Define content by comparing and contrasting categories or classes of objects.

Comparing and contrasting issues can be a powerful way to organize and understand knowledge. Typically, comparing and contrasting require you to define a class or category of objects and then define their similarities and differences.

Comparing and contrasting are very natural processes, a strategy we employ in our everyday lives to understand ideas and events. We learn new ideas by comparing the new ideas with what we've learned in the past. We understand differences between people and events by comparing new events and people to past people and events. Comparisons are often conducted to prove that one concept or object is superior to another. People selling a grant idea or business proposal or people marketing a product may compare and contrast one idea or product to another, advocating their position. As consumers, we routinely compare and contrast. For example, you could compare MP3 players by going to an online site and noting different brands, products, descriptions, prices, shipping costs, dealer rankings, and the states of the dealers. You could compare used cars by noting their make/model, cost,Consumer Reports ranking, and availability. Students are frequently asked to compare and contrast topics for essay examinations. In fact, comparing and contrasting are extremely common academic exercises.

How to Effectively Compare and Contrast Information

When comparing and contrasting, you can either chunk or sequence your analysis. When you chunk you analysis, you first talk about Choice A, explicating whatever points you wish, and then discuss Choice B, elaborating as necessary. For example, if you were comparing the Miami Hurricanes football team to the Nebraska Cornhuskers, you could have a paragraph or so about the Hurricanes and then move on to the Cornhuskers.

Alternatively, when sequencing, you flipflop your analysis, discussing one component of Choice A and Choice B, then another component of Choice A and Choice B, and so on. For example, if you were arguing who would make a better president, George W. Bush or Al Gore, you could discuss Bush and Gore's views on the environment, then their views on health care reform, taxation, and so on.

People seem to find texts that sequence information easier to follow than texts that chunk information, perhaps because each unit of analysis is compared tit for tat. In other words, you don't need to hold in your memory what the writer said about Subject A, Topic 3 while reading Subject B, Topics 1 and 2.

Chunking

Sequencing

Choice A

I. Subject A
A. Topic 1

Subject A
B. Topic 2

Subject A
C. Topic 3

II. Subject B
A. Topic 1

Subject B
A. Topic 1

Subject B
A. Topic 1

Choice B

I. Topic 1

A.

B.

II. Topic 2

A.

B.

III. Topic 3

A.

B.

Example

Fact Sheet: Airline security: Federalizing workers at issue for lawmakers by CNN.

Enable readers to visualize your message by appealing to the five senses and using specific details.

Description is an important feature of all writing genres. Writers use description to support arguments and illustrate concepts and theories. They try to invoke mental pictures of a place so readers can imagine it in their minds.

Write sentence-long, paragraph-long, or extended definitions.

We routinely define new concepts, terms, activities, research methods, and research findings. Our definitions may be limited to a sentence or they may extend to whole paragraphs, passages, essays, or books.

Organize information into logical groups.

As with describing, narrating, defining, and comparing, classifying is a component of all writing genres. Just as writers pause to describe ideas and events or define new concepts in most documents, they routinely classify information--that is, show or tell readers how information can be grouped into categories.

Organize according to time. Reveal the logical or chronological steps one conducts to complete something or the cause-and-effect relationship between events.

Writers frequently use chronological order or reverse chronological order to organize a document. Narratives, resumes, family histories, historical narratives, process reports--these common genres typically employ a narrative order.