Lately in our Com 12 classes, we’ve been working with the compare/contrast essay and paragraph. It isn’t easy to master this form of writing, and it is easy to go wrong. This Weekly Feature goes over some of the strategies we’ve been practicing with this form.
First, pick some topic sets that you know something about, for example brothers, or sisters, family routines that work, or, something completely different, two schools. That way, you can guarantee that you’re going to be able to generate some main points, and those main points form your support paragraphs, your body paragraphs for your essay.
Don’t pick too many points, two or three are fine. Then give yourself five minutes and brainstorm your first topic-set, writing down on paper every single thought you have about them, especially your “impossible” ones. Often, afterwards you will see a connection to your topics from those “impossible” ideas you almost don’t write down.
If you don’t get any ideas, or don’t get many good ones, try brainstorming a second topic-set. The more often you brainstorm, do a directed freewrite, or concept map to get ideas, the richer your “ideas-haul” will be (the more ideas your brain will give you). Practice will yield results, every time. When you have three areas of contrast (or comparison), stop there a moment.
Your next step is to make sure your points “match," or are parallel. Write down those points on a separate, attached piece of paper – do this because if you get tangled up in your points, your list, made now, will help you to make sure your points are clear. Write down those points, making sure they contrast (or compare) clearly and directly.
If you’re contrasting appearances, try first for the most obvious contrasts – light hair contrasts best with dark hair, blue eyes with brown eyes (or green). “Tweaking” points – exaggerating to make a point – is allowed and often is part of writing convincingly and clearly.
That’s enough talk for now. Following is an example contrast essay, The Light and the Dark, about two sisters with three main points: personality, appearances, and abilities. It’s also labelled as to which are topic sentences, the kind of support used, and more. And, I’d like to say thanks to my students for trusting me in the often-difficult writing process.
Example Contrast Essay
The Dark and the Light: A Look Back at Growing Up
When I was growing up, we were a family of six people. (most general sentence) I had three sisters; one was six years older, and the youngest was eight years younger. (a little less general) But I also had a sister only a year younger than I was. (specific information sentence, narrower) Brenda and I were both girls, both sisters, and had the same home and parents. What surprised people was how different we were in personality, looks and abilities. (thesis statement with 3 named points)
Brenda and I, while having so much in common, were very different in personality. (topic sentence) She was dark and brooding; I was lighter and happier. For example, whenever something upsetting happened, our reactions would invariably be quite different. For example, once one of our dogs was killed by a car. Everyone at home was sad. Brenda, though, was almost impossible to console. I, on the other hand, could accept comfort and believe I’d “feel better in the morning.” And I almost always did. (example type of support sentences) Bren and I looked at life in opposite ways, and had dissimilar looks. (concluding sentence with link to next para.)
The next difference between Bren and I was our looks. (topic sentence) Bren had light-brown hair cut short like a pixie’s, and deep blue eyes. My hair, on the other hand, was almost black, always long, and I have green eyes. (description type of supporting details) We did have similar appearances as babies, but we quickly outgrew that! People would look at us, learn that we were sisters, and shake their heads. Brenda and I were as different in looks as in talents. (concluding sentence with link to next para.)
The third way in which we were different was in our abilities. (topic sentence) Bren ran everywhere, climbed everything, and jumped anything in her path. She always won white and gold “First Place” ribbons at school Sports Days. I, in contrast, was not as sports-minded, and I spent more time than Bren did reading. I got some great report cards at school for a while! While sisters both, I and Bren were good at completely different things. (concluding sentence)
Many people, when they came to know Brenda and I, were amazed at how dissimilar we were as people in temperament, appearance, and talents. (restated thesis) We always enjoyed being together even though we liked different things. (more general sentence) Sisters, in fact, can be the most wonderful friends (most general sentence). Do you have a great friend who’s a part of your family? If you don’t, look again. Sisters can be terrific! (a 3-sentence hook)
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