The second question is one of procedure. We have, let's say, five points of difference between the two things that we want to contrast. Shall we go from side to side, as if our essay were a ping-pong match, or should we dwell on one side before going over to the other side, essentially splitting our essay in half? It is possible to mix these two approaches, but our approach will determine the overall structure, pacing, and effect of the essay.
To write a comparison or contrast essay that is easy to follow, first decide what the similarities or differences are by writing lists on scrap paper. Which are more significant, the similarities or the differences? Plan to discuss the less significant first, followed by the more significant. It is much easier to discuss ONLY the similarities or ONLY the differences, but you can also do both.
Plan B: Use Plan B if you have only a few, larger similarities or differences. After your introduction, in the next paragraph discuss one similarity or difference in BOTH works or characters, and then move on in the next paragraph to the second similarity or difference in both, then the third, and so forth, until you're done. If you are doing both similarities and differences, juggle them on scrap paper so that in each part you put the less important first ("X and Y are both alike in their social positions . . ."), followed by the more important ("but X is much more aware of the dangers of his position than is Y"). In this format, the comparing or contrasting goes on in EACH of the middle parts.
Finally, the business of a comparison and contrast essay is frequently (but not always) to demonstrate a preference for one thing over another. The trick is to allow the preference to grow out of the comparison without actually stating the obvious. Let the reader figure out the preference from the language we use in the contrast; let the language do its work.
The following paragraphs are an excerpt from a Corby Kummer essay (first published in the April 1996 issue of the ) that compares one kind of hazelnut to another. If you, too, are nuts about nuts, you can read the whole essay by clicking . How does the author's preference for one kind of hazelnet emerge from the essay? (Remember that we have excerpted paragraphs from the essay, so other things are going on in the article that are not happening within this abridged version.)
WHAT IS COMPARISON/CONTRAST?
Comparison/contrast essays measure similarities and differences between two subjects. Sportswriters compare the teams playing in the Super Bowl. Stockbrokers contrast investment strategies. Medical journals compare therapy methods. Textbooks use comparison to explain related theories and methods. Consumer Reports examines competing products. Essay exams often ask students to compare authors, historical events, political figures, or scientific techniques.
GOALS: TO INFORM OR PERSUADE
Comparisons serve two purposes: to explain differences between subjects or to persuade readers that one subject is superior others. You can think of informative comparisons as pairs of definitions or descriptions. Informative comparisons often serve to distinguish differences between commonly confused items:
Then for organizing your essay, choose one of the plans described below whichever best fits your list. Finally, and this is important, what main point (thesis) might you make in the essay about the two people/things being compared? Do not begin writing until you have a point that the similarities or differences you want to use help to prove. Your point should help shape the rest of what you say: For example, if you see that one of your similarities or differences is unrelated to the point, throw it out and think of one that is related. Or revise your point. Be sure this main point is clearly and prominently expressed somewhere in the essay.
Identify the three subjects that you will compare and state whether you will focus on similarities, differences, or both. The thesis may also indicate which points you will compare / contrast.
Plan A: Use Plan A if you have many small similarities and/or differences. After your introduction, say everything you want to say about the first work or character, and then go on in the second half of the essay to say everything about the second work or character, comparing or contrasting each item in the second with the same item in the first. In this format, all the comparing or contrasting, except for the statement of your main point, which you may want to put in the beginning, goes on in the SECOND HALF of the piece.
Subject by Subject (Whole-to-whole). Your write first about one of your subjects, covering it completely, and then you write about the other, covering it completely. Each subject is addressed in a separate paragraph. The points of comparison or contrast will be the same for each subject and will be presented in the same order.
A comparison shows how two subjects are similar; a contrast shows how two subjects are different. People compare and contrast in both writing and life. In writing, you must first decide whether you will compare, contrast or both. Follow these steps when writing a comparison / contrast essay.
Community college student Charles M. Bezzler wrote the essay below which compares two shopping experiences the experience of shopping in an old-fashioned American downtown and the experience of shopping in a modern mall. It is reprinted here with his kind permission. Don't forget to address the questions that follow the essay.
* The object by object method is useful for comparing technical data. In this form prices, facts, statistics, and specifications can be placed side by side for easy reference.
* The object-by-object method is suited to addressing multiple readers. Specialized information is isolated in one section covering both subjects, so that an accountant can quickly locate financial information and a marketing director can easily find sales data.
* The object-by-object method is useful for longer papers.
STRATEGIES FOR IMPROVING COMPARISON
AVOID COMPARING APPLES AND ORANGES
In selecting topics and developing papers, make sure that your comparisons are valid. Make sure that your essay does more than draw on superficial similarities and differences.
USE CRITICAL THINKING TO REVIEW POINTS OF COMPARISON
Comparisons are only valid objectively selects points of comparison. You can easily create a biased comparison by only selecting those points of comparison that favor a particular subject. You can demonstrate that nuclear energy is superior than solar power if you do not consider atomic energy's major drawbacks -- radioactive waste and reactor accidents.
DEFINE CRITICAL TERMS
Readers can only understand your comparison if terms are carefully defined. Make sure that any sources you use to gather information use the same definitions. You cannot accurately compare two treatment programs for alcoholism if they use different definitions for the disease and use different standards for measuring recovery.
BEFORE SUBMITTING YOUR PAPER, REVIEW THESE POINTS
1. Have you limited your topic?
2. Do you have a clearly defined goal -- to explain differences or make a recommendation?
3. Is the thesis clearly stated so that readers can highlight it for easy reference?
4. Have you selected the right method for organizing your paper?
5. Are transitions clear? Do you make use of paragraph breaks and other signals to prevent readers from becoming confused?
6. READ YOUR PAPER ALOUD. How does it sound? Do any sections need expansion? Are there irrelevant details to delete or awkward passages needing revision?