Objectively speaking, healthy orchids have green leaves. This is objective because it is largely confirmed and therefore not an opinion. An objective description is the use of facts to create an image in your mind. Sometimes, however, descriptions blur the line between the subjective and the objective. Studying examples of each can help you identify the difference.
Definition and purpose of objective descriptions
An objective description is a classification of description. A description is the use of words to create an image in your mind. What makes an objective description different from other kinds of description is that it is factual.
The purpose of objective description is to create an accurate mental representation of the subject in the reader’s mind. If you want a reader to know the rubber duck is green, you describe it as green. Then, the reader will imagine a green rubber duck, instead of the yellow rubber duck most people imagine.
Bit of an odd fella, flaticon
Objective descriptions thrive when they act as clarification, and contrast with the expectations of readers. You might not need to describe springtime grass as green, since most people imagine it that way, but if the springtime grass of an alien planet is purple, you will likely describe that in order to clarify its appearance.
You will find objective descriptions everywhere you read. In nonfiction passages, objective descriptions will clarify real-world objects, characters, and settings in order to contextualize the place and time. In fiction passages, objective description will help you to understand foreign and fictional worlds. In action scenes, objective descriptions will help you understand the movement of the characters and their results. Wherever you find an objective description, the goal is always accurate. The question is, how accurate can you get?
The difference between objective description and subjective description
An orchid has wide leaves. Is this an objective description? Not strictly, because what does “wide” really mean? The term “wide” is subjective because there is no quantifiable measurement or classification that correlates to "wide".
Yet intuitively, calling “wide” subjective in this context seems fussy. If terms like big, small, wide, and bumpy are subjective, then objective descriptions would consist purely of verifiable measurements. For example, you would have to describe an orchid leaf as being 2.4 inches wide, instead of just "wide," in order for it to be an "objective" description. This seems silly when the purpose of an objective description is to create an accurate mental representation of the subject in the reader’s mind.
To give another example, you would probably be better served calling a pea pod “bumpy” than laboriously charting out its curvature using math. The former would give the reader an idea of what it looks like; the latter would mean nothing to most readers.
So, how objective should you be?
The key is your audience. If you are writing a scientific paper for biology class, you should probably use highly objective descriptions. If you are writing a creative story for composition class, you should probably use modestly objective descriptions.
A highly objective description creates a quantifiably accurate mental representation of the subject in the reader’s mind.
A modestly objective description creates a casually accurate mental representation of the subject in the reader’s mind.
So what’s the difference between a modestly objective description and a subjective description, then? The answer lies in the intent. A modestly objective description is intended to be simple. It is lightly interpretable.
The tree is filled with flowers.
On the other hand, a subjective description is intended to be complex. It is interpretable.
The tree is gorgeous.
It is much easier to draw a tree that “objectively” has many flowers than a tree that is “objectively” gorgeous. At least "many" is a counting term! A modestly objective description isn’t really intended to be open-ended, the way a subjective description often is. A modestly objective description is just a simple, good enough way to describe something in a casual or artistic context.
The lines blur: Poets often use modestly objective descriptions to create highly open-ended poems. Consider a poem like this: "In red and gold / A soldier staggers forever onward." This could be interpreted in a definitive, objective way, that the soldier is wearing a red and gold uniform. However, these simple words could also be a metaphor for blood and false glory. At the end of the day, when a description is left vague, the reader will complete the image and create their own interpretation. Once the words are in the hands of the reader, the writer’s job is over.
Using facts and evidence to create objective descriptions
If you are writing an argumentative essay or a scientific paper, you will get a lot of use out of highly objective descriptions. To determine if your description is highly objective, consider its specificity. Let’s start with an example of a non-specific description, and then develop it into a specific description.
Redwood National Park has big trees.
What kind of big trees? Cedar trees? No, redwood trees. Let’s specify that.
The redwood trees of Redwood National Park are big.
Cedar trees are big, too. That big? No, redwood trees are much bigger than cedar trees. To be more specific, let’s include a height.
The redwood trees of Redwood National Park stand as tall as 325 feet when fully grown.
This is a highly objective description, although it could be better, depending on your audience. If your audience is not very familiar with trees, something like this would strengthen your description of the redwood tree:
Where a typical cedar tree rarely grows over 150 feet tall, the redwood trees of Redwood National Park stand as tall as 325 feet when fully grown.
Using multiple quantifiable details, you have now objectively described how big a redwood tree is. Well done!
Big and beautiful, almost objectively, flaticon.
Whether highly or modestly objective, no objective descriptions are completely a matter of personal opinion, unlike some subjective descriptions. When writing an objective description of any kind, avoid polarizing claims. Avoid anything you recognize as personal preference or personal opinion. Stick to what is more or less obvious!
How many objective descriptions to include
Because our audience wasn’t familiar with the heights of trees, remember how we used the common cedar tree to help contextualize the awesome size of the redwood tree? This is using objective description to describe a foreign concept.
A foreign concept is a subject not well-understood by your reader.
The more foreign your concept, the more you will need to describe it. Say you are a science fiction or fantasy writer. You will need to use a lot more description to bring your setting to life than a general fiction writer whose story takes place on Earth in the modern-day. Because your fantasy world is very foreign, it will take more effort to create an accurate representation of it in your reader’s mind.
In fact, it will probably take too much effort. This is why many writers rely on modestly objective, vague, and subjective descriptions to get their images across. Although more is left up to the reader, it takes less time to write. Besides, leaving more up to the reader is a good habit to develop as a story writer:
The pockywood tree of Bratpatch stood as tall as a mountain giant.
As far as objective description, only use an amount that suits your pacing, your medium, and your audience. Too much description of any kind can slow down a story and even an essay.
When to include objective descriptions in your essay
When writing an essay, use descriptions only when necessary. While it is important to keep your reader well-informed, you don’t want to slow down the exploration of your thesis. When contextualizing the height of a redwood tree, it is helpful to describe the height of a common tree, but it is not helpful to describe the height of the ten tallest trees in North America. One takes part in a sentence. The other could take a paragraph.
When using objective descriptions to contextualize your argument, always consider what your audience stands to gain. Consider, will the sheer extent of your contextualization benefit or distract your reader? Are you keeping them on track with regard to your thesis, or are you going down a rabbit hole? Is this something you need to include, or is this something you would like to include?
Examples of objective descriptions
If you need examples of objective descriptions, here is a variety of them across multiple genres. In each example, the objective description is underlined.
Twenty-six angry emotes danced through the Twitch chat of ClabeSpade42.
The cyclist cruised through the yellowed valley at high speeds.
Tall and square, the porch acted like a waterfall for the falling rain.
At a staggering eight feet tall, the partially scaled half-dragon warrior hefted her huge two-ton hammer.
No one dared to enter the burning hot hole in the earth, which rapidly reached a temperature of 2,600 degrees Fahrenheit.
Use these to help you identify objective descriptions in your own passages!
Objective Description - Key takeaways
- An objective description is the use of facts to create an image in someone's mind.
- A highly objective description creates a quantifiably accurate mental representation of the subject in the reader’s mind.
- A modestly objective description creates a casually accurate mental representation of the subject in the reader’s mind. A modestly objective description is intended to be simple.
- The more foreign your concept, the more you will need to describe it.
- When writing an essay, use descriptions only when necessary.