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Comparing and Contrasting in Writing Study Guide (page 3)

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Updated on Aug 25, 2011

The Block Technique

The block technique, on the other hand, discusses all the characteristics of A and then discusses all the characteristics of B. That's why it's called the block technique; we get a block of text about one item that's being compared and then get a block of text about the other item. Here's our previous example rewritten with the block comparison and contrast structure:

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. I always have to do chores, watch the other kids, and 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. What about the youngest? What kind of responsibility does my sister have? None. My sis simply has to be there. Lucky Emily also has parents who've already been through this four times. Unlike me, she has parents who are already "well trained."

Here, we have an AA, BB structure—first both of the characteristics of being the oldest, then both of the characteristics of being the youngest.

Comparing and Contrasting Matching Items

Although these two youngest/oldest child comparison and contrast passages use two different organizational techniques, they do have one very important thing in common. In both cases, the characteristics are comparable. When the writer makes a point about A, she also makes a point about the same characteristic in B. She's talking about the same issues for both—responsibility and parent experience. Look at what happens when the characteristics aren't comparable.

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. I have to do chores, watch the other kids, and help make dinner. My sister, on the other hand, is always getting her way. Whatever she wants, she gets, from the latest Barbie accessory to tacos for dinner.

This version has a major problem: The two characteristics the writer wishes to compare aren't the same. Responsibility and the ability to get one's way are two entirely different issues. As a result, the writer is not really proving the point she makes in the topic sentence. We can't see, from this comparison, that the youngest sister doesn't have the same amount of responsibility or that the writer doesn't also always get her way.

Summary

Writers use the comparison and contrast structure to show how two things are alike and how they are different. Look for topic sentences that show the writer's focus (main idea).Watch for transitions, too, that signal comparison or contrast. A comparison and contrast passage may be organized point by point or in blocks. In either case, the characteristics should be comparable.

SKILL BUILDING UNTIL NEXT TIME

  1. Today, compare and contrast things around you. For example, you might compare and contrast this year's English class with last year's, or compare and contrast two sports, like football and soccer (you'll have a better comparison if you compare two team sports or two individual sports rather than comparing a team sport with an individual sport). How are these two things alike? How are they different? Make sure all the characteristics you choose are comparable. For example, if you compare and contrast football and soccer, you might consider the way the ball is handled, the way goals/points are earned, and the danger level of each sport.
  2. As you make these comparisons, try arranging them in both the point-by-point and block structures.

Practice exercises for this study guide can be found at:

Comparing and Contrasting in Writing Practice Exercises

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