Sample Compare Contrast Essay Mla Format

Writing in Literature: Writing the Prompt Paper

Summary:

These sections describe in detail the assignments students may complete when writing about literature. These sections also discuss different approaches (literary theory/criticism) students may use to write about literature. These resources build on the Writing About Literature materials.

Contributors: J. Case Tompkins
Last Edited: 2013-12-06 10:29:39

Whether you are given a selection of prompts to choose from or just one, knowing something about the various sorts of writing prompts can help you understand what your teacher expects and how you should approach the project.

“Compare and Contrast”

This classic writing prompt can be quite challenging because it sounds almost as if you are being asked to compile a list of similarities and differences. While a list might be of use in the planning stage, this prompt asks you to use what you discover to arrive at a conclusion about the two works under discussion.

Example: “Compare and contrast the two endings for Dickens’ Great Expectations paying special attention to the situation of Stella at the close of the novel.”

Strategy:

  1. Find three or four elements from the texts upon which to base your comparison.
  2. Examine possible connections and determine a thesis.
  3. Base your outline around the elements you’ve chosen, remembering to give equal coverage to each side.

“Discuss the theme of x as it appears in works a, b, and c.”

This is an extended or re-named compare and contrast prompt. In this situation, you are given a general theme, such as “loss of innocence” or “self-revelation.” Your job is to use the instances of that theme to arrive at some general conclusions regarding how the theme works in the text you are analyzing.

Example: “Discuss the ways in which Shakespeare talks about the passing of time in three of the sonnets we read for class.”

Strategy:

  1. Re-read carefully the selected works looking specifically for the theme or motif in question. Then research the ways in which other critics have examined this theme.
  2. Determine your argument. Will you make a claim for similarity (“A, b, and c use x in much the same way.”), difference (“A, b, and c, when dealing with x, take highly individual approaches.”), or superiority (“While a and b deal with x, c clearly demonstrates a richer, more nuanced treatment.”)?
  3. Organize your paper around the works, making each point deal thoroughly with a discrete work. Remember that connections are of the utmost importance for this paper, so pay close attention to your transitions.

“What is the role of women/the role of class/the role of the Other as presented in this work?”

All three examples above serve as first steps to the larger world of literary theory and criticism. Writing prompts like this ask you to examine a work from a particular perspective. You may not be comfortable with this new perspective. Chances are that since your instructor has given you such an assignment, the issues in question will be at least partially covered in class.

Example: “Discuss the ways in which the outsider or Other is dealt with in James Joyce’s story “The Dead.”

Strategy:

  1. Categorize the persons or characters in the piece. What are they in the most general, stereotypical way? Male or female? Lower or upper class? Natives or foreigners? Strangers or friends?
  2. Examine the ways in which the characters you’ve categorized fit or don’t fit into the boxes you’ve assigned them. Do they support or undermine the categories, and what do others (including the author) say about them and their place in the world?
  3. Write your paper as if you were giving a new definition (or an amended definition)of the category in question using the text as your guide. Your main points should highlight the ways in which the text uses or discards the accepted categories.

“Critic A has famously said “B” about this work. In light of our study of the piece in question, would you agree or disagree, why or why not?”

This sort of question is often asked as an in-class essay, but can appear as a prompt for larger papers. The goal of a question like this is to give you the opportunity to deal with the critical voices of others in your own writings.

Example: “C.S. Lewis has said that Chaucer is “our foremost poet of joy” in the English language, and in this field he “has few equals and no masters.” Discuss how this applies to the ending of “The Knight’s Tale” from The Canterbury Tales.”

Strategy:

  1. Read and re-read the quote from the prompt several times. Ask yourself what seems to be the quote’s central claim.
  2. Apply that claim to the relevant passage or work. In a way, you are being asked not to examine the literature so much as the claim about the literature. Does it hold up to scrutiny in light of the actual text?
  3. Your instructor would be equally pleased whether you agree or disagree with the critic’s views as long as you do so in a scholarly fashion. Structure your paper around the claims made by the quote and use lines from the text to support your own reaction.

A thesis can be found in many places—a debate speech, a lawyer’s closing argument, even an advertisement. But the most common place for a thesis statement (and probably why you’re reading this article) is in an essay.

Whether you’re writing an argumentative paper, an informative essay, or a compare/contrast statement, you need a thesis. Without a thesis, your argument falls flat and your information is unfocused. Since a thesis is so important, it’s probably a good idea to look at some tips on how to put together a strong one.

What is a “thesis statement” anyway?

