Introducing Comparison and
It's possible to write an essay that only compares two
(or more) items, only focusing on what is similar about
these items; it's also possible to write an essay that only
contrasts two (or more) items, only focusing on what is
different about these items. In general, however, comparison
and contrast are used together for a very good reason: it's
easier to fully explain the similarities between two items
when you also explain the differences (and vice-versa).
Comparison and contrast essays are incredibly common in
college. You will probably end up writing comparison and
contrasts of items in history, political science, math,
chemistry, and other English classes. I know that when I
teach English 102, Introduction to Literature, one of the
central assignments in the class is to compare and contrast
It goes beyond college, however. Where do you want to eat
tonight--Burgers and Beer or Chili's? Haven't you ever
had this kind of conversation with a friend or a family
member? Well, that is comparison and contrast. You are
examining whether or not you want to go to one restaurant or
another--and you are weighing the strengths and weaknesses
of each place. That's exactly what you do with a comparison
and contrast essay.
The key to a comparison and contrast essay is
establishing a basis for comparison--that is, making sure
that the items you are going to compare can actually be
compared. What do I mean? Well, look at this picture
Can these two animals be compared? Is there enough
information that is similar between them that you can
compare them? Well, make a list of items that are similar:
- Both mammals
- Both furry
- Both have tails
- Both have eyes
- Both have feet
- Both breathe oxygen
...and so on. So, yes, these two animals can be compared.
They can also be contrasted--meaning that there are enough
differences between them to distinguish one from the other.
After all, one is a monkey and one is a kitty--two different
species with entirely different evolutionary histories.
Now let's look at two more pictures and see
if we can compare them:
Can you compare these? What do they have
in common? Well...
- Both are pictures
- Both pictures have organic matter in them
- And, um...that's about it
So, no, it would not be a good idea to write a comparison
and contrast essay about these two pictures--they are
certainly very different from one another, but there is
simply no basis for comparison between them that would allow
you to write an interesting essay.
In the other sections of this module, you'll learn more
facts about comparison and contrast essays, including how to
organize and structure them (a big key).