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Tips for the ARCH 24A Compare/Contrast Paper

Comparing and contrasting is something you do many times a day.  Should I take the 110 or the surface streets?  Should I order a burger or a salad?  Do I want this book or that one?   In each decision, we are taking stock of two things, quickly making note of their strengths and weaknesses, and then deciding which is the best option.  The thought process by which you note the similarities between things is called comparing, and the thought process by which you note the differences is called contrasting.

So, how, then, do these thought processes translate into college and professional writing?  The truth is, it is sometimes harder than it looks, but there are some tips that will help you.

Understand why you are comparing and contrasting (aka knowing your purpose):

Are you comparing and contrasting so that you can pick the best option, as in the examples above?  Or, more likely, are you comparing and contrasting to show the influence of one thing on the other?   There are many reasons to compare and contrast, and you should know why you are doing it before you even start to research or write your paper.  Having a clear sense of your purpose will make the writing significantly easier.  For help, first reread your paper assignment several times.  Chances are good that the professor has explained the purpose of the assignment.  If not, ask the professor.

Plan, plan, plan

A good outline is crucial to compare/contrast writing.  We suggest that you follow these steps:

  1. Do research on both things you are comparing and contrasting
  2. Think about what you have learned about these things
  3. Jot down a quick list of the key things you have to say about each one
  4. Decide which compare/contrast organizational style you will choose (for an overview of the various methods, click here)
  5. Think about the order of your points; generally, we go from most obvious to least obvious or from most general to most specific
  6. Write complete topic sentences for each body paragraph
  7. Make a bullet list under each topic sentence with relevant research for that paragraph
  8. Take stock of how balanced your outline is, and do additional research if necessary
  9. Think again about your purpose, in light of all you have outlined so far, and try to write a tentative thesis (for examples of thesis statements for compare/contrast papers, click here)

Drafting and Revising

When you feel confident that you have a solid argument, start drafting the paper.  Then, make sure that you revise for large issues (such as idea development, organization, and transitions) as well as editing and proofreading.  Here are some steps to follow:

  1.  Revise the rough draft several times for idea development
  2. Check for meaningful transitions
  3. Show the rough draft to your professor and/or peers
  4. Make changes based on these conversations and print the paper out again
  5. Edit the rough draft several times for grammar, mechanics, and style
  6. Read the edited rough draft out loud to yourself,  underlining problem areas as you go
  7. Make changes, print out a new copy
  8. Proofread the paper carefully

 

Pay Attention to Transitions while Revising

One of the hardest things about compare/contrast writing is that you make adequate logical transitions as you move from topic to topic.  Some students think they just have to stick a transition word in between sentences or paragraphs and they are fine.  Not so!  You have to understand why you are putting two things together, and convey that to the reader.  Often, this takes more than a word.  A whole sentence is often needed between paragraphs, and sometimes even a short transition paragraph is needed to make your point clear.

Need Some Examples?

Click here to see how we you might go through this process with a sample topic.