Rhetorical Patterns - Comparison/Contrast
The Rhetorical Patterns - Organizing Essays for Different Rhetorical Situations
The following pages will provide you with several effective ways of organizing information in your essays. Oftentimes, when you know who your audience is and what your purpose is for writing (which is called your rhetorical situation), you can begin to consider the organization of what is going to be in your paper, how you will introduce your paper, and what to write for your conclusion. The following rhetorical patterns will help you answer these questions.
Definition: Comparison/contrast normally analyzes two or more things, using an established logical system.
Description: Comparing things is examining them for their similarities; whereas contrasting them is looking for their differences. When you want to persuade your readers that a difference exists between what they believe and what you want them to believe, a comparison/contrast is an effective system of organization for illustrating those differences.
Conventions: When a writing prompt includes the word “compare,” then you should consider showing both the differences and similarities, as the term “compare” often connotes both functions. Readers normally expect that the criteria for selecting the two things you are comparing will be fair and valid for the comparison. It would strike most readers as inappropriate to compare President Bush with Mickey Mouse; whereas, a comparison between Bush and Clinton would be fair and valid. Because you want your reader to follow your comparison, you might want to minimize or avoid using the first person, so that the two things and the comparison take center stage throughout your paper.
Strategies: First, consider what your audience already knows about the things that you plan to compare/contrast. If, for instance, they are knowledgeable about the things you are comparing, then you can explore the reasons behind your comparison. If your readers are familiar with one or two of the several things you plan to compare, then consider beginning your comparison with the known entities and moving into the unknown ones. Use balance between the two elements. Just because an ostrich and a hummingbird have wings does not mean that balance exists between the two different wings; such a comparison would be lopsided and ineffective.
Organization: After introducing and explaining the reasons for the comparison of the two things, most readers will expect a thesis statement that sums up the motivations behind the comparison. If you are comparing two baseball teams, The Yankees and the Red Sox, explain your preference for one in your thesis statement. Your body paragraphs will carry most of the weight for the structure of this kind of system of organization. Decide whether you are going to use a subject-by-subject or a point-by-point system for the body paragraphs.
A subject-by-subject organization devotes one full body paragraph to examining each of the major things being compared. Use the same order as you write your body paragraphs. For instance, in a subject-by-subject comparison of the two baseball teams, one body paragraph might examine how Roger Clemens played when he was with the Red Sox and then in the following paragraph how he played when he was with the Yankees. Use this system when you have much to say about each of the things you are comparing.
If Clemens was only a small part of your comparison, and you had several other small elements (like uniforms, other players, fans, and so on), then you could use a point-by-point system of organizing your body paragraphs. For this, you would talk about how Clemens played for both teams in the same body paragraph, and then move into another element to be compared in the next paragraph. Find some kind of priority/order for examining the things (in a subject-by-subject) or the elements of the two things (in a point-by-point), so that you don’t jump from one insignificant comparison to a major comparison to a smaller element.
If you must use both systems in a paper, use the subject-by-subject system first. Explain exactly what will be compared in your topic sentences, and your transitions are equally important because they alert your readers to the fact that you are finished comparing one thing or element and are moving on. Because the topic sentences are so vitally important to this kind of paper, your thesis might simply mention the two things being compared and pronounce a judgment; a thesis statement that mentioned all of the things/elements being compared could be lengthy and confusing to your readers. Conclusions are an excellent place for restating your judgment and summarizing the comparisons that led you to that judgment. You might also use the conclusion to discuss ramifications of your comparison. Most readers will become confused if you continue to compare new things/elements in the conclusion.
How do I decide between using a subject-by-subject or point-by-point organization?
After you have decided how you will approach your comparison, consider the two organizational structures for the comparison paper:
- The first way is the subject-by-subject comparison, which uses a full body paragraph for each separate comparison: Ford Taurus in one paragraph and the Honda Accord in the next paragraph.
- The other way is the point-by-point comparison, which does the comparison of both subjects in each body paragraph: Gas mileage for the Ford Taurus and then for the Honda Accord in the same paragraph.
For instance, if you are comparing the Honda Accord and the Ford Taurus, the two autos would be your two subjects. You need to decide if you want to spend an entire paragraph for each subject while discussing your points, which would be the things you use to compare and contrast.
For points, you could use, gas mileage, reliability, sticker price, customer satisfaction, and resale value.
How do I combine points into one paragraph?
Another method would be to see which of the points could be combined with another point (or maybe even combine three points) so that you could maintain a subject-by-subject structure. To do this, you might say that sticker price, gas mileage, and resale value are all brief amounts of number-based information that could be combined together. You would be combining these three points (sticker price, gas mileage, and resale value) for each subject (the Honda and the Ford), and you would write all three points in a separate body paragraph. So, to do this, you would have:
- A body paragraph discuss the Honda’s sticker price, gas mileage, and resale value, and
- The next body paragraph discuss the Ford’s sticker price, gas mileage, and resale value
What about the order of the subjects?
If you compare the ford and Honda, stick with that order: you always maintain the same order. This means analyzing one thing and then the other and holding to that pattern. For instance, if you noticed, in the Honda versus Ford comparison, the comparison always began with the Accord and ended with the Taurus.
How do I write a thesis statement for all the information I am going to compare?
Many comparison papers end up dealing with too many points for all of them to go into the thesis statement. For instance, in the Accord/Taurus comparison, you dealt with several points to show how both cars were similar and yet different. If you were to write all of those points into the thesis statement, the sentence might run two or three lines long, making it a confusing sentence. Remember that a thesis statement should be clear more than anything else. If you are comparing two things and you think that one is superior, then two elements are crucial and should be in the thesis statement:
- The two things being compared
- The judgment you will arrive at after comparing them.
For instance, a thesis statement for our car comparison paper might look like this:
A comparison of the similarities and differences between the Honda Accord and the Ford Taurus shows that the Accord is a superior car.
Many instructors like to see the thesis statement de-emphasized as a place for listing all of the things that will happen in the body paragraphs.
SUBJECTS OF COMPARISON: Honda Accord Versus Ford Taurus
POINTS TO USE FOR THE COMPARISON:
- Gas Mileage
- Sticker Price
- Customer Satisfaction
- Resale Value
What should I put into a comparison introduction?
Consider your audience while drafting your introduction. Since you will cover much ground, so to speak, while comparing two things, your readers will likely not want to read an introduction that summarizes each of the points that you will compare. This kind of “previewing” can quickly bore your readers. Rather, for your introduction, you might want to explain why each of the things you are comparing are important to you. Similarly, you might want to provide enough of a description or give enough background on each thing so that when you begin comparing them, you do not need to lose your focus and explain some detail that should have been provided earlier.
How do I draft my comparison paper’s conclusion?
When you arrive at your conclusion, you may well want to return to your thesis statement in the sense that you want to overtly and obviously give your judgment, which was the reason for your comparison in the first place. For instance, you may think that Nas is a flash in the pan, so to speak, and his career, while exciting now, will be nonexistent in a few years, whereas Jay-Z, on the other hand, has remarkable talent and will be famous and critically important for years to come. For the sake of your readers, it may very well be necessary to return to your thesis statement and restate it, and then provide a quick overview of the reasons (from your body paragraphs) why you think one thing might be superior to another thing.