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Comparing and Contrasting: How to avoid weakening your comparison

Comparing and Contrasting:

How to avoid weakening your comparison

The professor says to compare and contrast A and B ...

Determining the Structure of your Essay:

Determining the structure of your essay is the most important step towards conducting and presenting to the reader a well-developed comparison. Students are often asked to compare things in twos. For example, compare these two articles, or two characters in a novel, or a film and a novel or an article and a poem... The possibilities are endless.

When you are faced with the task of having to compare and contrast, it can be overwhelming. You're thinking about two pieces of writing that you know are different, and perhaps there are some similarities, too, but how can you suddenly start talking about them both? Which one should I talk about first? Which one should I talk about last?

Sometimes, comparisons are done in the following manner:

You pick one article to describe: Article A. Then you talk about Article B. Perhaps at the end, you talk about the similarities in both articles.

This format will consist of three main parts: A, B, and, finally, their similarities.

Although this format is an acceptable way of making comparisons, and it is sometimes used to present well-developed "compare and contrast" essays, the format has its weaknesses that can jeopardize an effective comparison.

What could happen when you use this format and you completely isolate Article A from Article B is that you make it more difficult to compare. Your final essay might end up divided in two parts: half of the paper talks about only Article A and the second half talks about only Article B. You do not want to split your essay into a description of Article A and a description of Article B because then it will be harder to compare them since you invested most of your energy into describing them and not comparing them.

How to avoid the "Split Essay": A Second Option for Comparison

The best way to avoid the Split Essay is to unify both split ends. Do not discuss Article B at the end. Talk about both A and B from the beginning. The question now is:

What do I do to eliminate the Split?

Break it down:

You do not get rid of the gap between the two halves of the essay that are split. You simply break it down. This is done by finding common themes, or points of comparison in Article A and Article B. Once you find those points of comparison, you can discuss each individual theme and how each shows up in Article A and B. Consider the following questions:

• What major themes are discussed in each of the essays?

• What doe the writer of Article A say about the first theme, and how is this similar to or different than what the writer of Article B says about the same topic?

• What conclusions can you make about these differences or similarities?

After developing a thorough explanation of the first theme, you can mow move on to discuss the second theme that appears in both essays and write about it. Ideally, each theme will be discussed thoroughly in its own paragraph, explaining how each is similar or different in Article A and Article B.

Example:

During the seventies, Gabriel Garcia Marquez wrote his most famous novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude, in which he discussed themes regarding the solitude of Latin America.

In 1982, Marquez received the Nobel Prize in Literature for his novel and wrote a speech for this occasion. In his speech, he called attention to Latin American economic struggles and their historical context.

In 1990, Enrique Krauze, a Mexican economist, published an article in which he discussed the same topic: problems in Latin American economics.

The prompt says:

Compare and contrast Enrique Krauze's essay to the speech written by Marquez.

Possible approaches:

Option #1: Text by text comparison

First paragraph

A: An explanation of Marquez's entire speech

Second paragraph

B: An explanation of Krauze's entire essay

Third paragraph

Similarities or differences

(this might lead to the "Split Essay" comparison)

Or

Option #2: Point by point comparison

The breakdown: Finding common themes or points of comparison:

• Neoliberalism (free trade)

• US involvement

• Proposed solutions to the problems (macro or micro economy?)

First paragraph

A: Krauze's opinion on neoliberalism

vs

B: Marquez's opinion on neoliberalism

Second paragraph:

A: US involvement good or bad? According to Marquez

vs

B: US involvement good or bad? According to Krauze

Third paragraph:

Whatever other theme that stands out as significant for explaining the differences of opinions.

Sample paragraph:

          Enrique Krauze and Gabriel Garcia Marquez take different positions in regards to the implementation of more neoliberalist policies in Latin American countries. While Krauze argues the need to expand open trade in Latin America to improve its economy, Marquez opposes this idea and argues that an open trade economy would only aid foreign investors in further exploiting the natural resources in Latin America. Krauze's support of neoliberalism is based on the idea that through a macro economy, the "undeveloped" countries will soon see the light at the end of the tunnel. On the other hand, Marquez rebuts this argument, claiming that the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, which forced neoliberalist policies onto Latin American countries, only served to increase their foreign debt.

Notice how the beginning of this paragraph discusses only one theme: neoliberalism. Also notice how the writer was able to incorporate both articles and not just one. Pay attention, too, to the use of words and phrases that juxtapose or suggest comparison. These words establish links between A and B.

 

 

Handout created by Rubén Garibaldo, Student Learning Center, University of California, Berkeley

©2006 UC Regents

Handout revised by Carolyn Swalina, Student Learning Center, University of California, Berkeley

©2011 UC Regents

 

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.