Beth Johnson describes the importance of concrete detail in descriptive writing in her essay, “Let’s Get Specific.” She provides the reader with two different job applicant letters.
Dear Sir or Madam:
Please consider my application for a job with your company. I am a college graduate with experience in business. Part-time jobs that I have held during the school year and my work over summer vacations make me well-qualified for employment. My former employers have always considered me a good, reliable worker. Thank you for considering my application.
Sincerely, Bob Cole
And then there is the second:
Dear Sir or Madam:
I would like to be considered for an entry-level position in your purchasing department. I graduated in June from Bayside College with a 3.5 GPA and a bachelor’s degree in business administration. While at Bayside, I held a part-time job in the college’s business office, where I eventually had responsibility for coordinating food purchasing for the school cafeteria. By encouraging competitive bidding among food suppliers, I was able to save the school approximately $2,500 in the ’92-’93 school year. During the last three summers (1990-93), I worked at Bayside Textiles, where I was promoted from a job in the mailroom to the position of assistant purchasing agent, a position that taught me a good deal about controlling costs. Given my background, I’m confident I could make a real contribution to your company. I will telephone you next Tuesday morning to ask if we might arrange an interview.
Sincerely, Julia Moore
Obviously, the second letter is much more concrete and provides the reader with specific details which adds to the interest of the audience. While reading this essay, I thought about Neil Gaiman’s quote on descriptive writing. He said, “You can take for granted that people know more or less what a street, a shop, a beach, a sky, an oak tree look like. Tell them what makes this one different.” In addition to including concrete and specific details, writers should only provide details that do useful work and have a purpose in furthering the text. Select specific details only, and don’t waste time explaining the obvious ones.