Comparative analysis paper is a commonly assigned task that you will surely encounter during your academic career. Sometimes comparative analysis is even used outside of the educational world and inside the business world. Such papers are assigned with the purpose of contrasting and comparing one thing with another.
When your professor or employer assigns you a comparative analysis paper, you will be asked to weight and discuss two different things, similar in a specific point.
The majority of comparative analysis papers are written in high school and in college. Generally, this task may be assigned in any academic subject, mostly because there is no limitation as to what the comparison may be about. What is certain about every comparative analysis is that it must consist of a thesis statement that eventually has to be proven or denied.
When you are given the task of comparing two things that at first look have plenty of unrelated differences and similarities, it is completely normal that you get confused. Constructing such paper is a difficult task which requires thorough research and amazing writing skills. This is no longer an exercise where your job is to name all common and different features between the two compared things. Your job here is to use raw data and create a coherent, meaningful argument based on things that are similar in something and completely different in another thing.
Generally speaking, there are five key elements of comparative analysis paper:
1. Frame of Reference
The first element of comparative analysis is the part where you place the things you are about to contrast. This particular part is the context where you group the two things you are about to compare. It may consist of a question, theme, problem, theory or an idea. Also, it may be in the form of a similar things’ group, out of which you take two and place your complete attention into.
When making the frame of reference, the best way is to construct this part out of specific sources. Using your own observations, thoughts and ideas is always a bad thing to do in this particular comparative analysis step. Using your own theories instead of sources, quotes and facts can prove to be not only irrelevant, but catastrophic for your comparative analysis.
In most cases, the guidelines for the given assignment include the frame of reference, but sometimes you will have to create one with the sources provided. In the final type of assignments, you may not even be given a frame of reference or sources for its creation. When this happens, you are the one that must come up with the frame of reference.
If you fail to construct this type of content, your paper will lack of focus and frame, which will prevent you from creating a meaningful argument. The two things you are about to compare in the analysis should not be compared in a broad manner. Instead, you need the context in order to maintain a focus for doing this properly.
2. Comparison Grounds
The grounds for your chosen comparison must be stated in order to inform your reader as to how you have come to that particular choice. The need to set these grounds lies in proving the readers that you made a careful choice of things you will compare. You would not want the reader to think that what you did was completely random.
This part of the comparison process is set to indicate what the reason behind the choice you made was.
3. Comparison Thesis
Right after you have established the grounds for your comparison, you need to set the thesis. You should use the previous steps in order to do this. The thesis of a comparative analysis is closely connected to the grounds on which you have based it.
The thesis statement has the purpose of conveying the argument you are presenting, which of course must follow from the frame of reference. Additionally, the thesis in such analysis depends greatly on the things you have chosen to contrast and how they relate. Your job here is to elaborate whether those two things corroborate, contradict, correct, complicate, extend or debate one another.
The majority of analysis papers done trough comparison and contrast use ‘whereas’ to point to the relationship between the two things being compared.
Regardless of the focus of your paper, i.e. whether you will place the focus on similarities or differences; your main task is to clear up the relationship in the thesis.
4. Organizational Scheme
Now that you have set the frame of reference, comparison grounds and thesis, it is time that you organize the comparative analysis. Of course, these three points you have established will go in the introduction, but how do you organize the body of the paper?
Generally speaking, there are two ways you can do this. Firstly, you can discuss the first thing, then the second thing you are comparing. This is also referred to as text-by-text. The second way is by alternating the points about the first with the points about the second thing. This is called a point-by-point way of organizing the body of a paper.
The choice is up to you. In cases where the second thing extends the first one, it is highly recommended that you use the first scheme for organizing. However, when the two things you are contrasting are debate-engaged, the second scheme is the right choice.
When you choose the point-to-point scheme, you should work on grouping more points at the same time. This will allow you to avoid a ‘ping-pong’ effect in your comparative analysis. When you do this, the number of alternations from the first to the second thing being compared is lowered.
Regardless of your choice of organizational scheme, the main idea of such papers is to get to the most important idea of your argument as fast as you can. The task here is not to give the same amount of time to both the similarities and differences between the two things you are comparing.
5. A and B Linking
Let’s say that A is your first thing and B is the second one in the comparison process. Every comparative analysis paper requires linking both A and B back to the thesis you have previously set. This should result in allowing the reader to logically and systematically follow the sections and understand your arguments on the topic. Without doing this, you are making the understanding process much more difficult, sometimes even impossible.
You can always use comparison transitional expressions in order to link A and B and make them stick together. Such expressions include words like similarly, likewise, conversely, moreover, on the other hand, on the contrary, in the example above/below etc.
A comparative analysis is one of the most difficult tasks you will be assigned as a student. Therefore, you really must make sure that you commit enough time and patience into creating the perfect comparison, by following the above-mentioned steps. If you manage to do this, you will surely craft a brilliant comparative analysis!
Throughout your academic career, you'll be asked to write papers in which you compare and contrast two things: two texts, two theories, two historical figures, two scientific processes, and so on. "Classic" compare-and-contrast papers, in which you weight A and B equally, may be about two similar things that have crucial differences (two pesticides with different effects on the environment) or two similar things that have crucial differences, yet turn out to have surprising commonalities (two politicians with vastly different world views who voice unexpectedly similar perspectives on sexual harassment).
