|LEO: Literacy Education Online|
When you compare things, you show their similarities; when you contrast things, you show their differences.
We can really understand only those things that are familiar to us or similar to things we already understand, so comparing and contrasting the unfamiliar with the familiar is one of the most important techniques for writing. You can, and probably do, use comparison and contrast to describe things, to define things, to analyze things, to make an argument -- to do, in fact, almost any kind of writing.
When they are comparing and contrasting, for example, two ideas, like corsets and footbinding, most writers structure their essays one of four ways.
Writers using a comparison/contrast structure might begin by discussing the ways in which corsets are similar to footbinding, then they move to a description of the ways in which the two ideas are different. This method is probably the one used most commonly.
|II.||Corsets and footbinding are similar.|
|III.||Corsets and footbinding are different.|
A quick outline comparing and then contrasting corsets and footbinding shows one way that such a paper might be structured.
This structure focuses on the comparison and contrast instead of on the two ideas (e.g., corsetry and footbinding) being compared and contrasted.
Clearly, the sequence is important. If you begin with the comparison, then the contrast will get emphasis - the logical movement is from thinking about similarities to thinking about differences. If you begin by contrasting the ideas (and then move toward a comparison), the similarities get emphasis.
Writers might compare and contrast ideas by treating one idea thoroughly before taking up the second one. This method is probably the one most students try first, but many evolve past it into something more flexible.
|similarities (or differences)|
|differences (or similarities)|
A quick outline that treats first corsets and then footbinding shows one way that such a paper might be structured.
A structure like this one seems more focused on the ideas being compared and contrasted than on the comparison and contrast itself. The similarities and differences between the ideas do not begin to emerge until the writer gets to the second idea. It is as if the writer is comparing and contrasting (for example) footbinding to corsetry, instead of corsetry and footbinding to each other.
Writers might compare and contrast ideas by taking important specific elements and looking at their similarities and differences. This method requires real control over your subject.
|. . .|
A quick outline that compares and contrasts only relevant aspects of corsets and footbinding shows one way that such a paper might be structured.
A comparison/contrast essay like this one would probably focus only on those elements of the ideas that are explicitly comparable or contrasting.
It is always possible, of course, to write an essay that treats only the
similarities or differences between ideas.
It is always possible, of course, to write an essay that treats only the similarities or differences between ideas.
Using lists in your writing: parallelism
Essay Organization: The Flow Chart Approach
When Do I Begin a New Paragraph
Invention Questions for Argument and Persuasion
Invention Questions for Writing about Cause and Effect
Invention Questions for Comparing and Contrasting
The various rhetorical modes and types of writing
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Last update: 28 September 1997