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Comparison and Contrast Paragraphs


In this lesson:

Organization by Similarities    |    Organization by Subtopic    |    Comparison Conjunctions    |    Contrast Paragraphs  

Comparison/Contrast Exercises

Some TOEFL writing topics will ask you to consider the relationship between two things, for example, your hometown (that is, the town where you were born or grew up) and your university town. Such topics may allow you to organize your essay either around the similarities between these two subtopics (for example, between your hometown and your university town) or around the differences between them. If you write about the similarities, the essay will be a comparison essay. On the other hand, if you want to write about the differences, your essay will be a contrast essay.

This lesson will show you some ways in which you can structure sentences to write a comparison or contrast paragraph. We will first look at comparison paragraphs and then briefly look at contrast paragraphs.



Comparison Paragraphs Organized by Similar Points

Consider the following paragraph:

     My hometown and my college town have several things in common. First, both are small rural communities. For example, my hometown, Gridlock, has a population of only about 10,000 people. Similarly, my college town, Subnormal, consists of about 11,000 local residents. This population swells to 15,000 people when the college students are attending classes. A second way in which these two towns are similar is that they are both located in rural areas. Gridlock is surrounded by many acres of farmland which is devoted mainly to growing corn and soybeans. In the same way, Subnormal lies in the center of farmland which is used to raise hogs and cattle . . . .

(Note: The four dots [ . . . . ] at the end of this paragraph mean that the paragraph contains more sentences that are not shown here.)

The passage above is from a comparison paragraph. that is, a paragraph which discusses the similarities between two subtopics. Notice how the ideas in this paragraph are organized. As usual, the topic sentence is at the beginning of the paragraph. (For more about topic sentences, click here.) After that, the paragraph continues by discussing one point of similarity between the towns of Gridlock and Subnormal, namely, their small population. Specific details are given to support the statment that "both are small rural communities." (For more about supporting details, click here.) Following this, the paragraph briefly discusses a second point of similarity between the two towns, that is, their geographic surroundings. Here, the paragraph also gives supporting details to illustrate their similarity, namely, that they are "both located in rural areas."

As you can see, therefore, this comparison paragraph is structured (organized) according to the points of similarity between the two towns. This particular paragraph discusses only two points of similarity, but of course we can imagine a paragraph that gives three, four, or even more points of similarity. This paragraph, for example, might continue in this way:

. . . Thirdly, both of these towns are similar in that both contain college campuses. Gridlock, for example, is home to Neutron College, which is famous for its Agricultural Economics program as well as for its annual Corn-Watching Festival. Likewise, the town of Subnormal boasts the beautiful campus of Quark College, which is well known for its Agricultural Engineering department and also for its yearly Hog-Calling Contest.

(Note: The three dots [ . . . ] at the beginning of the above paragraph indicate that the paragraph contains previous sentences that are not shown here.)

We can place the points of similarity and their supporting details in a table in order to see more clearly how this short paragraph is organized:

Comparison Paragraph -- Organized by Similar Points
TOPIC SENTENCE My (a) hometown and (b) college town are similar.
POINT #1 Both are small rural communities.
     DETAIL (a)
  • Gridlock has about 10,000 people.
     DETAIL (b)
  • Subnormal has about 11,000 local residents.
  • It has about 4000 college students.
POINT #2 Both are located in rural areas.
     DETAILS (a)


  • Gridlock is surrounded by many acres of farmland.
  • This farmland is devoted to growing corn.
  • The land is also used to grow soybeans.
     DETAILS (b)

  • Subnormal is in the center of land used for raising hogs.
  • This land is also used to raise cattle.
POINT #3 Both towns contain college campuses.
     DETAILS (a)


  • Gridlock is home to Neutron College.
  • This college is famous for its Agricultural Economics program.
  • It is also famous for its annual Corn-Watching Festival.
     DETAILS (b)


  • Subnormal contains Quark College.
  • This campus is famous for its Agricultural Engineering department.
  • It is also famous for its yearly Hog-Calling Contest.

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Comparison Paragraphs Organized by Subtopic

Another way of organizing a comparison is not according to supporting details that are similar, but according to subtopic. (A subtopic is a main example, or main supporting idea, that illustrates the topic sentence of a paragraph. For more about supporting details, click here.) That is, we can organize the paragraph by first discussing all the relevant points associated to one subtopic, then discussing those of the second subtopic. Look at the following example, based on the above paragraph:

     My hometown and my college town have several things in common. First, my hometown, Gridlock, is a small town. It has a population of only about 10,000 people. Located in a rural area, Gridlock is surrounded by many acres of farmland which are devoted mainly to growing corn and soybeans. Gridlock also contains a college campus, Neutron College, which is famous for its Agricultural Economics program as well as for its annual Corn-Watching Festival. As for my college town, Subnormal, it too is small, having a population of about 11,000 local residents, which swells to 15,000 people when students from the nearby college are attending classes. Like Gridlock, Subnormal lies in the center of farmland which is used to raise hogs and cattle. Finally, Subnormal is similar to Gridlock in that it also boasts a beautiful college campus, called Quark College. This college is well known for its Agricultural Engineering department and also for its yearly Hog-Calling Contest.

