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Last updated 28 August 2001
 
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Compare/Contrast Writing: An Introduction


A comparison and contrast essay is one of the most common and popular forms of writing. At its heart, this style of essay depends upon the act of mind at the root of all thinking: the comparison. We isolate two items and mentally set them alongside of each other in order to note what properties they have in common and what properties each possesses that the other lacks. The compare/contrast essay presents in a straightforward and organized way the results of such a mental exercise. In organizing the results of the comparison, such an essay presents an original thesis that seeks to explain the similarities and/or differences rather than merely note them. An effective thesis will reduce the many points of likeness or difference to one or two basic patterns or meanings, bringing order to what might seem chaotic or random.

There are two basic ways to organize a compare/contrast essay: parallel construction and integrated construction:

Parallel Structure and Integrated Structure

There are two ways to organize your compare/contrast essay. Each takes careful preplanning and organization. Here is the difference between the two.

Parallel Construction

In order to write a paper with parallel construction, a student must write about each character in separate paragraphs using the same categories of comparison. For example, if a student compares two characters in The Joy Luck Club, she would compare the family backgrounds, personalities, and relationship choices for EACH character in the same order in each paragraph. The similarlities and differences will evolve naturally through the discussion.

Integrated Construction

In the integrated contruction, the writer must weave back and forth within a single paragraph, disclosing the similarities and differences at the same time. According to Writers in Training, a writer would use the model: "A is like this, while B is like this; A does this, but B does that." An integrated paragraph works well to distinguish the differences between two items that may appear similar.

 

Steps to writing a compare/contrast essay:

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These materials were created by the Upper School English Department.