Writing a comparison-contrast paper typically boils down to doing one or the other rather than both in a paper. For example, a town council may examine two sets of plans for widening a road, focusing on the differences, or contrasts, in the two plans.
Or a construction contractor may have to choose between being paid weekly or in a lump sum when a project is completed, and thus need to analyze the contrasts of either payment type.
If you are writing a document that emphasizes comparisons or contrasts, here are some things to keep in mind.
- Don’t compare apples with oranges. When comparing plans, projects, or prices, choose two items from the same category. For example, if you are a factory foreman who wants to buy a new air conditioner for the plant, you don’t compare the last furnace price, just because it was a major appliance, with the cost of a new air conditioner, which also is an appliance. They are too different. You may be able to compare, at least generally, the cost of the last air conditioner with the proposed cost of a new one.
- If two things appear more similar than not, contrast their differences. Perhaps two insurance plans look roughly the same, so you’re not sure which one to choose. Analyze their differences, which can help to point out the advantages or disadvantages of both plans. But if two things are more different than alike, look for a comparison, or similarity, between them. An example might be getting two very different employees to work together on a project. The supervisor may need to find their similarities by comparing their preferences or attitudes and using these to advantage. If one man is slow and the other fast, but both are closure-driven, this last quality is the one the supervisor should use to yoke them to a shared task.
- To use comparison and contrast in the same paper, try the A+B pattern. This approach means that the first part of the paper explains all the pluses of a proposal, whereas the negatives are discussed separately in the second half of the paper. This allows similar ideas or concerns to be grouped as a unit for ready identification and response to them by readers. Having all the support in one area and the problems in another can help readers deal with one aspect or the other individually.
- Another possible pattern is the A/B structure. The writer first issues a point for the first item, then a counterpoint for it. This method is followed throughout the paper using a designated set of criteria. For example, you may decide to evaluate a proposal for buying new software by analyzing it in terms of cost, reviews, and function. You can show a positive and a negative for each category, or you can compare or contrast two software programs with the same criteria, probably ending with a specific finding or recommendation.
A comparison or contrast paper helps to outline the strengths and weaknesses of an idea. As you consider whether to use this strategy, realize that you need not come to a bottom line if the pros and cons balance each other out. But there should be a purpose behind a document that uses comparison and/or contrast, so tell your readers what you expect them to do with this information.