Doing A Comparison/Contrast Essay
SAMPLE QUESTION: Compare and contrast Superman’s and Spiderman’s use of disguise.
GUIDELINES: Do not summarize the plot or retell the story. Your job is to make an argument, not tell the story. Assume that your reader has not read the play, but is smart enough to follow your argument. The context and evidence that you provide to support your argument is all that your reader needs to follow your argument.
A comparison/contrast essay must do both—compare and contrast. The essay cannot be a laundry list of similarities and differences. Instead, your essay must have a specific argument, and use topic sentences that proceed from your argument.
YOUR ARGUMENT OR THESIS MUST BE PLACED AT THE END OF YOUR INTRODUCTION.
Your introduction must contain the names of the texts, authors, cultures and the general idea that your paper explores, and then your specific argument.
A strong argument for a comparison/contrast essay employs one of two strategies:
1) It takes two quantities (two characters, ideas, symbols) that look alike and argues a difference between them
2) It takes two quantities that look different and argues an underlying similarity.
Thus, for example:
Take the sample question: compare and contrast the role of clothing in two super-hero comics.
This is a broad topic that allows you to fashion your own argument. YOUR ARGUMENT CANNOT BE BROAD: SOMETHING LIKE, “THIS ESSAY EXPLORES THE USE OF DISGUISES IN SUPERMAN AND SPIDERMAN” PROVIDES NO IDEA OF WHAT YOUR SPECIFIC ARGUMENT IS.
A plausible argument would look more like:
Both Spiderman and Superman are superheroes who use clothing as disguises. However, while Spiderman uses his disguise while on duty because he is human, Superman uses his disguise while not on duty because he needs to conceal that he is an alien.
Breaking up the argument reveals these constituent parts:
“Both Spiderman and Superman are superheroes who use clothing as disguises.” This is a similarity between two quantities, Superman and Spiderman. This fulfills the “comparison” requirement of the essay.
“However, while Spiderman uses his disguise while on duty because he is human, Superman uses his disguise while not on duty because he needs to conceal that he is an alien.” This is the difference. Note the use of the transitional word, “however,” which indicates a contrast, a change or transition in ideas.
TOPIC SENTENCES AND BODY STRUCTURE:
A topic sentence is the main idea for a paragraph. It comes directly out of the argument and is a part of the argument that that particular paragraph proves. A paragraph should contain only one idea. It must contain the textual evidence and your interpretation of that evidence that supports that idea. Each part of the argument must be demonstrated and supported over the course of the essay body. The sequence of the argument statement itself determines the sequence of paragraphs and topic sentences in the body. Hence, the body represents an expansion of the argument itself. Use transitional words and phrases to indicate similarities and differences between ideas:
Our sample argument is: “Both Spiderman and Superman are superheroes who use clothing as disguises. However, while Spiderman uses his disguise while on duty, Superman uses his disguise while not on duty.”
The structure of your body comes from the structure of the argument. Break up the argument into its parts:
Both (1) Spiderman and (2) Superman are superheroes who use clothing as disguises. However, while (3) Spiderman uses his disguise while on duty because he is human, (4) Superman uses his disguise while not on duty in order to conceal the fact that he is not from earth.
Your topic sentences and sequence of paragraphs follows naturally:
1. Spiderman is a superhero who uses clothing as a disguise.
2. Like Spiderman, Superman is a superhero who uses clothing as a disguise.
3. Spiderman uses his disguise while on duty because he is human.
4. Unlike Spiderman, Superman uses his disguise when not on duty in order to conceal that his is not from earth.
To complete your essay, add the introduction and your conclusion.
A conclusion is not a restatement of your argument. Rather, it must answer the question “SO WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OR VALUE OF YOUR ARGUMENT?” IT cannot be some vague generalization about today’s society, or history, or the way things always have been. Think rather, about what your argument and paper have helped the reader to understand about the texts, one of the texts, the characters or one of the characters you have examined. Your argument generated by comparing these two texts has allowed you to see something in one or both of them that you would not have seen if you had not done a comparison and had looked at only one text. What is this something? This is the point of your conclusion.
Always support your ideas by specific references to the text. You should use one brief quotation per main idea also. Quotes must be relevant, brief, and explained. Always introduce your quotations, giving your reader the context of the quotation. IF YOU DO NOT EXPLAIN YOUR USE OF THIS QUOTATION, YOUR READER DOES NOT KNOW WHY IT IS RELEVANT TO YOUR ARGUMENT. QUOTES ARENOT SELF-EXPLAINING!
For example, you need to prove that Creon represents rational thinking. Your quotation should look something like:
Sophocles depicts Creon as a rational thinker most clearly when he returns from the Oracle at Delphi and learns that Oedipus has accused him of treason. Instead of jumping to conclusions, Creon asks the Chorus, “Was his glance steady, his mind right / when the charge was brought against me” (590-591). Creon’s question asks if Oedipus genuinely intends to accuse him of treason while his thinking was unaffected by his emotions, or if he makes the accusation out of anger and in the heat of his emotions when his mind was not “right.” The phrases, “steady glance” and “mind right” are metaphors for Oedipus’ ability to think correctly and rationally. They show that Creon will not jump to false conclusions, that he knows Oedipus’ personality, and that he will himself think calmly instead of becoming angry and irrational.
Observe the following:
1. The lines preceding the quotation provide the context for the quotation. They inform the reader of when and why the lines occur in the play, when Creon returns home.
2. Place a comma at the end of the introductory phrase and before beginning the quotation.
3. The quotation ends with a parenthetical citation (in brackets) that informs the reader of the specific line numbers for lines quoted.
4. The final full stop occurs at the end of the closing parenthesis.
5. The lines after the quotation explain the quotation.
The quotation is brief. Limit your quotes to one per paragraph, and no quote should really exceed four lines.
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