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Comparing and Contrasting in Writing Study Guide (page 2)

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Updated on Aug 25, 2011

Multiple Strategies

Organizational patterns are a bit like main ideas. While there is usually one overall organizing principle (as there is one overall main idea), there can be other organizing principles in each paragraph (like the main ideas that hold each paragraph together). There can even be two different organizational patterns working together in the same paragraph. For example, the Star Wars/Crouching Tiger passage uses comparison and contrast as its main organizing principle. But it also uses another strategy to organize the characteristics it compares. Notice how the transitions give this secondary structure away:

Paragraph 2: Both films feature …

Paragraph 3: More importantly …

Paragraph 4: The best thing about Crouching Tiger, though …

If you didn't notice it before, it should be clear now that this comparison and contrast also uses order of importance (least to most) to organize its ideas.

Transitions

One of the keys to a good comparison and contrast is strong transitions. It's important to let readers know when you're comparing and when you're contrasting. As a reader, it's important to watch for these transitions.

Notice, for example, how the writer uses transitions in one of the paragraphs comparing Star Wars and Crouching Tiger:

Both films feature warriors with special powers. In Star Wars, Luke Skywalker, a Jedi knight, has "the force"—a special energy that he can channel to help him overcome evil. Similarly, in Crouching Tiger, Li Mu Bai, Yu Shu Lien, and Jen all have special powers that they've developed through rigorous martial arts training. But the characters in Star Wars rely heavily on automatic weapons. The warriors in Crouching Tiger, in contrast, do all their fighting with old-fashioned weapons such as swords and the most old-fashioned weapon of all—their bodies. What they're able to do with their bodies is much more impressive than anything Luke Skywalker can do with his light saber.

Structure in Comparison and Contrast

We've seen how comparing and contrasting works to support a main idea, and we've looked at how a comparison and contrast uses transitions. Now it's time to look at the comparison and contrast structure.

The Point-by-Point Technique

Comparison and contrast passages are usually organized one of two ways: the point-by-point or block technique. Take a look at the following paragraph, for example:

I'm the oldest of five kids. Yesterday, my youngest sister said she wished she was the oldest. Ha! Let me tell you, being the youngest is better any day. For one thing, the oldest has tons of responsibility. What about the youngest? None. My sis simply has to be there. She doesn't have to do chores, watch the other kids, or help make dinner. For another, the oldest has to "break in" the parents. Since I was the first, my parents had to learn how to be parents—and if they made mistakes, well, I was the one who suffered. Lucky Emily has parents who've already been through this four times. Unlike me, she has parents who are already "well trained."

Notice how this paragraph first states the main idea—"being the youngest is better any day"—and then supports this idea point by point. That is, each time the writer makes a point about what it's like to be oldest, he counters with a point about what it's like to be youngest. Thus, the structure is as follows:

Topic sentence: youngest is better than oldest Characteristic one: responsibility (oldest, youngest)

Characteristic two: parents' experience raising children (oldest, youngest)

For each characteristic, the writer directly compares or contrasts A (oldest) and B (youngest). Then, the writer moves on to the next characteristic and compares or contrasts A and B again. A point-by-point passage, then, uses an AB, AB, AB structure.

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