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Writing Well

Alike and Different: Comparison and Contrast

The Short History of Medicine
2000 B.C. Here, eat this root.
1000 A.D. That root is heathen. Here, say this prayer.
1850 A.D. That prayer is superstition. Here, drink this potion.
1940 A.D. That potion is snake oil. Here, swallow this pill.
1985 A.D. That pill is ineffective. Here, take this antibiotic.
2000 A.D. That antibiotic is artificial. Here, eat this root.

The more things change, the more they stay the same, eh? When you compare, you show how things are alike. When you contrast, you show how they are different. Comparison and contrast is a useful way to organize many term papers, research reports, and feature articles.

Comparison-contrast essays can be organized two ways: point-by-point or chunk. In a point-by-point structure, you deal with each point in turn. In a chunk structure, you discuss one point completely before moving on to the next one. For example:

Point-by-Point Structure Chunk Structure
taxes: Town A, Town B Town A: taxes, education, recreation, jobs
education: Town A, Town B
recreation: Town A, Town B Town B: taxes, education, recreation, jobs
jobs: Town A, Town B

Use these transitions to emphasize similarities: like, likewise, similarly, in the same way, also, as, just as, both. Use these transitions to emphasize differences: instead, rather than, unlike, on the other hand, in contrast with, however, but.

How is the following passage structured, point-by-point, or chunk?

Build We Must

  • Western architecture traces its descent from the major public buildings in ancient Greece. Some earlier structures were built with an eye for proportion and striking decoration, but they had little influence on the evolution of building design. The Greek and Roman buildings bear some striking similarities as well as differences.
  • From 750 to 30 B.C.E., the Greeks created impressive temples, stoas (covered colonnades), theaters, and amphitheaters. The temples, built in marble and limestone, retained the post-and-lintel construction of the wooden originals. The temples had painted decorations and low-pitched wooden roofs. Columns had ornamental capitals—the top of the column—in one of three designs. The simplest, Doric, consisted of columns with plain molded capitals and no base. Ionic capitals were decorated with a pair of scrolls, known as volutes. Corinthian capitals, the most ornate, were decorated with an inverted bell-shaped arrangement of leaves. Prime examples include the Parthenon and Erectheum, in Athens.
  • From 100 B.C. to A.D. 365, the Romans, like the Greeks, built many magnificent buildings, including temples, baths, basilicas, theaters, amphitheaters, bridges, aqueducts, and triumphal arches. The materials, however, differed. The Romans used brick, stone, and concrete. Further, the Romans developed the arch and devised two other classical styles for columns, adding to the three used in ancient Greece. The Roman contribution included the Tuscan order, a plain column derived from the Greek Doric column; and the Composite, which combined Ionic scrolls with Corinthian leaves. Examples of Roman architecture include the Coliseum in Rome and the Pont du Gard in Nimes, France.
  • Although both the Greeks and Romans erected magnificent buildings, the Greeks used marble and limestone; the Romans, more homely materials. The Greeks created three columns; the Romans added two more. These beginnings paved the way for the development of many other styles of architecture, including the Byzantine (a combination of Roman and Eastern influence) and the Romanesque.

The chunk organization allows the writer to concentrate first on one topic and then the other. Notice how the writer used transitions to show points of similarity (“like”) and difference (“however”).

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Writing Well © 2000 by Laurie Rozakis, Ph.D.. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book direct from the publisher, visit the Penguin USA website or call 1-800-253-6476. You can also purchase this book at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.

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