College English Compare Contrast Essay

When we write a comparison essay, we often use these two types of diagrams.

On the left side,

we have what's called a Venn diagram, two circles that intersect each other.

You would put your two topics at the top of the diagram,

and then you would write all of the things that describe the first topic in the first

circle, and all of the things that go with the second topic in the second circle.

Anything that is different about topic A and topic B,

you write in the outside of the circles, and then when they intersect,

anything that they both have in common you would write here in the middle.

Another type of diagram you can use for

preparing you compare or contrast essay is just a T chart.

Looks like a T, right?

Here's an example of a Venn diagram.

This one is about two kinds of fish.

You may not have heard of this kind of fish before.

I think this is the kind of fish that Nemo is.

Remember the movie Finding Nemo?

This is the kind of fish he is.

And you see here, it says orange and white stripes.

The other kind of fish is a salmon, and

all of these details here describe only the salmon.

All of these details here describe only this kind of fish.

I don't even know how to say it, anemone I think.

Anemonefish, that's it.

And then all of the details here in the middle are shared characteristics.

Shared by this fish and this fish.

This is a nice example of how you use a Venn Diagram.

Remember, we already said that the thesis statement

is the most important sentence in your introduction.

And it really is important for the whole essay,

because your thesis tells what the essay is going to be about.

When you're writing a compare and contrast essay, you have to make sure that you

mention the two things that you're going to be comparing or contrasting.

And then you also need to use language that

shows your reader whether you are comparing or contrasting.

These are two patterns that you can use when writing a compare or contrast essay.

I'm showing you both of them here, but in the essay that you're going to write,

you're going to use the point-by-point method.

I'll just quickly show you the block method, but

it's really inferior to the point-by-point.

It's very basic.

In the block method, you would have just two body paragraphs.

The first body paragraph would be all about topic A.

The second body paragraph would be all about topic B.

And you don't mix the two topics.

It's almost like having two separate essays.

This is not really a good strategy to use.

This is a stronger method, and this is the one that you are required to use for

this essay that you'll be writing, your first essay.

In the point-by-point method, your body paragraphs talk about each topic.

The first body paragraph you would talk about some point regarding topic A and

topic B, showing how they are similar or how they are different.

Your next body paragraph would show another similarity,

or another difference, and again you talk about both topics.

And your third body paragraph would talk about another point

that's either shared or different between the two topics.

Before you start writing, it's a good idea to make an outline.

Remember, that for your essay, you're going to write a point-by-point method.

You should try to make some kind of outline similar

to the point-by-point outline that I just showed you with topics A and B.

When you see your assignment, and you'll see the assignment in the assignments area

of the course page, you need to start by making a Venn diagram or a T chart.

This will help you get your ideas organized.

Then you're going to decide whether you're writing about similarities or differences.

And in each body paragraph, you will have one similarity or one difference.

Now don't get confused about that.

You won't write about both in your essay.

You'll only choose similarities and you'll write about three similarities, or

you'll only choose differences and then you would write about three differences.

But each body paragraph will have one of these.

o compare is to explain the similarities between things; to contrast is to describe their differences. These are the two sides of a single coin. Comparison and contrast both emphasize apparent traits, seeing that which is similar and different. Some argue that the essential nature of human thought itself is the process of recognizing similarities and differences between phenomena (Lakoff and Johnson, Metaphors We Live By). Undoubtedly, comparison and contrast is an essential feature of many rhetorical modes, finding allowing us to describe things, to define things, to analyze things, to make an argument — to do, in fact, almost any kind of writing.

hen writers compare and/or contrast two phenomena, like Shakespearean and Italian sonnets, for example, most writers structure their essays one of four ways.

  1. First they compare, then contrast (or vice versa).
  2. First they describe one trait; then the other.
  3. They write about the comparable and contrastable elements of each idea.
  4. They only compare or only contrast, not both.

omparison and contrast may be the primary method of development for an entire essay, but they might also be used as the method of development within a single paragraph as well. Below are two paragraphs (really the same paragraph written twice with slightly different comparison patterns of development) about car ownership. The first is organized by listing the pros first and the cons second, the alternating pattern of comparison. The second paragraph presents the pros and cons side by side in succession. Both work. The use of a transitional device (such as "On the other hand...") is very important to signal the shift in this pattern of comparison.

  1. The "First they compare, then contrast" pattern:

    To be able to drive is undoubtedly a useful accomplishment, and the ownership of a car is for many a fact of life that reaches beyond convenience to sheer necessity. Furthermore, the owner has the privilege of travelling in door-to-door comfort, the freedom of deciding when he will travel, the value of time saved, and (if he cares for such things) the pride and joy of property. On the other hand, all possessions are a burden, and a car may rank among the heaviest. It is expensive to maintain; it makes the owner a prey to vandals, thieves, and friends who need rides. Finally, cars expose their owners to the risk of accident.

  2. The "First they describe one trait; then the other" pattern:

    To be able to drive is undoubtedly a useful accomplishment, and the ownership of a car is for many a fact of life that reaches beyond convenience to sheer necessity. On the other hand, all possessions are a burden, and a car may rank among the heaviest. It is expensive to maintain; it makes the owner a prey to vandals, thieves, and friends who need rides. Cars expose their owners to the risk of accident. Against these considerations, the owner has to weigh the privilege of travelling in door-to-door comfort, the freedom of deciding when he will travel, the value of time saved, and (if he cares for such things) the pride and joy of property.

Why a writer might choose one pattern of comparison over another depends, it seems to me, on the overall length of the comparison. If the writer is to compare a only a few points, then a "First they compare, then contrast" pattern works fine. However, if the list of comparable points is huge, then the writer might choose the "First they describe one trait; then the other" alternating pattern for fear that the reader might not be able to hold all the points about one idea in mind before getting to the second (or third) idea in the comparison. In such situations, a side-by-side, alternating pattern seems to work better. Of course, terms like "few" and "huge" above are indefinite and depend on the writer's judgment about what the audience is best able to understand.

lick here to see the four possible patterns mentioned above side-by-side.

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