As you can see, after the topic sentence, this paragraph first discusses the relevant details about Gridlock and then presents the details about Subnormal. As with the paragraph above, we can illustrate this paragraph's structure in the following way:

Comparison Paragraph -- Organized by Subtopic
TOPIC SENTENCE
My hometown and college town are similar.
SUBTOPIC #1:
GRIDLOCK
DETAILS ABOUT GRIDLOCK:
  • Gridlock is a small town.
    • It has about 10,000 people.
  • Gridlock is in a rural area.
    • It is surrounded by many acres of farmland.
    • This farmland is devoted to growing corn.
    • The land is also used to grow soybeans.
  • Gridlock is home to Neutron College.
    • This college is famous for its Agricultural Economics program.
    • It is also famous for its annual Corn-Watching Festival.
SUBTOPIC#2:
SUBNORMAL
DETAILS ABOUT SUBNORMAL:
  • Subnormal is a small town.
    • Subnormal has about 4000 college students.
    • It has about 11,000 local residents.
  • Subnormal is in a rural area.
    • Subnormal is in the center of land used for raising hogs.
    • This land is also used to raise cattle.
  • Subnormal contains Quark College.
    • This campus is famous for its Agricultural Engineering department.
    • It is also famous for its yearly Hog-Calling Contest.

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Comparison Conjunctions

In the above paragraphs you will see various conjunctions that contribute to paragraph coherence. (For more on coherence, click here.) We can look at the above paragraphs again to see how the conjunctions are used:

     My hometown and my college town have several things in common. First, both are small rural communities. For example, my hometown, Gridlock, has a population of only about 10,000 people. Similarly, my college town, Subnormal, consists of about 11,000 local residents. This population swells to 15,000 people when the college students are attending classes. A second way in which these two towns are similar is that they are both located in rural areas. Gridlock is surrounded by many acres of farmland which is devoted mainly to growing corn and soybeans. In the same way, Subnormal lies in the center of farmland which is used to raise hogs and cattle. Thirdly, these towns are similar in that they contain college campuses. Gridlock, for example, is home to Neutron College, which is famous for its Agricultural Economics program as well as for its annual Corn-Watching Festival. Likewise, the town of Subnormal boasts the beautiful campus of Quark College, which is well known for its Agricultural Engineering department and also for its yearly Hog-Calling Contest.

This paragraph, of course, is organized according to similarities.   Notice how the ORDER of the similarities is the same throughout the paragraph. That is, at each similar point, the paragraph first discusses Gridlock and then it discusses Subnormal. Keeping the same order throughout the paragraph prevents the reader from getting confused.   Also notice how the conjunctions (for example, similarly, and ...X are similar in that...) are placed near each similar point.   Now examine the following paragraph, which is organized by subtopic:

     My hometown and my college town are similar in several ways. First, my hometown, Gridlock, is a small town. It has a population of only about 10,000 people. Located in a rural area, Gridlock is surrounded by many acres of farmland which are devoted mainly to growing corn and soybeans. Gridlock also contains a college campus, Neutron College, which is famous for its Agricultural Economics program as well as for its annual Corn-Watching Festival. As for my college town, Subnormal, it too is small, having a population of about 11,000 local residents, which swells to 15,000 people when students from the nearby college are attending classes. Like Gridlock, Subnormal lies in the center of farmland which is used to raise hogs and cattle. Finally, Subnormal is similar to Gridlock in that it also boasts a beautiful college campus, called Quark College. This college is well known for its Agricultural Engineering department and also for its yearly Hog-Calling Contest.

These are not the only ways to give coherence to a comparison paragraph. There are other conjunctions, too. Here is a list of comparison conjunctions you can use:

Short Conjunctions
Longer Expressions

Similarly,
Likewise,
...the same...
...the same as...
...also...
..., too.
both

In the same way,
X is similar to Y in that (they)...
X and Y are similar in that (they)...
Like X, Y [verb]...
In like manner,
One way in which X is similar to Y is (that)...
Another way in which X is similar to Y is (that)...

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Contrast Paragraphs

As mentioned above, a contrast paragraph discusses the differences between (at least) two things. You can organize contrast paragraphs in much the same way that you can organize comparison paragraphs. That is, you can organize them either according to points of similarity or according to subtopic. Here is an example of such a paragraph organized by subtopic. Notice the contrastive expressions in bold letters:

      Even though Arizona and Rhode Island are both states of the U.S., they are strikingly different in many ways. For example, the physical size of each state is different. Arizona is large, having an area of 114,000 square miles, whereas Rhode Island is only about a tenth the size, having an area of only 1,214 square miles. Another difference is in the size of the population of each state. Arizona has about four million people living in it, but Rhode Island has less than one million. The two states also differ in the kinds of natural environments that each has. For example, Arizona is a very dry state, consisting of large desert areas that do not receive much rainfall every year. However, Rhode Island is located in a temperate zone and receives an average of 44 inches of rain per year. In addition, while Arizona is a landlocked state and thus has no seashore, Rhode Island lies on the Atlantic Ocean and does have a significant coastline.

Here are some contrast conjunctions that you can use:

Short Conjunctions
Subordinating Conjunctions
However,
In contrast,
By contrast,
..., but
..., yet

On the other hand,
even though + [sentence]
although + [sentence]
whereas + [sentence]
unlike + [sentence]
while + [sentence]
nevertheless,

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This page was created by F. Scott Walters on 2/6/00
It was last updated on 3/16/00
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