work in class and attempt to draw the thing you have described. Your classmate will also share their impression (i.e. perspective) of the thing you’ve described based on your rhetorical choices (e.g. naming conventions, word choice, scope of description, use of metaphor).

The second half of the class will comprise a discussion of the results, observations, and reactions to this experiment. Be sure to listen carefully to how your reader views the object you have described, and take notes on their interpretations. Some questions to consider in preparation for our in-class discussion include:

  • What is the overall impression of the object/person/place you attempted to generate within the reader? (Remember that all descriptions are persuasive)
  • Why did you use a certain adjective(s)?
  • Why did you begin the description the way you did? (What was the immediate focus and scope, and why?)
  • Why did you choose to create a particular comparison?
  • What did you notice about this object/person/place through close observation that you might not have otherwise seen?
  • What were some of the challenges of this assignment (both the writing and drawing components)?
  • What was confusing about the description you read?
  • How did your reader respond to and interpret your descriptions?
  • Was there any disconnect (or moments of difference) between your intentions and how the reader interpreted your description?
  • Were there moments of alignment?

For the questions above: 

"Why?" = "What is the desired impact on the reader?"

It's all about the audience!

When you contribute to the in-class discussion, be prepared to reference specific examples from the description you authored as well as your partner’s description. Sharing specific moments from the descriptions will enable the discussion to be grounded in tangible moments within the texts, rather than vague impressions.