Text Comparison

Comparison is one thing that comes naturally to almost every single person alive; people are constantly comparing things in their daily lives. Whether comparing people, places, or things, comparisons help people make informed decisions about our world. When you compare two texts, you’re able to dissect each and pose a more thorough argument than if you were discussing them separately.

Text Comparison Text Comparison

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Table of contents

    Text Comparison Meaning

    Text comparison is a rhetorical pattern that compares two or more texts and explains both the differences and similarities between them. In order to get the full picture of how two texts are similar and/or different, you need to compare and contrast them. You’ll compare the ways the texts are the same, and contrast—or highlight the differences—the ways they are not the same.

    Text comparison (as in, compare and contrast) is one of several rhetorical patterns—just like cause and effect. Rhetorical patterns help organize information in order to understand it better.

    Text Comparison: What is There to Compare?

    When comparing two texts, you could be looking to compare anything and everything about them. You might find ways that they are similar or different in terms of content or style or both.

    You might compare two elements of the texts' content or style.

    Content is what the text is about, and style is how the text is written.

    Content might include things such as:

    • Characters

    • Subject matter

    • Main arguments

    • Information

    Style might include things such as:

    The Importance of Text Comparison

    Now the question arises, what is the benefit of comparing two texts side by side?

    When asked to compare two texts, you’ll be required to do two things: read the texts and provide your comparative analysis—which is to say, how you find them similar and/or different. This will put you in the role of both reader and writer (if you're responding with an essay or short answer).

    Benefits of Text Comparison for the Reader

    The main benefit of text comparison to you as the reader is that it will make you a more attentive reader. To find the differences and similarities, you will absolutely need to scan each text with a more critical eye than if you were casually reading them.

    In the process of locating the subtle differences, you will gain a better understanding of not only each text but also of the larger discussion topic. Also, you are likely to reduce any confusion you have on the subject.

    Benefits of Text Comparison for the Writer

    As you shift gears and move into the position of the writer (or speaker, if it’s an oral assignment) for the sake of your analysis, you’ll find there are even more benefits to the comparison process.

    An analysis of your text comparison will provide you with an even deeper (yes, deeper) comprehension of the subject matter as you find ways to express those similarities and differences you identified. It is one thing to notice the similarities and another to explain them to someone else, and it will only bolster your own understanding of the texts and topic.

    This process will also strengthen your critical thinking skills, especially where you might have to dig into some complex ideas to untangle them for your audience. Text comparison analysis can also help make abstract ideas more concrete.

    Benefits of Text Comparison for the Audience

    By providing your audience with your comparative findings, you’ll pass on most of your knowledge from preparing the analysis. You are likely to illuminate some subtle details in the comparison that your audience may not have noticed.

    Disadvantages of Text Comparison

    Although there isn’t much to speak of regarding the disadvantages of text comparison, it should be noted that it is possible to get too deep into a text comparison and, as the old saying goes, “miss the wood for the trees.”

    Simply put, make sure you don’t lose sight of the larger picture of each of the texts you’re discussing by being hyper-focused on the minutiae that may or may differ (or be similar) among them.

    Text Comparison Compare And Contrast two doors StudySmarterFig. 1. Compare and contrast two doors.

    When to Use Text Comparison

    You can use text comparison any time you need to compare two pieces of writing for accuracy, quality, or any other characteristics.

    Sometimes you’ll be specifically asked to perform a text comparison such as in a compare and contrast essay, or on exam questions that include short answer and multiple choice. Compare and contrast essays will often directly ask for a comparison of two things (i.e. texts, ideas, ice cream flavors, etc.).

    Compare and contrast essay prompt: After reading the selections from Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility (1811) and Persuasion (1817), discuss the themes of brotherhood and sisterhood and how the two authors uses these themes to create the protagonist's identity.

    Other times you might simply use text comparison as part of a different writing project, such as a persuasion essay, definition essay, or any other that would benefit from a text comparison analysis.

    Tips and Tools for Text Comparison

    Now you might be wondering how to actually go about a text comparison. Here are a few basic steps you can follow:

    Text Comparison: Reading Relevant Texts

    Obviously the first, and perhaps most important, step is to read the texts referenced in the prompt or question.

    If you’re asked to read smaller sections of text, briefly scan both texts to get the main ideas contained in each, and take notes as you read. Return to each text a second time and read a little more thoroughly, searching to confirm any of your initial ideas as to how they might compare.

    If you’re under a time constraint, like in an exam, be sure you’re aware of how much time you have remaining. If you have to write an essay or a short answer, don’t spend too much time reading the passages. Make your initial scan of the provided texts very brief, looking for key words or phrases that you can use in your comparison.

    If you’re analyzing longer texts, such as novels or long articles, taking notes will be more important. If you’re already familiar with the texts, you might have an idea of what similarities and differences to look for. Write these down beforehand, and find specific passages to confirm your suspicions (if possible).

    The most important thing is to make sure you have a solid understanding of the texts so that your claims will be accurate and detailed.

    Comparing Texts

    After reading the relevant texts, you can start to piece together an image of how they compare. If you’ve been given a specific quality or detail to compare, then obviously set up camp there. If the assignment is more open-ended, then consult your notes, find places where they are the same or different, and make a list for each. This could be content details (such as dialogue or subject matter) or style details (such as genre or mood).

