Friday, November 28, 2014

Notes on Comparison and Contrast Method

Comparison shows the similarities between two or more subjects while contrast shows the differences between subjects.

Comparison and contrast usually work together because any subjects that warrant side-by-side examination usually resemble each other.

You’ll generally write a comparison for one of two purposes:
To explain the similarities and differences between subjects so as to make either or both of them clear.
To evaluate subjects so as to establish their advantages and disadvantages, strengths, and weaknesses.

In writing a comparison, you not only select subjects from the same class but also, using division or analysis, identify the features shared by subjects. These points of comparison are the attributes of the class and thus of the subjects within the class.

In an effective comparison a thesis or controlling idea governs the choice of class, points of comparison, and specific similarities and differences, while also making the comparison worthwhile for the reader. The thesis of an evaluative comparison coincides with the writer’s purpose of supporting a preference for one subject over another:

THESIS SENTENCE (EVALUATION): The two diets result in similarly rapid weight loss, but Harris’s requires much more self-discipline and nutritionally much riskier than Marconi’s.

In an explanatory comparison, the thesis goes beyond the obvious and begins to identify the points of comparison.

TENTATIVE THESIS SENTENCE (EXPLANATION): Rugby and American football are the same in some respects and different others.

REVISED THESIS SENTENCE (EXPLANATION): Though rugby requires less strength and more stamina than American football, the two games are very much alike in their rules and strategies.

 The examples suggest other decisions you must make when writing a comparison:

  • Should the subjects be treated in equal detail, or should one be emphasized over the others? Give the subjects equal emphasis when they are equally familiar or are being evaluated. Stress one subject over the others when it is less familiar.
  • Should the essay focus on similarities or differences, or both? Generally, stress them equally when all points of comparison are equally familiar or important. Stress the differences between subjects usually considered similar or the similarities between subjects usually considered different.

You have two options for arranging a comparison:

  • Subject-by-subject in which you group the points of comparison under each subject so that the subjects so that the subjects are covered one at a time.
  • Point-by-point, in which you group the subjects under each point of comparison so that the points are covered one at a time.

Harris’s diet
     Speed of weight loss
     Required self-discipline
     Nutritional risk
Marconi’s diet
    Speed of weight loss
    Required self-discipline
    Nutritional risk
Speed of weight loss
     Harris’s diet
     Marconi’s diet
Required self-discipline
     Harris’s diet
     Marconi’s diet
Nutritional risk
     Harris’s diet
     Marconi’s diet

Whenever you observe similarities or differences between two or more members of the same general class—activities, people, ideas, things, places—you have a possible subject for comparison and contrast.

While shaping your ideas, you should begin formulating your controlling idea,your thesis. The thesis should reflect your answers to these questions:

  • Do the ideas suggest an explanatory or evaluative comparison?
  • If the explanatory, what point will the comparison make so that it does not merely recite the obvious?
  • If evaluative, what preference or recommendation will you express?
  • Will you emphasize both subjects equally or stress on over the other?
  • Will you emphasize differences or similarities, or both?

As you gain increasing control over your material, consider also the needs of your readers?
Do they know your subjects well, or should you take special care to explain one or both of them?
Will your readers be equally interested in similarities and differences, or will they find one more enlightening than the other?
If your essay is evaluative, are your readers likely to be biased against your preference? If so, you will need to support your case with plenty of specific reasons.

An effective introduction to a comparison essay often provides some context for readers—the situation that prompts the comparison or the need for the comparison. Placing your thesis sentence in the introduction also informs readers of your purpose and point.

For the body of the essay, choose the arrangement that will present your material most clearly and effectively. Remember that the subject-by subject arrangement suits brief essays comparing dominant impressions of subjects, whereas the point-by-point arrangement suits longer essays requiring emphasis on the individual points of comparison.

The conclusion to a comparison essay can help readers see the whole picture: the chief similarities and differences between two subjects compared in alternating arrangement. In addition, you may want to comment on the significance of your comparison, advise readers on how they can sue the information you have provided, or recommend a specific course of action for them to follow.

Drafting your essay gives you the chance to spell out your comparison so that it supports your thesis, or if your thesis is still tentative, to find your idea by writing into it.

Revising and Editing
When you are revising and editing your draft, use the following questions to be certain your essay meets the principal requirements of the comparative method.

Are your subjects drawn from the same class?
Does your essay have a clear purpose and say something about the subject?
Do you apply all points of comparison to both subjects?
Does the pattern of comparison suit readers’ needs and the complexity of the material?

To help readers keep your comparison straight, you can rely on the use of transitions and repetition or restatement:
  • Some transitions indicate that you are shifting between subjects, either finding resemblances between them (also, like, likewise, similarly) or finding differences (but, however, in contrast, instead, unlike, whereas, yet). Other transitions indicate that you are moving on to a new point (in addition, also, furthermore, moreover).
Traditional public schools depend for financing, of course, on tax receipts and on other public money like bonds, and as a result they generally open enrolment to all students without regard to background, skills, or special needs. Magnet schools are similarly funded by public schools. But they often require prospective students to pass a test or the hurdle for admission. In addition, whereas traditional public schools usually offer a general curriculum, magnet schools often focus on a specialized program emphasizing an area of knowledge or competence, such as science or technology or performing arts.
  • Repetition or restatement of labels for your subjects or for your points of comparison makes clear the topic of each sentence. In the passage, the repetitions of traditional public schools and magnet schools and the substitution of they for each clarify the subjects of comparison. The restatements of financing/public money/funded, enrolment/admission, and curriculum/program clarify the points of comparison. 
Analyzing Comparison and Contrast in a Paragraph
Suzanne Britt (born 1946) has written for many newspapers and magazines, and she has also published several collections of essays. The following paragraphs comes from “That Lean and Hungry Look,” first published in 1978 in the “My Turn” column of Newsweek on Campus.

Some people say the business about the jolly fat person is a myth, that all of us chubbies are neurotic, sick, sad people. I disagree. Fat people may not be chortling all day long, but they’re a hell of a lot nicer than the wizened and shrivelled. Thin people turn surly, mean, and hard at a young age because they never learn the value of a hot-fudge sundae for easing tension. Thin people don’t like gooey soft things because they themselves are neither gooey nor soft. They are crunchy and dull, like carrots. They go straight to the heart of the matter while fat people let things stay all blurry and hazy and vague, the way things actually are. Thin people want to face the truth. Fat people know there is no truth. One of my thin friends is always staring at complex, unsolvable problems and saying, “The key thing is . . .” Fat people never say that. They know there isn’t such thing as the key thing about anything.                                                              
Point-by-point comparison

1.    Personality

2.    Food preferences (related to personality)

3.   Outlook

Comparison clarified by transitions (underlined once) and repetition and restatement (underlined twice)


Aaron, Jane E. The Compact Reader: Short Essays by Method and Theme. 7th Ed. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2003.

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