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What is a comparative essay?. Comparison is a basic procedure of explanation and analysis. A comparison presents two or more objects and describes and analyzes their similarities and differences. Comparison usually makes us see the items under discussion more clearly and in a new light.
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Comparison is a basic procedure of explanation and analysis. A comparison presents two or more objects and describes and analyzes their similarities and differences. Comparison usually makes us see the items under discussion more clearly and in a new light.
When writing a literary comparison, you will answer the question So What? In other words, you will not only explain the similarities and differences between the two (or more) works (or plots or characters or other elements of fiction you have chosen to discuss) but also explain the significance of your comparison.
A comparative essay asks that you compare at least two (possibly more) items. • These items will differ depending on the assignment. • You might be asked to compare • positions on an issue (e.g., responses to midwifery • in Canada and the United States) • theories (e.g., capitalism and communism) • texts (e.g., Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Macbeth) • events (e.g., the Great Depression and the global • financial crisis of 2008–9)
Although the assignment may say “compare,” the assumption is that you will consider both the similarities and differences; in other words, you will compare and contrast.
Make sure you know the basis for comparison The assignment sheet may say exactly what you need to compare, or it may ask you to come up with a basis for comparison yourself.
The comparison may be provided by the essay question: The essay question may ask that you consider the figure of the gentleman in Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations and Anne Brontë’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. The basis for comparison will be the figure of the gentleman. OR...
The comparison may be developed by you: The question may simply ask that you compare the two novels. In this case you will need to develop a basis for comparison, that is, a theme, concern, or device common to both works from which you can draw similarities and differences.
Develop a list of similarities and differences Once you know your basis for comparison, think critically about the similarities and differences between the items you are comparing, and compile a list of them. For example, you might decide that in Great Expectations, being a true gentleman is not a matter of manners or position but morality, whereas in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, being a true gentleman is not about luxury and self-indulgence but hard work and productivity. The list you have generated is not yet your outline for the essay, but it should provide you with enough similarities and differences to construct an initial plan.
Develop a thesis based on the relative weight of similarities and differences Once you have listed similarities and differences, decide whether the similarities on the whole outweigh the differences or vice versa. Create a thesis statement that reflects their relative weights. A more complex thesis will usually include both similarities and differences. Here are examples of the two main cases:
Differences outweigh similarities: While Callaghan’s “All the Years of Her Life” and Mistry’s “Of White Hairs and Cricket” both follow the conventions of the coming-of-age narrative, Callaghan’s story adheres more closely to these conventions by allowing its central protagonist to mature. In Mistry’s story, by contrast, no real growth occurs.
Similarities outweigh differences: Although Darwin and Lamarck came to different conclusions about whether acquired traits can be inherited, they shared the key distinction of recognizing that species evolve over time.
How to organize the essay Once you have determined your points of comparison, you should develop an outline for your essay. Although there are guidelines for constructing certain paragraph and essay types, there are no set formulas!
The following are some suggested steps to follow: • Analyze the question carefully. • Do your research of your texts (quotes!!) and make sure you have a complete understanding of both things being compared. You will benefit from finding and organizing the quotes first when you come to write your essay and can easily compare similarities and differences.
2. Plan the Introduction (Thesis Paragraph) Start with a general point which establishes the similarity between the two subjects then move to the specific (exact) focus of the essay. The reader must understand which points you will be examining and which points you will not be examining within the comparison. Clearly state your Argument (your thesis) and your Plan of Development (subtopics for comparison) in the Introductory or Thesis paragraph.
3. Organize the sequence of paragraphs in the main body of your essay. Once you have defined the comparison and the basis of the argument you must determine the structure of your essay. It can be any of the following, but not a combination!
Method 1(Alternating Method) You can discuss each half of the comparison in every paragraph. For example, begin with a paragraph comparing the two situations/works; each paragraph thereafter should compare a single aspect of both situations/works until you have completed comparing all the various points. The advantage of this structure is it continually keeps the comparison in the mind of the reader, as well as forces you to pay equal attention to each side of the argument.
