What Statements Comparison or Contrast pedagogy

LESSON 2.11a
What Statements Comparison or Contrast


Students need considerable drill on comparison/contrast papers. Those attending or intending to attend college are certain to write one, but being so assigned is only part of the issue. Expertise at comparison/contrast documents mainly is imperative for other two reasons:

    • Academic Articles
    • Workplace Issues

Academic Articles

Many scholars write articles that compare or contrast even if they do not emphasize it. For instance, they may tout the excellence of a new theory or practice in comparison to an old one, which is mentioned only in the literature review.

Students may think that such an article results in an Old + New formula in their own paper, and they would be right. But a strong student paper would involve structuring the What Statement as a comparison.

Workplace Issues

Employees are often assigned to research a process or project management is considering. Employees need to know how to compare, especially without stepping on the status quo.  That is especially true if employees have their own ideas. 

Comparison or Contrast

The phrase comparison and contrast is a misnomer. It can lead to a disorganized document. The definitions point out the problem:

Comparison:  How 2+ things are similar

Contrast:        How 2+ things are dissimilar

Trying to cover both comparison and contrast can be frustrating, since students then work at odds with their intentions. In assigning such subjects, assign one of these:

A comparison paper

A contrast paper

Make sure to write on the whiteboard, and have students repeat, “Comparison OR contrast.” 

Some teachers assign both in the same paper, but in different sections. That is a good idea, especially with advanced students, but it has a fatal flaw. Many times, the parts of subjects will be dissimilar (or vice versa), but when students attempt to express that, they find that they have covered it in a previous section. The result is redundancy.

Comparison/Contrast: A Two-Part Variable

Students need drill to understand that each variable in a comparison or contrast paper requires two parts.

Pretend, for example, that you assign a paper on the dangers of smoking. You have set up your students for failure. Most students will jump into the dangers without having covered smoking. In actuality, there are two variables:

Smoking                                             The dangers of smoking

Smoking is an impossible variable to cover, since it begs the question: Whom are you covering? Smokers where? 

Look at the variables:

Smokers                     Old information

Dangers of smoking  Old information

Result:                        Poor subject

The below is better, but the result is still the same:

Japanese smokers      Old information

Dangers of smoking  Old information

Result:                        Poor subject

If we apply the Acorns not Oaks Principle, we might find this on the Net:

Workers unemployed for six months or less + quitting smoking             New information

Workers unemployed for six months or more + quitting smoking          New information

Result: good subject

Students may object to such a proposed subject, saying that readers (a) are unlikely to know much about it, but (b) are unlikely to care. Ask them if this information would be useful to—

A potential employer

An insurance company

A nonprofit organization dedicated to helping the unemployed

Helping Students Visualize Comparison/Contrast What Statements

Having students draw communication barbells is a good idea for What Statements but is essential for comparison or contrast documents. For example:

People living in Protestant-majority countries have a greater possibility of dying of heart disease than do people living in Catholic-majority countries.

Asked to draw barbells of the above, students often create:

I emphasize that, even with fifty years’ experience as a professional writer, I still draw a barbell for comparison or contrast What Statements. It helps me remember what I am comparing:


Make sure, moreover, that the communications barbell exactly expresses the What Statement:

Comparison/Contrast: The “Bar”

Determining what the verb or verb phrase is in a comparison or contrast document can be difficult for students, and understandably so. Therefore, I have them substitute vs. for the bar.


Teach students that than is the most effective word for setting up set up the comparison in such documents. That’s because than cannot be used in any other context.

Judy-Lynn is taller than Brenda.

Brenda is 5’9”, whereas Judy-Lynn is 6’1”.

Brenda is 5’9”, and Judy-Lynn is 6’1”.

Brenda is 5’9”, but Judy-Lynn is 6’1”.


Brenda plays center, whereas Judy-Lynn plays guard.

Brenda plays center, and Judy-Lynn plays guard.

Brenda plays center, but Judy-Lynn plays guard.