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.)
Circle the elements that seem to pair off and draw lines between them. Eliminate things that don't pair off well and seem irrelevant to our comparison. Based on the "evidence" of our brainstorming and the overwhelming crowds in the malls last Christmas, it looks like we'll have to concede that the mall experience has a distinct advantage in the battle for the hearts and pocketbooks of American shoppers. But that's what sports writers call a no-brainer, leading to a so-what conclusion. Instead, let's turn the whole thing upside down at the end.
Comparison and contrast are processes of identifying how ideas, people, or things are alike (comparison) and how they are different (contrast). Although you have probably been writing compare/contrast papers since grade school, it can be a difficult form to master.
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:
* 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?
Below is a sample of an introduction from a literary compare and contrast paper written by student Kate James: (Some of the terms she uses to indicate comparison and contrast are in boldface.)
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.
in a Composition course is the comparison and contrast essay. What could be easier? We've got these two things movies, books, rock bands, decades, people, fashions, schools, ideas how are they alike and how are they different? The paper practically writes itself! (A comparison, incidentally, is the process of showing how things are alike; a contrast is the process of showing differences.)
Prior to this workshop a number of different groups hadbeen developing similar ideas about software development. Most, but byno means all, of this work had come out of the Object-Orientedsoftware community that had long advocated iterative developmentapproaches. This essay was originally written in 2000 to try to pulltogether these various threads. At that time there was no common namefor these approaches, but the moniker 'lightweight' had grown uparound them. Many of the people involved didn't feel this was a goodterm as it didn't accurately convey the essence of what theseapproaches were about.