    Here are examples of a specific prompt and a more general prompt:

    General: Carefully read the poems 'Caged Bird' (1983) by Maya Angelou and 'Hope' is the Thing With Feathers' (1891) by Emily Dickinson and write an essay in which you compare and contrast the two poems.

    Specific: Read Susan Glaspell’s play Trifles (1916) and John Steinbeck’s short story The Chrysanthemums (1937) and discuss how the setting (fictional setting and actual stage set of the play) and symbolism contribute to how we perceive the conflicts experienced by the wife characters in each story. Pay close attention to points of similarity and difference between these two female characters.

    Use a Venn diagram to give a visual representation of the similarities and differences you find between the two texts, especially in the early planning stages of your argument.

    Text Comparison: Choosing a Main Argument (If Writing an Essay)

    This step is mainly relevant if your assignment is to write an essay. Once you’ve gathered your comparative information, you can form your argument. It will be something like, “Text A and text B are similar (or dissimilar) in the following ways…”

    Your main argument—or thesis statement, for an essay—should directly answer the question presented in the prompt.

    A thesis statement is a single statement that makes a bold claim, while also summarizing the main point(s) of an essay. It is usually found in the introduction and conclusion of an essay.

    Be specific when presenting your comparative findings. Avoid general statements in comparison like, “Text A was better than text B.”

    Text Comparison: Using Quotes When Possible

    When it’s possible, be sure to include quotes to support your claims. If you’re arguing that two texts are dissimilar, then provide examples of how they are dissimilar. Direct quotes from the texts are the most rock-solid support of your argument you can offer.

    Text Comparison Example

    Below is an example compare and contrast prompt and a thesis statement that would be a great start for a response to the prompt.

    Prompt: Consider the novels Jane Eyre (1847) by Charlotte Brontë and Wide Sargasso Sea (1966) by Jean Rhys, specifically comparing the authors’ attitudes toward topics of feminism and post-colonialism.

    Response: Both Brontë and Rhys highlight the oppression of women in the postcolonial era and utilize irony to develop their perspectives on the subject of feminism.

    The prompt in this example is naturally asking for a text comparison, and the response promises to do exactly that. The writer will respond with a specific comparison of how the two authors bring attention to the plight of women in the postcolonial era.

    Text Comparison Writing a Text Comparison StudySmarterFig. 2. Writing a text comparison

    Text Comparison Structure

    If you’re writing a compare and contrast essay, you have two options for how to structure the body of your essay. Neither is better than the other, they are simply two ways of approaching the task.

    Option 1: One text at a time

    In this option, you start with an introduction to the discussion and the texts involved. Next, explain the details and characteristics of each text, one at a time.

    • Introduction

    • Paragraph 1: Text A

    • Paragraph 2: Text B

    • Paragraph 3: Discussion of the comparisons between text A/ text B

    • Conclusion

    Option 2: Side by side comparison of texts

    In this option, you once again start with an introduction to the discussion and texts. Then you move on to discuss the ways the two (or however many) texts are similar, comparing them side by side. Next, you might go on to discuss the ways the texts are dissimilar, contrasting them side by side.

    • Introduction

    • Paragraph 1: All comparisons (A/B)

    • Paragraph 2: All contrasts (A/B)

    • Conclusion

    Notice that regardless of which option you choose, you must include an introduction and conclusion where you ideally include a thesis statement that wraps up your argument regarding the comparison of the texts.

    Rather than rambling or going back and forth between comparing the texts side by side and one at a time, these options structure your text comparison in a way that your audience will be able to easily understand your point.

    Text Comparison - Key takeaways

    • Text comparison is a rhetorical pattern that compares two or more texts and explains both the differences and similarities between them.
    • Text comparison is crucial for compare and contrast essays, but it is also a useful tool for other assignments.
    • A text comparison could look at any specific detail or characteristic between the texts.
    • The steps to performing a text comparison are:
      • Read relevant texts
      • Compare texts
      • Choose main argument
      • Use quotes as evidence
    • There are two possible ways to organize a text comparison analysis: one at a time or side by side
    Frequently Asked Questions about Text Comparison

    What is a text comparison?

    A text comparison compares two or more texts and explains both the differences and similarities between them.

    What are the advantages of text comparison?

    The advantages of text comparison are that it makes one a more attentive reader, exercises critical thinking, and provides a deeper understanding of the topic and texts.

    How do you compare and contrast text?

    To compare and contrast texts, first thoroughly read the text(s) and consider how they are similar and/or different. Compile a list of these characteristics, or use a Venn diagram as a visual representation.

    How do I compare texts?

    To compare texts, discuss the ways the texts are similar by comparing their characteristics side by side, rather than one at a time. Next, you might go on to discuss the ways the texts are dissimilar by contrasting those details side by side.

    When should I use text comparison?

    Use text comparison any time you need to compare two pieces of writing for accuracy, quality, or any other characteristics. 

    What are tools for text comparison?

    Some tips and tools for text comparison are: 1. Read relevant texts, 2. Compare texts, 3. Choose a main argument, and 4. Use quotes when possible.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    If asked to compare the style of a text to another, what is something you might consider?

    Which of the following is not a benefit of text comparison?

    What is the best way to provide evidence that two texts are similar (or dissimilar) in some way?

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