In the "lens" (or "keyhole") comparison, in which you weight A less heavily than B, you use A as a lens through which to view B. Just as looking through a pair of glasses changes the way you see an object, using A as a framework for understanding B changes the way you see B. Lens comparisons are useful for illuminating, critiquing, or challenging the stability of a thing that, before the analysis, seemed perfectly understood. Often, lens comparisons take time into account: earlier texts, events, or historical figures may illuminate later ones, and vice versa.
Faced with a daunting list of seemingly unrelated similarities and differences, you may feel confused about how to construct a paper that isn't just a mechanical exercise in which you first state all the features that A and B have in common, and then state all the ways in which A and B are different. Predictably, the thesis of such a paper is usually an assertion that A and B are very similar yet not so similar after all. To write a good compare-and-contrast paper, you must take your raw data—the similarities and differences you've observed—and make them cohere into a meaningful argument. Here are the five elements required.
Frame of Reference. This is the context within which you place the two things you plan to compare and contrast; it is the umbrella under which you have grouped them. The frame of reference may consist of an idea, theme, question, problem, or theory; a group of similar things from which you extract two for special attention; biographical or historical information. The best frames of reference are constructed from specific sources rather than your own thoughts or observations. Thus, in a paper comparing how two writers redefine social norms of masculinity, you would be better off quoting a sociologist on the topic of masculinity than spinning out potentially banal-sounding theories of your own. Most assignments tell you exactly what the frame of reference should be, and most courses supply sources for constructing it. If you encounter an assignment that fails to provide a frame of reference, you must come up with one on your own. A paper without such a context would have no angle on the material, no focus or frame for the writer to propose a meaningful argument.
Grounds for Comparison. Let's say you're writing a paper on global food distribution, and you've chosen to compare apples and oranges. Why these particular fruits? Why not pears and bananas? The rationale behind your choice, the grounds for comparison, lets your reader know why your choice is deliberate and meaningful, not random. For instance, in a paper asking how the "discourse of domesticity" has been used in the abortion debate, the grounds for comparison are obvious; the issue has two conflicting sides, pro-choice and pro-life. In a paper comparing the effects of acid rain on two forest sites, your choice of sites is less obvious. A paper focusing on similarly aged forest stands in Maine and the Catskills will be set up differently from one comparing a new forest stand in the White Mountains with an old forest in the same region. You need to indicate the reasoning behind your choice.
Thesis. The grounds for comparison anticipates the comparative nature of your thesis. As in any argumentative paper, your thesis statement will convey the gist of your argument, which necessarily follows from your frame of reference. But in a compare-and-contrast, the thesis depends on how the two things you've chosen to compare actually relate to one another. Do they extend, corroborate, complicate, contradict, correct, or debate one another? In the most common compare-and-contrast paper—one focusing on differences—you can indicate the precise relationship between A and B by using the word "whereas" in your thesis:
Whereas Camus perceives ideology as secondary to the need to address a specific historical moment of colonialism, Fanon perceives a revolutionary ideology as the impetus to reshape Algeria's history in a direction toward independence.
Whether your paper focuses primarily on difference or similarity, you need to make the relationship between A and B clear in your thesis. This relationship is at the heart of any compare-and-contrast paper.
Organizational Scheme. Your introduction will include your frame of reference, grounds for comparison, and thesis. There are two basic ways to organize the body of your paper.
- In text-by-text, you discuss all of A, then all of B.
- In point-by-point, you alternate points about A with comparable points about B.
If you think that B extends A, you'll probably use a text-by-text scheme; if you see A and B engaged in debate, a point-by-point scheme will draw attention to the conflict. Be aware, however, that the point-by- point scheme can come off as a ping-pong game. You can avoid this effect by grouping more than one point together, thereby cutting down on the number of times you alternate from A to B. But no matter which organizational scheme you choose, you need not give equal time to similarities and differences. In fact, your paper will be more interesting if you get to the heart of your argument as quickly as possible. Thus, a paper on two evolutionary theorists' different interpretations of specific archaeological findings might have as few as two or three sentences in the introduction on similarities and at most a paragraph or two to set up the contrast between the theorists' positions. The rest of the paper, whether organized text- by-text or point-by-point, will treat the two theorists' differences.
You can organize a classic compare-and-contrast paper either text-by-text or point-by-point. But in a "lens" comparison, in which you spend significantly less time on A (the lens) than on B (the focal text), you almost always organize text-by-text. That's because A and B are not strictly comparable: A is merely a tool for helping you discover whether or not B's nature is actually what expectations have led you to believe it is.
Linking of A and B. All argumentative papers require you to link each point in the argument back to the thesis. Without such links, your reader will be unable to see how new sections logically and systematically advance your argument. In a compare-and contrast, you also need to make links between A and B in the body of your essay if you want your paper to hold together. To make these links, use transitional expressions of comparison and contrast (similarly, moreover, likewise, on the contrary, conversely, on the other hand) and contrastive vocabulary (in the example below, Southerner/Northerner).
As a girl raised in the faded glory of the Old South, amid mystical tales of magnolias and moonlight, the mother remains part of a dying generation. Surrounded by hard times, racial conflict, and limited opportunities, Julian, on the other hand, feels repelled by the provincial nature of home, and represents a new Southerner, one who sees his native land through a condescending Northerner's eyes.
Copyright 1998, Kerry Walk, for the Writing Center at Harvard University