Paragraph of Comparison and Contrast
In our daily life, we often try to make ideas clearer by relating them to one another. This could be seen in the following daily activities. Before deciding which university to attend, people read college catalogs, find information or talk to other people. To understand the nature of language learning easily, it is sometimes compared to the process of learning to swim. To see the competitive advantages of a new cell phone, its features could be contrasted to the older ones we have been familiar with. Before giving their votes in a general election, intelligent people always contrast the qualities of the candidates. Based on these activities it is clear that relationship comparison and contrast are two analysis methods used by people in daily lives. By means of comparison, people examine how two or more things are similar; by means of contrast people looks at how two or more things are different. In other words, comparison is used when we focus on similarities, and contrast when we focus on differences.
Look at the following example, in which the writer contrasts the potential capabilities of girls and boys.
Differences between the potential of girls’ and boys’ could be observed since their childhood. Female infants speak sooner, have larger vocabularies, and rarely demonstrate speech defects. (Stuttering, for instance, occurs almost exclusively among boys.) Girls exceed boys in language abilities, and this early linguistic bias often prevails throughout life. Girls read sooner, learn foreign languages more easily, and, as a result, are more likely to enter occupations involving language mastery. Boys, in contrast, show an early visual superiority. They are also clumsier, performing poorly at something like arranging a row of beads, but excel at other activities calling on total body coordination. Their attentional mechanisms are also different. A boy will react to an inanimate object as quickly as he will to a person. A male baby will often ignore the mother and babble to a blinking light, fixate on a geometric figure, and at a later point, manipulate it and attempt to take it apart. (From: Scarry & Scarry, 2011: 433)
In the following example, the writer compares the atmosphere of the earth to a window.
The atmosphere of Earth acts like any window in serving two very important functions: to let light in and to permit us to look out and to guard Earth from dangerous or uncomfortable things. A normal glazed window lets us keep our house warm by keeping out cold air. In such a way, the Earth’s atmospheric window helps to keep our planet to a comfortable temperature by holding back radiated heat and protecting us from dangerous levels of ultraviolet light. Just like a window which prevents rain, dirt, and unwelcome insects and animals from coming in, scientists have discovered that space is full of a great many very dangerous things against which our atmosphere guards us. (Adapted from: Brandon & Brandon, 2011: 289).
Approaches to Ordering Material
The first paragraph sample above is a contrastive paragraph, that is, a paragraph which discusses the differences between potential capabilities of girls and boys. Notice how the ideas in this paragraph are organized. The writer starts with the topic sentence. After that, he presents only the first subtopic (potential capabilities of girls) and their specific details. Finally, he focuses on the second subtopic (potential capabilities of boys) and their supporting specific details. Such way of ordering materials, in which a subtopic and its supporting details are presented fully before dealing with another subtopic and its supporting details is called the block method.
The other method for ordering material in a paragraph of comparison or contrast is known as the point-by-point method. In this approach, the writer compares or contrasts point 1 of subtopic 1 to point 1 of subtopic 2. Then he compares or contrasts point 2 of subtopic 1 to point 2 of subtopic 2. He proceeds until he has covered all the points. This method is used in the second paragraph sample above. The writer begins with the topic sentence. Then he shows how the atmosphere, like a glazed window, lets light in, permits us to look out and guards Earth from dangerous or uncomfortable things. After that he explains that the atmosphere guards Earth against many very dangerous things from the space, like a window prevents rain, dirt, and unwelcome insects and animals from coming in to the house.
Visually, the outline of the point-by-point method and the block method could be compared as follow.—– to proceed reading, click → Paragraph of Comparison and Contrast