Definition of Comparing and Contrasting
Comparing and contrasting are ways of exploring the similarities and differences between two things. 'Compare and contrast' is often used as a development strategy for essay assignments, but it's a helpful strategy for any important decisions you have to make. Generally speaking, comparing is showing the similarities, and contrasting is showing differences between two things that are related in some way. For example, you wouldn't compare/contrast reading a book to driving a car, but you would compare reading a book to reading with an e-reader.
If you have a compare/contrast essay assignment, choose a topic that interests you or one you've wanted to learn more about. For example, if you're thinking of taking classes online, you might be interested in how online classes compare to campus-based classes.
Begin the process with some brainstorming. Try free-writing or creating lists, one for similarities and another for differences. If you're thinking about online classes vs. campus-based classes, what do you know about both of them already? What are the facts about each of them? Do a little research for answers. For example, consider the costs. Will you save money by learning online? What about the non-monetary costs? Will online learning challenge you in ways you appreciate, or not?
Thesis Statement and Body Paragraphs
After you've completed the brainstorming process, you should have enough information about your topic to create a thesis statement. Decide if you want the essay to have a persuasive element. If you decide that one thing is better than the other, then make it clear in your thesis that you've fully considered both, and that you think one is better. Or, if you feel that both things are equally valuable, you can state in your thesis that both have a lot to offer.
For your body paragraphs, there are two approaches to effectively develop your compare/contrast elements.
Point by Point
The point by point method is basically a process of going back and forth between the two things in the same sentence, quickly comparing or contrasting. For example, you might decide to compare how class discussions work between online and classroom formats:
- 'While classroom learning allows you to have discussions with peers face to face and a lot of social interaction, online learning also offers discussions where students are engaged and share opinions.'
Or, you might show point by point contrast:
- 'Face to face discussions offer spontaneity and opportunities to debate, but online discussions allow shy students to participate more fully. This is appealing to many of us who have felt left out.'
Be sure to vary the length of your sentences so the 'back and forth' of the point by point method doesn't become too mechanical.
If you decide to develop your essay using a block pattern, you would write a full paragraph or two exploring the qualities of one thing, followed by a paragraph or two discussing qualities of another. There wouldn't be any quick comparisons between the two within the same paragraph. Regardless of whether you choose block or point by point, the conclusion paragraph should touch on both things being compared, with a reference to your thesis statement.
Comparing and contrasting explores the differences and similarities between two things. The point by point method and the block method are effective ways to develop and organize your body paragraphs, and when you write your conclusion, you should touch on both of the things you're comparing and also refer to the thesis statement in some way.
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Activities for Comparing and Contrasting Practice
1. In the lesson, you read about preparing to write a compare and contrast essay by free writing ideas and making lists. Another tool for planning an effective essay of this type is the use of a Venn diagram. Draw two large circles on a blank piece of unlined paper. The two circles should overlap so that the intersection gives you enough space in which to write. think of two options contained under a single topic, perhaps something like public school versus home school under the topic of education. List all the qualities of each in each of the two circles, with the qualities they have in common in the center area where the circles overlap.
2. Think of a topic that would work well for compare and contrast. You could use the same topic you used for item 1 if you like. Make an outline of two possible essays, one following the point by point format and one in block format. Which format would you choose to use if you were to actually write this essay?
1. Write a compare and contrast essay in which you take a position in favor of one of the elements being compared. Refer back to the lesson content to be reminded of the particular format of this type of essay. Remember to include a paragraph before the conclusion in which you acknowledge the value of the opposing view and then refute it.
2. Write an essay comparing two novels, two films, or the novel and the film versions of the same story. For this one, practice using the block format as explained in the lesson.
Note to Teachers:
Students should have all the material they need to complete these activities from the lesson itself. Any of these activities will benefit from a thorough research process before writing. Examples of Venn diagrams used for planning an essay are available online.
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