Advanced Composition for Non-Native Speakers of English

Comparison or Contrast

Comparison or Contrast

Writing Comparison or Contrast Essays

A Comparison or Contrast essay is an essay in which you either compare something or contrast something. A comparison essay is an essay in which you emphasize the similarities, and a contrast essay is an essay in which you emphasize the differences. We use comparison and contrast thinking when deciding which university to attend, which smartphone to buy, or whether to vacation at home or abroad.

When comparing or contrasting something, writers have two classic organizational patterns from which to choose. One is called block arrangement of ideas; the other is called point-by-point or alternating arrangement of ideas. Suppose you are interested in showing the differences between vacationing in the mountains and vacationing at the beach. You will then write a contrast essay. One way to arrange your material is to use the block arrangement which is to write about vacationing in the mountains in one paragraph and vacationing at the beach in the next. If you mention a particular point in the mountains paragraph, you must mention the same point in the beach paragraph, and in the same order. The following outline shows this block organization. The first paragraph (the introduction) is followed by the mountains paragraph, then the beach paragraph, then the conclusion. The fully developed essay is just four paragraphs.

Block Organization in Four Paragraphs
I. Introduction: Get your reader's attention and state your purpose which is to discuss the differences between vacationing in the mountains or at the beach.
II. Vacationing in the Mountains, (A) the climate, (B) the types of activities, and (C) the location.
III. Vacation at the Beach, (A) the climate, (B) the types of activities, and (C) the location.
IV. Conclusion: Summarize your ideas and leave the reader with a good impression.

A second way to organize this material is to discuss a particular point about vacationing in the mountains and then immediately to discuss the same point about vacationing at the beach. This is called point-by-point or alternating arrangement. An outline of this organization follows.

Point-by-Point Organization in Five Paragraphs
I. Introduction: Get your reader's attention and state your purpose which is to discuss three differences between vacationing in the mountains or vacationing at the beach which are the climate, the types of activities, and the location.
II. The first difference between vacationing at the beach or in the mountains is the climate.
III. The second difference between vacationing at the beach or in the mountains is the type of activities.
IV. The third difference between vacationing at the beach or in the mountains is the location.
V. Conclusion: Summarize your ideas and leave the reader with a good impression.

Application: Identification of Block or Point-By-Point in Two Essays

What follows are two short essays, one illustrating block and the other illustrating point-by-point organization. After reading the organizational schemes and seeing how they look in the tables above, it should be relatively simple identifying the organizational pattern in each of the following essays.

Vacationing in the Mountains or at the Beach

Vacationing in the Mountains or At the BeachPeople are always looking forward to their vacation period. There are many options where to choose. I think that the two most common places people choose for taking a vacation are the mountains and the beaches. Both places offer a variety of fun activities. The beach offers activities that the mountain cannot offer and vice versa. The mountain and the beach are totally different. The purpose of this essay is to contrast the climate, types of activities and locations of beaches and mountains.

I'm going to discuss mountains first. The three aspects I'm going to discuss are climate, types of activities and location. Climate is always important in order to enjoy vacations. If a person dislikes cold weather, he or she might have a hard time in the mountains. The cold climate in the mountains is the first barrier to enjoying them, but the climate and the temperature of these zones also determine the types of activities they offer. Snow boarding, mountain climbing, mountain biking, hiking, and skiing are some activities people can enjoy when going to the mountains. There are many regions that have mountains where people can go and have a great vacation. Canada is a country located in North America and contains many mountain vacation sites where people can go and have fun.

I'm going to discuss the beach second. The three aspects I'm going to discuss are climate, types of activities and location. Warm climate is one of the most important features that the beach has. Sun and fun are two words that describe the beach. The temperature in those places is always hot. The sea and the warm climate determine the activities that are available at the beach. People can swim, play volleyball, play soccer, and ride water bikes. In most coastal sites, there are discos and restaurants where people can dance or party throughout the night. Mexico offers many amazing coastal sites to visit. Acapulco and Cancun are two of the most beautiful and famous beaches in the world.

