Sometimes the sequence is evaluate-compare-predict, at other times it is evaluate-compare-decide, or evaluate-compare-recommend, and even evaluate-compare-and then reject both options! The final term in this chain is a claim this team will win, we should eat at the diner, we should buy brand X , which in academic papers tends to be called a thesis. Academic papers often employ the same analytical sequence and evaluative and comparatives kills as we use in every day decision-making, and we write them for the same reason--to help us reach a decision about things we are comparing and then explain that decision to others.
Prewriting for comparison and contrast papers can be conducted visually, through charts. Draw vertical lines down the center of a sheet of notebook paper, allowing one column for each thing to be compared and a small margin on the left. If you prefer to work on your computer, make a table using your word processing software or a spread sheet program.
List the main points, topics, or features in the left margin or column and then note how each text responds or represents it in the relevant column. You might find it helpful to indicate all of the similarities using a highlighter, marks next to each similarity, or some other system. This technique will help you identify and keep track of the important similarities and differences.
When a comparison and contrast assignment asks you to compare your personal experience with something else, it is important not to fall into the fallacy of using personal experience to evaluate the accuracy of the other.
For example, you might read an essay arguing that the traditional image of family life in which Dad goes off to work and Mom stays at home to take care of the house and the children no longer describes the lives of the majority of American families. Let us suppose that you are asked to compare your family and the families of your friends with the new image that the article describes both parents working, or a single parent working and raising the children.
The argument "The traditional family in which I grew up demonstrates how little the author of the article knows about American life" makes no sense because you are comparing a specific case with a generalization based on many cases. Your experience might, however, support a thesis along the line of "The work pattern described in Bergmann's essay might describe general trends, but many families, like mine, found other ways to respond to the fall in middle-class wages that she describes" or "While Barbara Bergmann describes the reasons that many women returned to the workplace in the last decade, my own experience shows that for some women the reasons are harder to isolate and analyze.
Inexperienced academic writers often get lost when they are trying to decide on a thesis for a paper that uses comparison and contrast. Developing a good thesis for a college-level comparison and contrast paper involves your looking at those similarities and differences and asking yourself the crucial question, "So what? Once you have figured out a thesis statement, or at least something that you can work with temporarily remember, you can always revise or replace your thesis once your paper is underway , you can begin drafting.
Two general structural patterns are available for papers that use comparison and contrast. Some papers adopt one or the other, but many actually blend these two patterns together in various ways. Being aware of the two basic patterns will help you make wise rhetorical choices as you draft your paper.
The structures are the point-by-point pattern and the block pattern:. When you use this structure, you work back and forth between the sources you consider in your paper discussing one point of similarity or difference at a time. Each paragraph takes one feature or point of similarity or difference and discusses each source in relation to it. For example, a paper comparing three paintings might contain one paragraph discussing the similarities and differences in the use of light and shade in the three paintings, another discussing how each painting uses color, and so on.
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