Compare and Contrast

When comparing things, the writer shows their similarities; when contrasting things, the writer shows their differences.
We can really understand only those things that are familiar to us or similar to things we already understand, so comparing and contrasting the unfamiliar with the familiar is one of the most important techniques for writing. Students can use comparison and contrast to describe things, to define things, to analyze things, to make an argument — to do, in fact, almost any kind of writing.
When comparing and contrasting ideas, like corsets and footbinding, most writers structure their essays one of four ways.
1. First compare, then contrast (or vice versa).
Writers using a comparison/contrast structure might begin by discussing the ways corsets are similar to footbinding, then move to a description of the ways the two ideas are different. This method is the one used most commonly.
Corsets and footbinding are similar.
Corsets and footbinding are different.
This structure focuses on the comparison and contrast, not the two ideas (corsetry and footbinding) being compared and contrasted.
Clearly, the sequence is important. If beginning with the comparison, then the contrast will get emphasis – the logical movement is from thinking about similarities to thinking about differences. If the writer begins by contrasting the ideas (and then move toward a comparison), the similarities get emphasis.
Outline example:
1. Introduction
2. Corsets and footbinding are similar
o Both practiced in the far past, through the 19th century, and into the 20th.
o Both restrict women’s movement and impair health.
o Both practiced by women of all classes, not just upper class women
o To use Veblen’s argument, both enhance man’s value in the culture to be responsible for women who were too delicate to work.
o Both practiced by women on women. Women laced corsets; women bound feet.
3. Corsets and footbinding are different
o Chinese culture is radically different from that of western Europe and America.
o Every Chinese woman so bound was deformed for life; only most extreme cases of tight-lacing did permanent damage.
o Corsets trivialized by everybody since the end of the dress reform movement.
4. Conclusion
2. First do one idea, then do the other.
Writers might compare and contrast ideas by treating one idea thoroughly before taking up the second one. This method is probably the one most students try first, but many evolve past it into something more flexible.
similarities (or differences)
differences (or similarities)
A structure like this one seems more focused on the ideas being compared and contrasted than on the comparison and contrast itself. The similarities and differences between the ideas do not begin to emerge until the writer gets to the second idea. It is as if the writer is comparing and contrasting footbinding to corsetry, instead of corsetry and footbinding to each other.
Outline example:
1. Introduction
2. Corsetry
o Practiced in Sumaria, Crete, millennia ago; focus in Western world.
o Corsetry not exactly the same as tight-lacing.
o Effects on health: tight-lacing vs stays.
o Henri II’s queen: 15-inch waist with the help of the King’s armorer.
o Dress Reform movement.
o 1880s and 1890s, when women were looking at the possibilities of real contributions to the political debate.
3. Footbinding
o Earliest references.
o Survival rates and the effects on health.
o Our misconceptions about class — women plowing fields in mud up to their ankles.
o Any girl whose female relatives thought she might be able to marry up would bind her feet.
o Simone de Beauvior saw some; Life magazine’s photos.
o When the government made it illegal. Also, how women whose feet had been bound couldn’t really unbind.
4. Conclusion
3. Write only about the comparable and contrastable elements of each idea.
Writers might compare and contrast ideas by taking important specific elements and looking at their similarities and differences. This method requires real control over the subject.
element #1
element #2
element #3
. . .
A comparison/contrast essay like this one would focus only on elements of the ideas that are explicitly comparable or contrasting.
Outline example:
1. Introduction
2. Restrictions on women’s movements.
3. Effects on women’s health.
4. Economic and cultural value of a helpless female to a powerful male.
5. Women’s contributions to their own weakening.
6. Cultural movements against tight-lacing and footbinding.
7. Socio-economic class and tight-lacing and footbinding.
8. Lasting into 20th century.
9. Eastern and western cultures.
10.   Extreme cases vs. most women.
11.   Conclusion
4. Only compare or only contrast.
It is always possible, of course, to write an essay that treats only the similarities or differences between ideas.
Writers who only compare two ideas sometimes briefly mention the contrast in the introduction and then move on so they don’t lead readers to think they can’t make relevant distinctions.
·     Writers who only contrast ideas sometimes briefly summarize similarities in the conclusion so they don’t leave the impression they are thinking in opposites.
Comparison/contrast is useful for more than an essay topic.
Many teachers assign topics that ask writers to write an essay comparing and contrasting two or more ideas, but besides its value in organizing an essay, comparison/contrast is also useful as a technique
·     to structure a paragraph
·     to work within other techniques or modes
o to define a complex idea (by comparing to something similar and contrasting it with its opposite)
o to think about one thing in terms of another (like the present in terms of the past)
o to make an argument, first describing what people shouldn’t do and then ending with what they should.

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