Writing Workshop: How to write a comparative essay
The Basics • Choosing a question • Formulating a thesis • Crafting an introduction • Organizing and writing the body • Summing it up in a conclusion • Good essayhabits
Choosing a Question • Three options • Read each carefully • Highlight key words • Go for the gut reaction • Stick with what you know
Formulating a Thesis A thesis is… • a map to your essay; • clear, concise and conclusive; • the last sentence in your introduction; and • the most important part of your essay!
Formulating a Thesis • Topic vs. Thesis • A topic is a general point of discussion • A thesis uses an active verb and tries to prove something or make a specific case • Evaluation vs. Analysis • An evaluation judges a work and uses your opinion • An analysis looks at the author’s intent and examines the techniques the author has used to achieve a particular effect or convey a specific point
Formulating a Thesis • How? Why? So what? • If your thesis causes a reader to ask any of these questions, it may be: • too general • too open-ended • unfocused • not connected to the question • irrelevant • unclear
Formulating a Thesis • Read the question • Jot down your initial thoughts: texts/aspects • Frame the thesis: • Names and titles • What do they do (action words) • How do they do it (techniques) • Test it: how, why, so what? • Plan your paper with your thesis as the guide
Practice: Identify the good thesis! • Top Girls by Caryl Churchill and A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen are both plays about women. • Both Satrapi and Spiegelman successfully engage the reader though their use of vivid images, focused dialogue and relatable characters, allowing the reader to more easily access difficult subject matter. • Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Miller’s The Crucible have many similarities and differences, but more similarities than differences. • In this essay, I will talk about the novels Kafka on the Shore and Pride and Prejudice, examining way in which each makes me feel like I am part of the plot. • In light of their use of punctuation, diction and voice, E.E. Cummings’ “since feeling is first” and Billy Collins’ “The First Dream” can be read as classical love poems, aimed at forging an emotional connection between the reader and poet.
Paper 2: Example Question and Thesis Question: A moral or a lesson is a common convention in stories. In what ways and for what purposes have at least two of your chosen authors either adhered to or subverted this convention? Thesis: This is seen in both the satirical novels The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain, and 1984, by George Orwell, where both novels, though they do it via different literary techniques, portray flaws mainly in their settings, thus yielding a moral or lesson to society that is perhaps less conventional, but certainly effective.
Paper 2: Example Question and Thesis Question: Though plot may be said, at its simplest level, to be a sequence of events, what truly distinguishes prose fiction is the use of narrative disruption: impediment, detour, diversion or digression. In at least two works in your study, how have writers created narrative disruption and to what effect? Thesis: In Atonement, McEwan uses Paul Marshall’s character and Briony’s character as impediments to the fairytale-like romance between Robbie and Cecilia, and in Slaughterhouse Five, Vonnegut uses detour and diversion to describe how Billy Pilgrim is unstuck in time.
Practice: Writing a good thesis • From these questions below, craft a good thesis: • Discuss a scene in which a particular mood or atmosphere contributes significantly to the total effect of each of the plays you have studied, making clear how each dramatist creates that mood or atmosphere. • How far do you think the staging can affect an audience's response to a play in the theatre? In your answer consider the presentation of particular scenes from the plays you have studied. • 'The theatre inevitably plays an important part in bringing into the open what are the burning issues of the time.’ In what ways have dramatists used the theatre to express their views about burning issues of the time in the plays you have studied?
Crafting an introduction • Lead in to the topic with … • a specific detail • a direct address of the question • a generalized statement related to the question • an anecdote • Introduce the texts • Limit the subject and define terms used • Indicate the plan • Give some discussion about the topic that helps lead readers to the inevitable thesis • Thesis!
Crafting an introduction • Yourintroshould be shaped like an inverted triangle: General Specific
Crafting an introduction • Get the examiner’s interest! • Stress the importance of the subject • Arouse the reader’s curiosity • Amuse the reader “He killed his brother. He married his brother’s wife. He stole his brother’s crown. A cold-hearted murderer, he is described by his brother’s ghost as “that incestuous, that adulterate beast” (I.v.42). The bare facts appear to stamp him an utter moral outlaw. Nonetheless, as his soliloquies and anguished asides reveal, no person in Hamlet demonstrates so mixed a true nature as Claudius, the newly made King of Denmark” (qtd. in McIntyre).
Organizing and Writing the Body • Organization is KEY Think first, write later. • Outline • Venn Diagram • Coded List • Essay-writing timeline • figure it out and stick to it • Compare AND Contrast • (It says to do it in the instructions, so do it.)
Essay Structure • Two types of organization: • Block Style • First one text, then the other • Used when contrasting is minimal • Mostly used for explanation/deciding between two texts • Point-by-Point Style • Both texts are addressed in relation to each point • Used for comparing and contrasting • Allows for analysis of both texts • THE RIGHT ONE TO USE • (not that we’d ever say there is one right way to do something…)
Essay Structure Example:A comparison of cats and dogs Block Point-by-Point • Topic 1: Cats • fluffy and cute • opportunistic and independent • no meow, all lethal claws • Topic 2: Dogs • clumsy and cute • loyal and dependent • all bark, no bite • Point 1: Adorable factor • Cats: fluffy and cute • Dogs: clumsy and cute • Point 2: Dedication • Cats: opportunistic and independent • Dogs: loyal and dependent • Point 3: Attack factor • Cats: no meow, all lethal claws • Dogs: all bark, no bite
Paragraph Structure • Topic sentence • Address the point • Relate it to both texts • Mini-topic sentence for first text • Explanation • Analysis • Segue and mini-topic sentence for second text • Explanation • Analysis • Connecting thoughts on both texts as they relate to the point • Conclusion sentence
Paragraph Structure Example:A student’s paper from the last exam • Both young Maya and Richard were able to react to the comfort of literature, as a way to deal with their difficult individual experiences. Some of the most painful encounters led each character to this form of escape, something that helped them strive for their interests and continue to remain true to their identity. For young Maya, this event was remembered as a horrific sexual violation, when Mr. Freeman raped her at the age of eight. … As she stated: “Words were different than set on paper. It takes the power of the human voice to infuse them with shades of deeper meaning.” Parallel to this exploration of literature after such a catastrophic event, young Richard is able to develop his talent of writing through the rejection of religion. …Like the sexual abuse that Maya endured, this terrifying physical abuse drives him further from his home and closer to his love of writing.
