Compare and Contrast

Use Compare and Contrast Charts to Organize Data

Professors often ask students to compare and contrast two or more things, events, processes, or ideas.

Compare means you should describe how they are the same.

 Contrast means you should describe how they are different. 

WARNING: If you are asked to contrast, it means you should describe only how they are different.  BUT, if you are simply asked to compare, for some unknown reason, this really means you should compare and contrast. When in doubt about this sort of question, always do both.

Compare and Contrast charts help you organize your thinking about similarities and differences.

Using a Venn Diagram as a compare and contrast chart

A Venn Diagram uses two overlapping circles to show how cats and dogs are the same and how they are diferent.

The best part about Venn Diagrams is that you can visualize the overlapping area as holding things cats and dogs have in common. This isn’t visually clear in the next kind of chart.

The problem with the Venn Diagram is that people often list everything they can think of about dogs, and then what they think of about cats. As a result, your two lists are not parallel.

The next kind of chart uses categories, so that the descriptions are parallel when possible. You might notice that, in the Venn Diagram, I made the descriptions parallel. My categories would have included your relationships with the animal, what they catch, learning, reaction to strangers, relationship with what wild animal, moving tail, response when upset, and sounds they typically make.

I know this is a simplified chart. It would make sense to a one-year-old. But the real purpose of this chart is not to make a technical comparison of dogs and cats; it is merely to demonstrate the use of a Venn Diagram as a compare and contrast chart.

Using a compare and contrast chart with categories

In this chart, comparing a Rhinoceros and a Zebra, we begin with categories, making sure our descriptions are paallel.A diagram that compare a Rhinoceros and a Zebra.We don’t describe what one animal eats and what the other one looks like.  It is also easier to write the things that are the same when they aren’t squeezed into the little overlapping area.

Now let’s see how you do on this picture of two ducks.  The male is in the upper part of the picture; the female belowThis is a blank chart for comparing male and female ducks.

While the male and female are distinctly different this isn’t as easy as it seems.
A male and female Mallard Duck on a lakeSome differences don’t fit nearly into categories. Try to fill out the chart and I will comment on it below.

How can you use this strategy to study or for tests?

There are many subjects that include two or more things that can be compared. In Biology, for example:

1. Compare plant and animal cells.
2. Compare mammals and birds.
3. Compare dinosaurs and modern reptiles.
4. Compare RNA and DNA
5. Compare Mitosis and Meiosis.
6. Compare Prokaryotes and Eukaryotes
7. Compare all of the kingdoms.
8. Compare HIV-AIDS and the Plague

In History, you can compare important people, you can compare one war to another. You can compare the two sides in a war, You can compare different forms of government. You can compare the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches of government. You can compare different centuries or decades. You can compare the governments of several different countries. You can compare different presidents.

When studying a different language, you can compare their grammar to the grammar of your native language.

When studying Anthropology you might compare the role of women in different cultures.

In Physics, you might compare the different subatomic particles.

There are two pages in this website – so far – where I have used a compare and contrast chart, though I didn’t draw the lines because WordPress doesn not allow the use of tables.  You might find these interesting.

Compare Critical and Creative Thinking

to Compare Mind Maps and Concept Maps    Compare Mapping Styles

Now, I shall return to the lovely pair of ducks. There are many things that are the same, of course, because both are ducks. They have heads, bills, webbed feet, tails, wings, feathers, etc. Other things I noticed were that they are both seen from the side, both heading the same direction, both swimming (see the ripples), and both have shadows. Most interesting is that both have white edging on some of the larger feathers toward the back.

How are they different?

Heads: His is a single solid color, whether you call it black, dark blue, or green. Her head is a mottled brown and white with markings on the face.

Bills: His is yellow. Hers is grayish.

White Lines: The white lines can be compared or listed separately with nothing to compare for the other duck. He has a white ring around his neck. She has a long white eyebrow. (supercilium.)

Color of back: His back is black, gray and white.  Hers is brown and white mottled.

Color of chest and belly: His are pure white. Hers is brown and white mottled.

You will see that a single paragraph can be used to describe several details. If I wanted to write an essay comparing the male and female duck, I would begin by noting several similarities.

“They are about the same size and shape and their bills are the same shape. …”

Then I’d use several paragraphs to describe their differences. I could use one paragraph to describe their head: colors, patterns, and the bill. Another paragraph might describe the white ring and the white eyebrow under the category of distinctive markings. Finally, I’d compare the body colors and patterns. For a conclusion, I might point to the most distinctive differences that make it easy to distinguish them from a distance.

These methods are helpful when comparing two or even three items, but to compare more items it is helpful to use a Matrilx Chart. It could be called an advanced Compare and Contrast Chart.   Matrix Chart

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