It doesn't matter what place a person decides to choose. The fun is 100% guaranteed. People often choose one of these two options to spend their vacations. Depending on what the person likes is what he or she will choose. I like the beach better than the mountains, but sometimes it is better to take a risk and try a different place to enjoy. (399 words)

Is the "Vacationing" essay above organized using block or point-by-point arrangement of details? First, note the essay is four paragraphs, (1) an introduction, (2) a paragraph about vacationing in the mountains, (3) a paragraph about vacationing at the beach, and (4) a conclusion. This is the block arrangement, the first block containing information about mountains and the second block containing information about the beach. The following essay contrasts eating fresh foods and canned foods. Is its organization block or point-by-point? How many paragraphs does it contain? How many "differences" between fresh foods and canned foods does the author discuss?

Consuming Fresh Foods Instead of Canned Foods

Eating Canned or Fresh FoodsEating is an activity that we as humans do at least two times a day. We live in a world where the variety of food is immense, and we are responsible for what we eat. We decide what we are about to eat and how it will affect our bodies. The purpose of this essay is to compare and contrast the differences between eating fresh foods instead of canned foods. The three main differences are flavor, health benefits, and cost.

The most notable difference between these two kinds of foods is their flavor. Fresh foods have great flavor and taste because they keep all their natural conditions. Canned foods however, lack a lot of its flavor characteristics because there are some other chemical products added to the natural foods. It is logical that the fresh foods will have a greater taste and flavor when consumed just because of the time in which they have been prepared.

Comparing both types of foods we notice another difference. There is a health factor that affects both of them. Canned foods lose some of the original fresh food nutrients when stored, and also it has to be tinned with many conservatives and chemical factors that prolong the shelf life and apparent freshness of the food but could also become toxic if consumed too often.

Yet another difference between these two types of foods is the cost. Canned foods are much more expensive than fresh foods. Here the benefit of buying tinned foods is that they are easier to find, for example, in a supermarket instead of the market like the fresh foods, and they require less work to prepare than fresh foods, just open and serve.

Here are the main three differences between buying fresh foods and buying canned foods. As we can see it comes down to a personal choice, based on the time each person has, the money and the importance he/she gives to his/her nutrition and health. Therefore it is important that you consider your possibilities and choose the best types of foods for your convenience and lifestyle. (347 words)

The "Foods" essay above is the "classic" five paragraph essay that all non-native speakers of English should learn to write. Its organization is the "classic" point-by-point, each point stated and developed in a single paragraph. The essay contains five paragraphs that contrast three differences between fresh and canned foods. The essay includes (1) an introduction, (2) the development of the first difference (flavor), (3) the development of the second difference (health benefits), (4) the development of the third difference (cost), and (5) a conclusion. In the true classic tradition, the three main differences in this contrast essay—flavor, health benefits, and cost—are stated both in the introduction and the conclusion as well. My own observation is this: US kids are taught to organize and write five paragraph essays like this from early childhood, but they rarely attain the degree of perfection of the essay above.

Which Would YOU Prefer, and Why?

For each of the following topics, what support could you imagine yourself making to support one side or the other?

A. Vacationing in Paris or taking a three-week trip down the Amazon.

B. Buying an Apple or a PC laptop.

What other topics would allow you to support your point of view?

Additional Points to Remember When Writing a Comparison or Contrast Essay

1. Know what organizational style you are using. Whether you use the block arrangement or point-by-point organization, you should be able to identify it. Being able to identify your organization will not only help you in the organization of your own writing, but it will also help your readers follow the points you make.

2. State your organization. Remember the "straight line of development" that was discussed in the introduction requires that you "tell your audience what you are going to tell them; then tell them; then tell them what you told them." An important objective in academic writing is clarity, and stating your organization puts your ideas front and center. Always err on the side of clarity!

3. Keep your audience in mind. After you finish writing, read your essay from the perspective of readers. How will they respond to your ideas? Will they understand what you have written? Will they agree with your main point? Even if they do not agree, will the support at least appear logical to them?

4. Say what you want to say. Why write unless you can support your own personal point of view in your own writing? It was said at the top of this page that we use comparison or contrast in nearly everything we do, so look for opportunities as a writer to use comparison or contrast to support a personal point of view, your own view!