Aug 24, 2013

Practice Exercise: Comparison/Contrast Sample

"Learning to write is like learning to play a musical instrument."

STEP 1: Establish categories to focus your analysis.
Brainstorm and then decide upon several appropriate categories for your topic which will focus how you look at each subject. List them below:
  • The degree to which each one cam be an art form
  • The kinds of skills each one requires
  • The kinds of effects each can have on audiences

STEP 2: Brainstorm raw material by applying these categories to questions about your subject.

Ask what is similar and what is different about my two subjects based on the categories you arrived at above. Write down everything you can think of—you can rearrange it later.

Comparisons (similarities) between learning to write and learning to play an instrument
1. when you do it well, it's an art
2. it's a skill you acquire with time and patience. Process is as important as end-product when you are beginning to pick up the skill.
3. learning the scales is a lot like learning structure. It's what you personally do with these foundations that makes your writing stand out.
4. like music, good writing has "color" and "tone"-it can evoke emotion.
5. like music, good writing can be created collaboratively (though this is less common).
Contrasts (differences) between learning to write and learning to play an instrument
1. Unlike music, writing evokes thought as well as feeling.
2. Unlike music, it's usually created solo rather than as a group effort. The closest analogy is the singer/songwriter who's been traveling alone his or her whole career. Sometimes
3. Unless we are professional musicians, we don't need music skills on a daily basis; writing, however, is something we use in a variety of practical ways in a variety of environments other than leisure. 
Step 3: Assemble your analysis.
Now examine the points you made and compile your raw material into paragraphs. Write a topic sentence to focus your comparison/contrast; it should state your subjects and the assertion you want to make about them as a result of your analysis. After you write your topic sentence, write the paragraph(s) below. Attach extra paper if you run out of room.

Do you see where the paragraphs below use the subject-by-subject method and where it uses the point-by-point method?
Even if you've never tried to learn a musical instrument, you can probably relate to the way learning to write can be compared to learning a musical instrument. They both require a set of skills and both, when they're performed well, can be considered an art with power to greatly move audiences. 
In the first place, learning any musical instrument can be a grueling process, but once you learn to play competently, you're rewarded by the beautiful sound of music at your fingertips. Once you gain control over the notes you're trying to reach, and the tones those notes create, you can consciously set a mood, create an atmosphere. You can make people dance for joy or make them weep. But you don't gain that control overnight. Learning an instrument requires a big time investment, a lot of patient practice. Your fingers have go over and over the same positions as you learn scales and practice exercises that increase dexterity. The sounds you produce may be ugly at first: discordant, disjointed, off rhythm. But through continued practice you'll begin to play more smoothly, with greater feeling, and with fewer mistakes. Pretty soon, you'll feel like you've arrived. You can play. 
Similarly, writing well is an art in the sense that it has an "aesthetic" experience to offer us-when we're finished we may have created something truly beautiful. Reading a good piece of writing, we can experience its truth and beauty. It has the power to affect us intellectually, emotionally. But learning to write well is a skill we can acquire only through time and patience. In the beginning, "process" is as important as "product." While we're learning drafting, revising, and editing skills, our first attempts may be fumbling or unfocused, incoherent, and full of error, but if we keep practicing the fundamentals, before long we get the hang of it. Concepts like structure, unity, coherence, development, style, and syntax aid rather than intimidate us. They provide the solid foundation upon which we express new ideas. 
Writing and making music aren't always similar. In a few key ways, these skills are more different than they are the same. First, whereas music and writing both have the power to evoke strong feeling, writing is probably better at making audiences think. Second, whereas music is often created collaboratively, writing is often created solo. Even when writing projects are collaborative, individual writers often work separately on unique tasks and then assemble the group's work into a whole. They rarely do the work of writing face to face with other group members, though they may seek advice and feedback from group members. Finally, the biggest difference between writing and making music is that, unless a person is a professional musician, we don't use music skills on a daily basis in the variety of environments that we use writing.  

Given that learning to write and learning to play music can be so similar, it makes sense to evaluate a writer's skills at the end of a course rather than at the beginning. It isn't what students know when they start that counts, or even what you know along the way; it's what a student can do by the end that really matters.

- by Stacy Tartar Esch