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Compare and Contrast Help (page 3)

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Updated on Sep 21, 2011

Practice

Suppose you were going to write a paragraph that compares and contrasts readers and detectives. The following lists describe five aspects of being a reader and five aspects of being a detective. Only three items in each list are comparable. Find those three items in each list and pair each one with its matching item. Remember, these items may be either similarities or differences. What's important is that they are comparable aspects.

    A reader:
  1. looks for clues to meaning.
  2. has many different types of books to read.
  3. can choose what book to read.
  4. builds vocabulary by reading.
  5. becomes a better reader with each book.
    A detective:
  1. has a dangerous job.
  2. gets better at solving crimes with each case.
  3. requires lots of training.
  4. doesn't get to choose which cases to work on.
  5. looks for clues to solve the crime.

Did you find the aspects that are comparable? Did you match reader 1 with detective 5 (similarity)? Reader 3 with detective 4 (difference)? And reader 5 with detective 2 (similarity)? If so, you did terrific work.

Here's how this information might work together in a paragraph:

In many ways, readers are a lot like detectives. Like detectives looking for clues at the scene of the crime, readers look for clues to meaning in the books that they read. And, like detectives who get better and better at solving crimes with each case, readers get better and better at understanding what they read with each book. Unfortunately for detectives, however, they cannot choose which cases they get to work on, whereas readers have the pleasure of choosing which books they'd like to read.

Why Compare and Contrast?

In addition to following the ABABAB or AAABBB structure, compare and contrast passages must, like all other passages, have a point. There's a reason that these two items are being compared and contrasted; there's something the writer is trying to point out by putting these two things side by side for analysis. This reason or point is the main idea, which is often stated in a topic sentence.

The main idea of the first paragraph you looked at in this lesson was, "Planting a garden is a lot like having a family." In this paragraph, you learned that the writer sees a significant similarity between these two roles. Likewise, in the previous paragraph, you see a significant similarity between readers and detectives.

In both cases, you may never have thought of making such comparisons. That's part of the beauty of the compare and contrast organization: It often allows you to see things in a new and interesting way. In addition, it serves the more practical function of showing you how two things measure up against each other so that you can make informed decisions, like about which car to buy (a compare and contrast essay might tell you which car is better) or which savings bond to invest in (a compare and contrast essay will show you which bond is best for you).

TIP: When you are reading a comparison/contrast essay or article, focus on the words or phrases that point out key similarities or differences.

The following are some topics that lend themselves well to comparison and contrast:

  1. Fashion trends of the 1960s and the 1980s
  2. baseball and football games
  3. high school years and college years
  4. teenagers and senior citizens
  5. art students and computer science majors
  6. fast food and health food
  7. living on a farm and living in an urban area

Practice exercises for this concept can be found at Reading Comprehension Organization Practice Test.

Test your knowledge at Reading Comprehension Final Practice Test.

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