Banner

Shim


Journal Lists
User Guide
InfoTrac Demo
Student Resources
Instructor Resources
User Comments
InfoWrite
 • Research and the Research Paper
 • Grammar
 • The Writing Process
 • Special Kinds of Writing
 • Modes of Exposition
 • Critical Thinking

Technical Support


  Home > InfoWrite > Modes of Exposition > Comparison/Contrast
 

InfoTrac College Edition

Comparison/Contrast

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:

induction/deduction psychologists/psychiatrists
slander/libel opthalmology/optometry
felony/misdemeanor viral infections/bacterial infections

* Informative comparisons frequently use definition, example, and description to establish similarities and differences.

* Informative comparisons generally do not recommend one item as being better than other.

Persuasive comparisons recommend one subject as being superior to another. You might argue that film has higher quality than videotape or that Word is easier to use than WordPerfect. Commercials often demonstrate how one product is better or cheaper than other brands. Politicians use comparison and contrast to demonstrate that their policies or positions are superior to those advocated by their opponents.

* The thesis of persuasive comparisons is very clear -- one subject is superior or more desirable than others.

* Persuasive comparisons rely heavily on critical thinking. In persuading readers to accept that one subject is superior, you must present convincing evidence.

Consider the kind of proof your readers would demand before accepting your recommendations.


SELECTING TOPICS FOR COMPARISON/CONTRAST

The items you select must have some common elements. You can easily compare two sports cars, but there is little sense in comparing a Corvette to a minivan. You might compare a house or condo in the same price range. But comparing a low income apartment and a penthouse makes little sense.

* Your comparison should avoid commenting on obvious differences.

* Use critical thinking and prewriting to move beyond superficial distinctions to provide insights into your subject most readers may have never considered.

If your instructor does not assign a topic, you might consider one of the following items. Select a subject, then explore its possibilities using one or more prewriting strategies:

your father's and mother's attitude about success, abortion, etc.
high school and college instructors
your best and worst bosses
your best and worst apartment
two methods of losing weight, investing money, learning to dance, etc.
buying or leasing a car
two popular bands
two athletes, coaches, or teams
two talk shows, soap operas, or news programs
network and cable television
male and female attitudes about marriage, money, sexual harassment, etc.
religion vs. cults
limited and full partnerships
two computer programs
commuting vs. living on campus
Republican and Democratic solutions to a social problem
past and current fads, customs, patterns of behavior
American attitudes toward money, sex, marriage, success and those of another culture
two methods of punishing criminals
two popular restaurants, bars, health clubs, coffee shops, etc.

GETTING STARTED

Developing a topic for writing a comparison paper can be difficult. You may find yourself with a tangle of ideas and observations. There are a few strategies you can use to make your prewriting and planning more profitable and less frustrating:

1. Clearly identify the subjects you are writing about. Make sure they are appropriate and have enough points of commonality for a meaningful comparison.

2. Draw a line down the center of your page. Write names of the subjects on the left and right. Briefly describe each subject.

3. Jot down as many ideas as you can about each subject. You may find yourself returning to the list to make changes.

4. Check the lists for points of similarity or contrast. Delete needless data.

5. Examine your notes and narrow the focus of your paper. Because you may be addressing two subjects in a five hundred word essay instead of one, it is important to refine your topic:

New York and Los Angeles

NY and LA lifestyles

NY and LA cuisine

British and American education

British and American colleges

British and American college admission standards


ORGANIZING COMPARISON

There are two basic methods of organizing a comparison paper -- subject by subject and point by point.

SUBJECT BY SUBJECT

The easiest way to organize a comparison paper is to simply divide it into two parts. After an introductory paragraph, fully discuss the first subject without mentioning the second. Then in the latter half of the paper, explain the second subject, comparing its likenesses and differences to the first:

DIESEL AND GASOLINE ENGINES

INTRODUCTION:
Overview of two engines used in motor vehicles

DIESEL ENGINES

GASOLINE ENGINES

CONCLUSION
:
Final observations or recommendations

* The subject by subject method is best suited for short papers involving few technical points or statistics.

* The subject by subject method is best suited to short papers. A long paper would be awkward to read if divided into two parts. The information about fuel efficiency might be on page 5 for diesel engines and on page 11 for gasoline engines.

POINT BY POINT

For longer and more technical papers, it may be better to compare the two subjects on a range of issues. Instead of dividing the paper into two sections, you might organize your make by making a series of comparisons on a list of subtopics:

DIESEL AND GASOLINE ENGINES

INTRODUCTION
Overview of two engines used in motor vehicles

HISTORY AND DESCRIPTION
Diesel
Gasoline

COMBUSTION PROCESS
Diesel
Gasoline

FUEL EFFICIENCY
Diesel
Gasoline

POLLUTION
Diesel
Gasoline

CURRENT DEVELOPMENTS
Diesel
Gasoline

CONCLUSION
Final observations or recommendations


* 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.


COMPARISON CHECKLIST

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?


Return to top

From The Sundance Reader, Third Edition, Web Site by Mark Connelly.