The Two Keys to Observing


Students wondering how to observe well should understand that there are two great keys to really “seeing” the world around them:




Many of us were born with five fantastic abilities to help us explore the world around us. Called our senses, they help us function on a day-to-day basis, and often they keep us from life-threatening harm.  I encourage students when they write to give a solid description of what they experience by using ALL of their senses. The more sensory details you can add, the more “alive” your object, person, place or event will become.


Generally, our senses are:


Sight—We use our eyes to locate shapes, compare things, calculate distance, and recognize familiar and unfamiliar people, places, objects and events.  This is our most used sense.


Hearing—Probably our second most used sense, our sense of hearing, allows us to communicate, to enjoy the world around us, and to recognize familiar and unfamiliar people, places, and events.


TouchCould you open a door with ease if you were lacking in this perception tool? I bet it would be hard. Our sense of touch is likely the third most used sense. It helps us explore the world around us, appreciate differences, locate objects and people without using our senses of sight or hearing among other things.


Smell and TasteWhen dogs greet each other what do they do? They sniff and lick. We don’t do that when we meet new people—that could land us in jail—but we do use these senses a lot in exploring our world. How would you know if the milk’s gone “sour,” or how would you explain to your spouse that it’s time to throw out a pair of shoes without these senses? Although we use them every day when eating and going through our routines, these senses are the least used and most overlooked when we write about our observations.



Change Your Perspective


Most of us are over four feet tall, so often we go through life looking down at the objects and animals in our world. We regularly only see things from one or two sides, never venturing to look underneath them or behind them. My advice on this matter is simple ---STOP THAT!!! 


Rather, start looking at things from all perspectives. Get behind them; turn them upside down (if you can lift them); lie down flat on your back and look up at them; get very close to them, and get very far away from them. Changing your perspective will help you really SEE what something looks like. It will assist you in showing your reader something the way a duck or a child might see it. Also, it’s a great activity and conversation starter around the office water cooler.  “Hey Bob from Accountemps!  What do you see from your side?”


Using ALL your senses and changing your perspective in examining people, places, objects and events will ensure that your writing is more lively, realistic, and descriptive. Just try, and SEE for yourself.


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