English & EAL

Compare the Pair: A Guide to Structuring a Reading and Comparing Essay

Sarah Carbone

August 14, 2018

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Just when you thought you had finally become accustomed to the complicated art of essay writing, VCE decides to throw you a curveball in the form of a reading and comparing essay that addresses not just one, but two texts. Being introduced to a comparative essay for the first time, it is not surprising that many students encounter difficulties in structuring their writing.

 

^ An accurate representation of the common VCE English student attempting to write a comparative essay

Luckily, there are quite a few tips and tricks out there that will help you on the journey to a well-structured essay!

What is reading and comparing?

This area of study relates to comparing and contrasting two texts in order to unearth  the common themes, ideas, motifs and issues explored. By drawing upon similarities and differences, we are enabled to gain a more profound comprehension of both texts. However, aside from merely comparing what is presented on the surface of a text, (symbols, characters, motifs, themes etc) it is also imperative that you delve a little deeper. Some questions you might want to ask yourself as you are planning a comparative essay are:

  • What message are the authors trying to convey?
  • What is the significance of symbols, themes, characterisation and motifs in relation to the texts as a whole?
  • What was the setting/context in which the authors wrote their texts? 
  • Why did the authors choose to write about a specific setting/context? Were they directly involved in the social/political issues explored in the texts themselves?
  • What are the main similarities and differences and how can I link them together?

Congratulations! Once you have thoughtfully considered these questions, you are one step closer to piecing together your essay!

How to structure your essay:

Since the purpose of this task is to evaluate the similarities and differences between two texts, (unless you’ve royally misinterpreted the nature of reading and comparing!) your body paragraphs will need to address both text A and text B. As with all exceptional VCE essays, I would stress that you DO NOT disregard the significance of beginning your essay with an introduction that neatly and briefly outlines your arguments in relation to the essay topic. You SHOULD also have a conclusion to close your essay, which functions as a summary to the ideas you have conveyed in your body paragraphs.

Although there are a few ways in which to structure a comparative essay, with students generally opting for whichever approach works best for them, I will focus upon two different methods, which I find to be the easiest and most concise.

Example 1:

You can choose to address one text per paragraph and alternate between them, for example:

Introduction
BP1: Text A (theme/idea 1)
BP2: Text B (theme/idea 1)
BP3: Text A (theme/idea 2)
BP4: Text B (theme/idea 2)
Conclusion

As you can see from the structure above, you would need to refer in your first two paragraphs to a common theme or idea prevalent in both texts, comparing how the texts explore such ideas and drawing upon any similarities or differences, before repeating this pattern in the next two paragraphs. In this structure, it is easiest to solely focus upon text A in body paragraph one and then in body paragraph two to put most of the attention on text B, whilst also comparing it to the elements of text A examined in paragraph 1.

Pros:

  • Easy for the assessor to recognise which text is being discussed since this is a very straightforward structure
  • Whilst writing the essay, you won’t be confused about which text you are focusing on in each paragraph

Cons:

  • Limited capacity to go in depth when comparing and contrasting the texts, which may lead the assessor to believe you haven’t really grasped the core concepts of either text

Example 2:

This approach is a bit more complicated than the first and will definitely take practice, patience and perseverance to master.

Introduction
BP1: Text A and Text B (theme/idea 1)
BP2: Text A and Text B (theme/idea 2)
BP3: Text A and Text B (theme/idea 3)
Conclusion

In the body paragraphs of this structure, the writer will constantly alternate between the texts and a good essay of this form will make it clear which text is being referred to, even if the discussion constantly changes from text A to text B. Within each paragraph, the writer will consistently use comparative language to contrast both texts. Typically, each paragraph will place emphasis on a different theme or idea.

Pros:

  • This is a more sophisticated structure than the former; if it is done well, it will highlight to the assessor that you are able to utilise complex structures in a concise way that goes into minute detail when comparing the texts
  • Capacity to implement more comparative language

Cons:

  • As you are writing an essay of this form, you might momentarily become sidetracked and confused as you will be constantly changing between referring to text A and text B, thus, it is easier for your ideas to become convoluted, rendering it difficult for the assessor to follow your line of thought.

Useful vocabulary:

A key component of structure is not just the layout, but also your choice of vocabulary. Assessors will be looking for key words that prove you are not merely discussing the texts separately in relation to the prompt, but that you are actually able to compare the texts. Some useful terms and expressions include: 

  • Whereas/while/whilst
  • These texts are dissimilar in that…
  • These texts are not dissimilar in that…
  • However…
  • But…
  • Alternately…
  • Although…
  • On the contrary…
  • Contrarily…
  • Text A contrasts text B as…
  • On the other hand…
  • Similarly…
  • In a similar fashion to text A, text B…
  • Both texts…
  • Both authors…
  • Likewise…
  • However, this text takes a different approach…
  • (This text) parallels/mirrors (the other text) in the sense that…
  • These texts are alike in the respect that…
  • Both texts are related as they…

Finally, you have completed that tedious reading and comparing response and I strongly believe that that deserves a sweet treat and a pat on the back.

Although it may have been super challenging, I can assure you that as with everything, the more you practice, the easier it becomes! Consistency is key!

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