Many people are confused with compare and contrast. Why are there two words for it and not just one? The answer is that they are two separate things: comparing is different from contrasting. Comparing tells us how items are similar. Contrasting tells how items are different. The trouble is that people commonly say comparing when they mean both compare and contrast. Here, we will not mix the two: comparing is one thing and contrasting is another.
Another reason why we confuse comparing and contrasting is that usually we use both of them together. For example, students deciding between two courses compare them to see if they cover the same material and contrast them to see how they differ. Sometimes we use compare and contrast just to understand two items, like notebook and laptop computers. Compare them for similarities and contrast them for differences.
A compare-and-contrast essay typically includes these elements: two or more subjects that have something in common; a main idea that enables readers to make a decision or to better understand the subjects; a balanced, parallel display of similarities (comparison) and differences (contrast); and the use of either point-by-point or subject-by-subject organization.
A compare-and-contrast essay aims to help the reader either decide between items or understand the items better. For example, you may want to compare and contrast to help you decide between two different apartments to rent or two different cars to buy. Or, you may want to better understand the similarities and differences between a hare and a rabbit. Your compare-and-contrast thesis statement should include both the essay’s main idea and whether you will express the items’ similarities, differences, or both. Consider this thesis statement: The United States and the United Kingdom are a study in comparison and contrast. This tells us that the essay will both compare and contrast the two countries, but it needs to be more specific about which issue it will discuss about them. The reader needs some idea of what to expect in the essay. Here is a revision: The political systems of the United States and the United Kingdom, while based on similar convictions, are sharply different. The reader can now see that the essay will discuss the similar convictions at the foundations of the two countries’ political systems, but it will go into greater detail in contrasting how the two countries run their governments. The body paragraphs will detail these differences.
A quick way of working out the specifics is to make a list of key examples of the similarities and differences, and then add details to flesh out each of the examples. One example of the two countries’ similar convictions might be that they both have democratic elections. We need perhaps two more examples of similarities, for instance having major political parties and the freedom of speech. The writer would then list details to help make each of these examples understandable. Then, the writer would go on to list examples and details on the differences in the two political systems.
PATTERN OF ORGANIZATION
You have a choice of two methods of organizing your comparison and contrast essay. In a point-by-point pattern, a body paragraph covering one point would discuss how the two subjects, first one and then the other, compare and contrast on that point. Then, you would go on to the next point and do the same. For our example essay, we could devote a body paragraph to the three branches of the government. Each country has an executive, legislative, and judiciary branch, but the ways they operate are very different. A few sentences would mention one point, say, how the executive branch works, comparing and contrasting how the United States and United Kingdom function for that point. Then, the next few sentences would go on to the next point, and so on.
With the subject-by-subject pattern, you keep the subjects apart and discuss them in the same paragraph, but one subject at a time. For instance, one of the body paragraphs in our example essay could contrast the formations of the two countries’ political systems. Following is an example body paragraph for our comparison-and-contrast essay about these differences. Note how the writer first discusses the formation of the United States political system and then moves to the contrasting origins of the United Kingdom’s system. Some of the differences in the political systems of the United States and the Kingdom stem from the different origins of each system. The United States was born in a revolution making the former group of colonies independent from the United Kingdom. During and immediately after the Revolutionary War, America was governed from 1775 to 1789 under the Articles of Confederation. In essence, Congress supervised the War and everything else.
This system was soon considered too weak to function, and the Articles were replaced by the current U.S. Constitution in 1789. This gave us the three roughly co-equal branches of government, the executive, legislative, and judiciary, that we have today. By contrast, the United Kingdom’s political system evolved over several centuries. The country was ruled by an all-powerful king until 1215, when King John’s misrule spurred the barons to force the king to sign the Magna Carta. This declared that the king, like everyone else, had to obey the rule of law. Later in the 13th century, the representative Parliament was formed and the king then had to obtain Parliament’s consent before taxing the people. Over the centuries, Parliament’s power grew as the sovereign’s power waned. Today, the most important person in U.K. politics is the prime minister, who must answer to Parliament. In the above paragraph, the writer switched from the origin of the United States political system to the United Kingdom’s with the transition By contrast. This helps the reader follow along.
Here is a checklist for your comparison-and-contrast essay: * Consider what you want to compare and contrast (your subjects) and the main idea you want to convey about them. * Determine whether you want to help your reader to better understand the subjects or to decide between them. * List the main points on which you want to compare and contrast your two subjects. Then list details under each of these main points. * In your introduction, attract the reader’s attention, and in your thesis statement, name the subjects and say whether your essay is about their similarities, differences, or both. * Select the organization method that most effectively conveys the points you want to make. Using your list of points, plan out your pattern of organization, either point-by-point or subject-by-subject.
* Write your body paragraphs following your plan and pattern of organization. * In your conclusion, mention the subjects and restate your main idea in different words from your thesis sentence. * Review to remove anything that is not relevant to your comparison and contrast. * Ask someone else to read your essay and give constructive comments. * Review your introduction to make sure it gets your reader’s interest. * Review your conclusion to make sure it is spirited and memorable. * Review to check spelling, grammar, and punctuation—especially the errors you often make