Paragraph Structure Example:A student’s paper from the last exam • One method used by Miller and Williams is the introduction of new or old characters to the plot. Miller introduces a character from Willy’s past, his brother Ben, to show Willy’s desire to be successful and for his children to be successful. … In a similar way, a new character creates drama for Stanley and Stella. … In both these instances, drama is created, but the type of drama is different. The audience has sympathy for Willy who is trying hard to help better the lives of his children. However, the audience feels disgust for both characters in Williams’ example: Blanche, for her actions in the past, and Stanley, for his current abusive actions.
Transitions! • Did you notice the transitional phrases in the examples? • Parallel to this … • In a similar way … • In both these instances … • However … • Use transitions to make your essay FLOW! • Other examples: • Comparing: Likewise, At the same time, Just as, In addition • Contrasting: Even though, On the other hand, Conversely, Meanwhile, Although
You try it! • Practice with the questions below (same as last week!). • First, craft an outline for your essay. • Second, write your topic sentences with transitions. • Discuss a scene in which a particular mood or atmosphere contributes significantly to the total effect of each of the plays you have studied, making clear how each dramatist creates that mood or atmosphere. • How far do you think the staging can affect an audience's response to a play in the theatre? In your answer consider the presentation of particular scenes from the plays you have studied. • 'The theatre inevitably plays an important part in bringing into the open what are the burning issues of the time.’ In what ways have dramatists used the theatre to express their views about burning issues of the time in the plays you have studied?
Summing it up! • Your conclusion should restate your thesis, but it should not JUST be a restatement of your thesis! • DO: • “There are also some moments of poor connection (eg, “Another method these author’s employ is”) but the mark awarded is justified by the development of argument and by the concluding section, which draws together various threads of the response in such a way as to facilitate comparison.” • DO NOT: • “The conclusion is disappointing and the response ends abruptly with one comparative sentence at the end of a paragraph on word choice.” • These both come right from an examiner’s notes!
Summing it up! • Summarize, Synthesize, Extend • Give a brief overview of your main points • Tie them all together in a way that answers the question and focuses back on the thesis • Without introducing any new ideas, extend your thoughts to a final conclusion or musing, or simply zoom in again on author’s intent • If you struggle with this last one, leave it out!
Summary Example • In Toni Morrison’s Beloved and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, readers are able to better understand the characters’ mental anguish through confusing shifts between memoirs and dreams. Furthermore, the authors address their respective central problems of slavery and community, and post-apocalyptic hopelessness and the struggle for survival with small but indicative implications of situation and setting. It might even be argued that both authors advocate the importance of community through the struggles of characters as the black community exorcises Beloved so Sethe can move on and the man living only to protect his son. By ‘taking me to the heart’ and understanding of their characters, the readers adhere to their problems and are thus influenced when these problems are resolved with the help of community; to exorcise painful memories or the repopulate the earth after the apocalypse and remain hopeful.
Good (Timed) Essay Writing Habits • Take the time to organize – it not only ensures you stay focused, but it also means the hard work of thinking is done before you even start writing. • Budget your time before the exam and stick to your schedule. • Always leave yourself time to proofread. • Stay in the present tense! Leave the past in the past. • Use paragraphs. If you forget, use railroad tracks to show where the breaks should occur. • Stay away from personal pronouns. They lower the register. Use “the audience” or “the reader” as needed, but say NO to I, you and we! • QUALITY is always better than QUANTITY. This doesn’t mean write a short essay, but it is better to cover three points REALLY WELL than twenty points in a mediocre fashion. • Don’t skimp on the conclusion. Remember that is the last thing that will be read, so you don’t want to end with a “meh” feeling!
Works Cited • Alspaugh, Michelle, ed. “Mt. Vernon High School Writing Handbook: A Collaborative Effort by the IB English and History Departments.” Mount Vernon High School. Fairfax County Public Schools, n.d. Web. 30 Mar. 2014. • “Comparing and Contrasting.” The Writing Center.University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, n.d. Web. 30 Mar. 2014. • “Languages Teacher Support Material.” Online Curriculum Centre. International Baccalaureate Organization, n.d. Web. 30 Mar. 2014. • Malavolta, Gavin. “IB English paper 2 2013 – what examiners and teachers say.” Kungsholmen’s IB English A Home. n.p., 6 May 2012. Web. 30 Mar. 2014. • McIntyre, David. “Essay Writing Guidelines.” David’s IB Language and Literature Teaching Blog. Web. 30 Mar. 2014. • “Tips for Kicking Butt on IB English A1 Paper 2 – Essay.” The Nardvark. The Nardvark, 22 Apr. 2012. Web. 30 Mar. 2014. • Walk, Kerry. “How to Write a Comparative Analysis.” The Writing Center at Harvard University. Harvard U, 1998. Web. 30 Mar. 2014. • “Writing a Compare/Contrast Essay.” CLRC Writing Center. Santa Barbara City College, n.d. Web. 30 Mar. 2014.