Paragraph of Comparison and Contrast
In our daily life, we often try to make ideas clearer by relating them to one another. This could be seen in the following daily activities. Before deciding which university to attend, people read college catalogs, find information or talk to other people. To understand the nature of language learning easily, it is sometimes compared to the process of learning to swim. To see the competitive advantages of a new cell phone, its features could be contrasted to the older ones we have been familiar with. Before giving their votes in a general election, intelligent people always contrast the qualities of the candidates. Based on these activities it is clear that relationship comparison and contrast are two analysis methods used by people in daily lives. By means of comparison, people examine how two or more things are similar; by means of contrast people looks at how two or more things are different. In other words, comparison is used when we focus on similarities, and contrast when we focus on differences.
Look at the following example, in which the writer contrasts the potential capabilities of girls and boys.
Differences between the potential of girls’ and boys’ could be observed since their childhood. Female infants speak sooner, have larger vocabularies, and rarely demonstrate speech defects. (Stuttering, for instance, occurs almost exclusively among boys.) Girls exceed boys in language abilities, and this early linguistic bias often prevails throughout life. Girls read sooner, learn foreign languages more easily, and, as a result, are more likely to enter occupations involving language mastery. Boys, in contrast, show an early visual superiority. They are also clumsier, performing poorly at something like arranging a row of beads, but excel at other activities calling on total body coordination. Their attentional mechanisms are also different. A boy will react to an inanimate object as quickly as he will to a person. A male baby will often ignore the mother and babble to a blinking light, fixate on a geometric figure, and at a later point, manipulate it and attempt to take it apart. (From: Scarry & Scarry, 2011: 433)
In the following example, the writer compares the atmosphere of the earth to a window.
The atmosphere of Earth acts like any window in serving two very important functions: to let light in and to permit us to look out and to guard Earth from dangerous or uncomfortable things. A normal glazed window lets us keep our house warm by keeping out cold air. In such a way, the Earth’s atmospheric window helps to keep our planet to a comfortable temperature by holding back radiated heat and protecting us from dangerous levels of ultraviolet light. Just like a window which prevents rain, dirt, and unwelcome insects and animals from coming in, scientists have discovered that space is full of a great many very dangerous things against which our atmosphere guards us. (Adapted from: Brandon & Brandon, 2011: 289).
Approaches to Ordering Material
The first paragraph sample above is a contrastive paragraph, that is, a paragraph which discusses the differences between potential capabilities of girls and boys. Notice how the ideas in this paragraph are organized. The writer starts with the topic sentence. After that, he presents only the first subtopic (potential capabilities of girls) and their specific details. Finally, he focuses on the second subtopic (potential capabilities of boys) and their supporting specific details. Such way of ordering materials, in which a subtopic and its supporting details are presented fully before dealing with another subtopic and its supporting details is called the block method.
The other method for ordering material in a paragraph of comparison or contrast is known as the point-by-point method. In this approach, the writer compares or contrasts point 1 of subtopic 1 to point 1 of subtopic 2. Then he compares or contrasts point 2 of subtopic 1 to point 2 of subtopic 2. He proceeds until he has covered all the points. This method is used in the second paragraph sample above. The writer begins with the topic sentence. Then he shows how the atmosphere, like a glazed window, lets light in, permits us to look out and guards Earth from dangerous or uncomfortable things. After that he explains that the atmosphere guards Earth against many very dangerous things from the space, like a window prevents rain, dirt, and unwelcome insects and animals from coming in to the house.
Visually, the outline of the point-by-point method and the block method could be compared as follow.
The Point by Point Method
Topic Sentence: Comparison or Contrast between X and Y
A. Sub-topic 1: First Comparison or Contrast
- point 1 of X
- point 1 of Y
B. Sub-topic 2: Second Comparison or Contrast
- point 2 of X
- point 2 of Y
C. Sub-topic 3: Second Comparison or Contrast
- point 3 of X
- point 3 of Y
The Block Method
Topic: Comparison or Contrast between X and Y
A. Features of X
- point 1 of X
- point 2 of X
- point 3 of X
B. Features of Y
- point 1 of X
- point 2 of X
- point 3 of X
Some writers believe that the block method works best for short paragraph, whereas the point-by-point method is often used in longer pieces of writing in which many points of comparison are made. This method helps the reader keep the comparison or contrast carefully in mind at each point.
The skill to use the two methods for ordering materials above is very essential to achieve coherence in a paragraph of comparison and contrast. Another thing that greatly contributes to comparison and contrast coherence is the careful use of transitions. The following transitions are useful to keep in mind when writing a comparison or contrast paragraph.
Transitions Commonly Used in Comparison:
- in the same way
- in a similar way
- and, also, in addition
- as well as
- both, neither
- each of
- just as…so
- similar to
- the same
Transitions Commonly Used in contrast:
- on the other hand
- on the contrary
- in contrast
- different from
- in contrast with
- as opposed to
The following are two other sample paragraphs. As you read, pay attention to the approach used for ordering materials and the transitional words employed in each of them.
Both Superman and Batman are heroes, but only one is truly a superhero, and taking into account their upbringing, motives, and criminal targets, that is Batman. Upbringing was not gentle for either. Superman came from Krypton, a planet that was about to self-destruct. His parents sent him as a baby on a spaceship to Earth. There he would be adopted by an ordinary farm family. His adoptive parents named him Clark Kent and reared him well. In the same generation, far away in Gotham, Bruce Wayne, the future Batman, was born to a contented, wealthy family. Tragically, his parents were killed in his presence during a mugging. He inherited the family wealth and was raised by his kindly butler. Those very different backgrounds provided Superman and Batman with powerful but different motives for fighting crime. Superman was programmed in his space capsule to know about the forces of good and evil on Earth and to fight the bad people. Unlike Superman, Batman learned from experience. Both have gone on to fight many bad people, but each one has a special enemy. For Superman, it is Lex Luthor, who has studied Superman and knows all about him, even his outstanding weakness—the mineral Kryptonite. For Batman, it is the Joker, who, as a wicked teenager, was the mugger-murderer of his parents. Many spectacular battles have ensued for both crime fighters, and one has reached the top in his profession. Superman offers overwhelming physical strength against crime, but Batman displays cunning and base passion. As he strikes fear in the hearts of the wicked, he’s not just winning; he is getting even. Most people would cheer Superman on. However, they would identify more with Batman, and he is the superhero. (From: Brandon & Brandon, 2011: 282-283).
Like the early feminist movement, which grew out of the campaign to end slavery, the present day women’s movement has been inspired and influenced by the black liberation struggle. The situation of women and blacks is similar in many ways. Just as blacks live in a world defined by whites, women live in a world defined by males. (The generic term of human being is “man”; “woman” means wife of man.”) To be female or black is to be peculiar; whiteness and maleness are the norm. Newspapers do not have “men’s pages,” nor would anyone think of discussing the “man problem”. Racial and sexual stereotypes also resemble each other: women, like blacks, are said to be childish, incapable of abstract reasoning, innately submissive, biologically suited for menial tasks, emotional, close to nature. (From: McQuade and Atwan, 1980: 216-217)
Brandon, Lee & Brandon. Kelly. 2011. Paragraphs and Essays with Integrated Readings (11th ed.). Boston: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.
Scarry, Sandra & Scarry, John. 2011. The Writer’s Workplace with Readings: Building College Writing Skills (7th ed.) Boston: Wadsworth Cengage Learning
McQuade, Donald and Atwan, Robert. 1980. Thinking in Writing. New York: Alfred A. Knopf