Comparing and Contrasting Sources of a Text

Instructor: Angela Janovsky

Angela has taught middle and high school English, Business English and Speech for nine years. She has a bachelor's degree in psychology and has earned her teaching license.

The process of research can be long and complicated. This lesson outlines how to integrate knowledge from sources through comparing and contrasting each source you discover.


If you were writing an essay about the effects of smoking, would you be more likely to select a journal article written in 1912 or 2012? When investigating new information, it is extremely important to consider the source, or the origin from which something is obtained. When you are investigating a topic, the sources are just as important as the information itself.

One way to analyze sources is through comparing and contrasting. Compare means to determine the similarities, and contrast means to determine the differences. The rest of this lesson discusses the steps necessary to compare and contrast sources of information.

Finding Relevant Sources

The first step for this process is to find relevant sources. Search online, academic journals, educational articles or any other medium that might have information relevant to your topic. Think about the key words, or words about the main idea, that will flag information having to do with your topic.

For example, let's say that you are researching the effect of alcohol in automobile accidents. Which words reflect the main idea? Some key words might be alcohol, automobile, and accidents.

Furthermore, when you start finding sources, consider the similarities and differences of the credibility of those sources. Figure out who is responsible for the information on that website. Is there an author? Publishing date? Bibliography?

Now, imagine you are researching the effects of cigarette smoke on a teenager's lungs versus an adult's. You find a source stating that smoking at a young age does not impair the growth of the lungs. You look for an author, but find the website is sponsored by a large tobacco company. Is this source trustworthy? Of course not, because it is biased. Tobacco companies want to sell cigarettes, so their information likely hasn't been scientifically verified. Always compare and contrast the authors and publishers of sources.

Determine Relevant Information

The second step for comparing and contrasting sources is to collect important information. Look for the data, details, or facts that are related to your main idea. Rule out other information that may not be relevant.

Let's return to the previous example dealing with effects of cigarettes. Imagine you found two academic articles from a reliable source about this topic. One discusses the difficulties of quitting smoking in terms of national averages and statistics. The second article has stats that break down the numbers based on the smoker's age. Which source is more relevant for your topic?

For this example, the second source is more relevant to the original question, which was comparing the effects of cigarettes on teens versus adults. The stats showing quitting rates relative to age will show if teens or adults find it more difficult to quit.

In this way, you need to compare and contrast sources based on the relevant information contained within.

Presenting the Information

The final step for comparing and contrasting sources is to present your findings. There are two main methods for accomplishing this.

Block Method

The first is the block method, where you group all the information from one source together. Usually, you do this by focusing one body paragraph on each source. Present all the information from your first source in the first body paragraph. Then, present all the information from your second source in a second body paragraph.

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