EG: Lemons & Apples Para 1: Color of Lemons/Color of Apples Para 2: Vitamins found in Lemons/Vitamins found in Apples Para 3: Health benefits of Lemons/Health benefits of Apples
Professors often like the alternating system because it generally does a better job of highlighting similarities and differences by juxtaposing your points about A and B. It also tends to produce a more tightly integrated and analytical paper. Consider the alternating method if you are able to identify clearly related points between A and B.
Method 2 (Alternating Paragraphs Method) You can alternate between the two subjects paragraph by paragraph. That is, the first paragraph of the main body of your essay begins with one side of the argument. The next paragraph deals with the other, and so on. You keep repeating this process looking at another point in the comparison until you reach your conclusion. This method allows you to discuss points in greater detail, but be sure to keep alternating and ensure you continue discussing similar aspects of each argument.
EG: Lemons & Apples Para 1: Color of Lemons Para 2: Color of Apples Para 3: Vitamins found in Lemons Para 4: Vitamins found in Apples Para 5: Health benefits of Lemons Para 6: Health benefits of Apples
Method 3 (Block Method) In the first half of the main body of the essay, you can argue one side of the comparison throughout as many paragraphs as you wish. When you have finished with that side of the comparison, switch and discuss the other side of the comparison.
EG: Lemons & Apples Para 1: Color of Lemons Para 2: Vitamins found in Lemons Para 3: Health benefits of Lemons Para 4: Color of Apples Para 5: Vitamins found in Apples Para 6: Health benefits of Apples
This method is by far the most dangerous, as your comparison can become one sided, without giving equal time to both. The other problem with this is that you may discuss different features in the second half than you did in the first half. If this occurs, the comparison falls apart as you are not comparing the same features of the two arguments.
4. Plan the Conclusion The conclusion should give a brief, general summary of the most important similarities and differences. It should end with a clear restating of the thesis– what's important about both things being compared. It should leave the reader feeling that all the different threads of the essay have been drawn together in a cohesive way; they have learnt something - and they must be certain this is the end – not look around for missing pages.
Conclusion Suggestion: When you have two radically different topics, it sometimes helps to point out one similarity they have before concluding. (i.e "Although _______ and _________ don't seem to have anything in common, in actuality, they both ________.)
Revise your writing If time is not an issue, the best way to revise your work is to leave it for a day. Go out, have something to eat or drink, have fun……forget about the paragraph/essay until tomorrow. Once you settle down to revise, remember that the two most important things to do when revising are to find problems and to fix them.
These should be done separately (i.e., go through and find all the problems you can without correcting them). Although it is tempting to do them at the same time, it is smarter to do them one by one – this ensures you have checked everything, and ultimately makes the job more efficient and quicker. Sound simple? Maybe....Essential? – definitely! If possible, find a friend to look over the essay, as he or she may find problems that you missed.
Tips • First and foremost - Make sure you have answered the question! • The key principle to remember in a comparative paragraph or essay is that you must clarify precisely what you are comparing and keep that comparison alive throughout the essay. • Make sure you have a great topic sentence or thesis and keep reminding the reader of the thesis. Keep the reader interested; make them want to read on. • Make sure you do not repeat yourself. • Ensure that all points are addressed.
Warnings One of the most common faults of a poor comparative essay is that the comparison is not ‘balanced’ – that is when the essay focuses predominantly on one of the two issues, and gives less importance to the other. Beware of the "Frying Pan Conclusion", in which you simply recount everything that was said in the main body of the essay. While your conclusion should include a simple summary of your argument, it should also emphatically state the point in a new and convincing way, one which the reader will remember clearly.
NOTE: Avoid, at all costs, the conclusion that the two subjects are "similar, yet different.“ This commonly found conclusion weakens any comparative essay! * * * * * Templates are available for both the outline and the essay. Happy Writing!!