HUNTER COLLEGE READING/WRITING CENTER
THE WRITING PROCESS
Rhetorical Strategies: Comparison and Contrast
     You aren't likely to sit down and say to yourself, "I think
I'll write a comparison-and-contrast essay today.  Now what shall
I write about?  Usually you will use comparison and contrast
because you have been told to or because you decide it suits your
topic.  Many instructors, for instance, tell students how to
treat the material.  When you read the question(s), certain key
words and phrases--compare and contrast, similarities and
differences, advantages and disadvantages--indicate that you
should use a comparison-and-contrast pattern to organize your
essay.

     Writing a comparison-and-contrast essay shows how certain
things are essentially the same or different.  Your purpose in
writing such an essay may be informational or judgmental.  An
informational essay simply presents two or more items side by
side to illustrate their similarities or differences.  It does
not judge the relative merits of the items and often does not
contain a thesis statement (although it always has a unifying
idea).  An essay which is judgmental, on the other hand, always
has a thesis.  This thesis establishes the significance of the
comparison or contrast and takes an arguable position on the
relative merits of the items discussed.  In a college paper that
uses a comparison-and-contrast pattern, the thesis statement
almost always strengthens the writing by clarifying its purpose.

     As in other essays, your thesis statement should tell your
readers what to expect in your essay.  It should mention not only
the subjects to be compared and contrasted, but also the point
the comparison is to make.  In addition, your thesis should
indicate whether you will concentrate on similarities or
differences or whether you will balance the two.  The very
structure of your  thesis illustrates the focus of your essay.

     When two subjects are extremely similar, it is the contrast
that is worth writing about.  And when two subjects are not very
much alike, you should find enlightening similarities.  In either
case, after you brainstorm to generate ideas, you should think
about each point to decide whether it is significant or not.  To
test each comparison and contrast, ask yourself; Does the
comparison lead readers beyond the obvious?  Is there a
meaningful basis for the comparison?  Does it support my thesis? 
Does it serve my writing purpose?

     Your next step is to select those points that have a bearing
on your thesis.  You do this by determining the emphasis of your
thesis (whether it emphasizes similarities, differences, or both)
and what the major point of your paper is.  When you compare and
contrast, make sure that you treat the same common elements for
each subject you discuss.  A frequent error that you should avoid
is to discuss different elements for each subject.  After you
have formulated your thesis statement, established your basis of
comparison, and selected your points for discussion, you are
ready to organize your paper.


Structuring a Comparison-and-Contrast Essay

     After you have formulated your thesis statement, established
your basis of comparison, and selected your points for
discussion, you are ready to organize your paper.  Like other
types of essay writing, a comparison-and-contrast essay has an
introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion.  Within the body
paragraphs, however, there are two basic comparison-and-contrast
patterns you can follow: you can discuss one common element in
each section, making your points about subject A and subject B in
turn.  As you might expect, both organizational patterns have
advantages and disadvantages that you should consider before you
use them.


Subject-by-Subject Comparison

     When you make a subject-by-subject comparison, you are
discussing each subject separately, but in each case, you use the
same basis of comparison to select your points, and you arrange
these points in the same order.  Usually you present points in
order of increasing significance to hold your readers' interest. 
This form of comparison is often used for short papers.  In
longer papers, where many points are made about each subject,
this organizational pattern can put too many demands upon your
readers, requiring them to remember all your points throughout
your paper.  In addition, because of the size of each section,
your paper may sound like two separate essays weakly connected by
a transitional phrase.  Instead, for longer or more complex
papers, it is best to discuss each point of comparison for both
subjects together, making your comparisons as you go along.


Point-by-Point Comparison

     When you use point-by-point comparison, your paper is
organized differently.  Paragraph by paragraph, you first make a
point about one subject, then follow it with a comparable point
about the other.  This alternating pattern continues throughout
the body of your essay, until all your comparisons or contrasts
have been made.  Point-by-point comparison works best for long
papers because your readers can follow the comparisons and
contrasts more easily as they go along.  However, it is sometimes
easy to fall into a pattern of monotonous, back-and-forth
sentences when writing point-by-point comparison.  To avoid this,
try to vary the length and structure as you move from point to
point.
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