You may have heard of something called a “thesis.” It’s what seniors commonly refer to as their final paper before graduation. That’s not what we’re talking about here. That type of thesis is a long, well-written paper that takes years to piece together.

Instead, we’re talking about a single sentence that ties together the main idea of any argument. In the context of student essays, it’s a statement that summarizes your topic and declares your position on it. This sentence can tell a reader whether your essay is something they want to read.

2 Categories of Thesis Statements: Informative and Persuasive

Just as there are different types of essays, there are different types of thesis statements. The thesis should match the essay.

For example, with an informative essay, you should compose an informative thesis (rather than argumentative). You want to declare your intentions in this essay and guide the reader to the conclusion that you reach.

Example:

To make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, you must procure the ingredients, find a knife, and spread the condiments.

This thesis showed the reader the topic (a type of sandwich) and the direction the essay will take (describing how the sandwich is made).

Most other types of essays, whether compare/contrast, argumentative, or narrative, have thesis statements that take a position and argue it. In other words, unless your purpose is simply to inform, your thesis is considered persuasive. A persuasive thesis usually contains an opinion and the reason why your opinion is true.

Example:

Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are the best type of sandwich because they are versatile, easy to make, and taste good.

In this persuasive thesis statement, you see that I state my opinion (the best type of sandwich), which means I have chosen a stance. Next, I explain that my opinion is correct with several key reasons. This persuasive type of thesis can be used in any essay that contains the writer’s opinion, including, as I mentioned above, compare/contrast essays, narrative essays, and so on.

 2 Styles of Thesis Statements

Just as there are two different types of thesis statements (informative and persuasive), there are two basic styles you can use.

The first style uses a list of two or more points. This style of thesis is perfect for a brief essay that contains only two or three body paragraphs. This basic five-paragraph essay is typical of middle and high school assignments.

Example:

C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia series is one of the richest works of the 20th century because it offers an escape from reality, teaches readers to have faith even when they don’t understand, and contains a host of vibrant characters.

In the above persuasive thesis, you can see my opinion about Narnia followed by three clear reasons. This thesis is perfect for setting up a tidy five-paragraph essay.

In college, five paragraph essays become few and far between as essay length gets longer. Can you imagine having only five paragraphs in a six-page paper? For a longer essay, you need a thesis statement that is more versatile. Instead of listing two or three distinct points, a thesis can list one overarching point that all body paragraphs tie into.

Example:

Good vs. evil is the main theme of Lewis’s Narnia series, as is made clear through the struggles the main characters face in each book.

In this thesis, I have made a claim about the theme in Narnia followed by my reasoning. The broader scope of this thesis allows me to write about each of the series’ seven novels. I am no longer limited in how many body paragraphs I can logically use.

Formula for a Strong Argumentative Thesis

One thing I find that is helpful for students is having a clear template. While students rarely end up with a thesis that follows this exact wording, the following template creates a good starting point:

___________ is true because of ___________, ___________, and ___________.

 

Conversely, the formula for a thesis with only one point might follow this template:

___________________ is true because of _____________________.

 

Students usually end up using different terminology than simply “because,” but having a template is always helpful to get the creative juices flowing.

The Qualities of a Solid Thesis Statement

When composing a thesis, you must consider not only the format, but other qualities like length, position in the essay, and how strong the argument is.

Length: A thesis statement can be short or long, depending on how many points it mentions. Typically, however, it is only one concise sentence. It does contain at least two clauses, usually an independent clause (the opinion) and a dependent clause (the reasons). You probably should aim for a single sentence that is at least two lines, or about 30 to 40 words long.

Position: A thesis statement always belongs at the beginning of an essay. This is because it is a sentence that tells the reader what the writer is going to discuss. Teachers will have different preferences for the precise location of the thesis, but a good rule of thumb is in the introduction paragraph, within the last two or three sentences.

Strength: Finally, for a persuasive thesis to be strong, it needs to be arguable. This means that the statement is not obvious, and it is not something that everyone agrees is true.

Example of weak thesis:

Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are easy to make because it just takes three ingredients.

Most people would agree that PB&J is one of the easiest sandwiches in the American lunch repertoire.

Example of a stronger thesis:

Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are fun to eat because they always slide around.

This is more arguable because there are plenty of folks who might think a PB&J is messy or slimy rather than fun.

Composing a thesis statement does take a bit more thought than many other parts of an essay. However, because a thesis statement can contain an entire argument in just a few words, it is worth taking the extra time to compose this sentence. It can direct your research and your argument so that your essay is tight, focused, and makes readers think.


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