Approaching Comparison Essays at A Level

Hopefully, this blog will be a useful reference point for you when thinking about how to compare. The examples are for Duffy, but this comparison would work when comparing in the coursework in Y12/Y13 and when moving onto compare Duffy and Larkin and the Unseen Poems. The overall structure for Duffy/Larkin is on the slide at the bottom but the tips here work for breaking down the structure of a comparison essay into its components and reminding you how to do the structure. This is something I know some of you are worried about.

When approaching comparisons it is imperative that you build a clear and coherent argument (response to the question) throughout your response.

To do this with comparison the structure below should help you:

  • Introduce the text with a link to the question.
  • Explain what you will cover in the whole essay – lay this out in chronological order. Make sure that you are referencing the texts you will compare and using connectives of comparison through the introduction.
  • You can link to context or critical opinions here if it is relevant and engaged with in relation to what you are discussing in the essay, but don’t make it a stand-alone point that is not engaged with.

Avoid: ‘In this essay’ sentences and don’t use “I will explore/discuss/” etc.

Instead: begin with the author’s name or begin with the text or question foci and instead of “I” be objective and academic in your style

Example Introduction (here I have used Duffy as an example):

Question: How does Duffy present time in Mean Time and other poem (s) in the collection of the same name?

Duffy presents time in Mean Time (the poem) as stealthy and personifies it to make it appear to be taking something away from the persona, however in Nostalgia time is also presented as something that can’t be given back once it has gone. Both poems appear to reflect on time as a gift that gets used and discarded.

You could also add this critical engagement as part of the introduction: 

Duffy critic Elizabeth O’Reilly suggests that she ”explores the way in which meaning and reality are constructed through language” and this seems pertinent in both Mean Time and Nostalgia as the simple everyday thoughts and feelings of the persona’s are presented in both poems to reflect on what time does to them, to their hopes and to their dreams. 

Main Body of the Comparison Essay 

  • Link both your poems in a summative sentence which mentions what your main focus in the paragraph will be (a topic sentence that links the two poems).
  • Then, start with the first poem you have mentioned in the introduction and analyse the quote, meaning, effect, alternative opinions and any zooming in on words for the first poem.
  • Remember good analysis: Links to the question, uses a range of quotes that are specific to the question, explores the terminology in the quotes, looks at the meaning and effect of the quote (both the inferred and explicit meaning), explores alternative meanings where relevant and explores what the writers’ intentions are.
  • Use connectives of comparison to link to the next text or words that show you understand a similarity or difference between the texts or that both texts have been linked.
  • For Example: contrastingly, comparatively, both, similarly, differently, as well as, however, another relevant example, also etc…
  • Move on in the same paragraph to analyse the second text.
  • Ensure that you include context with the analysis and engage with it and do the same with the critical viewpoints. Context and critics should always be engaged and embedded with the analysis where possible or if it is in the introduction/conclusion it has to support your overall argument.
  • Continue with this weaving effect in your paragraphs where you move from the overview of meaning and close analysis, then connect to the second poem and analyse with reference to context and critics where relevant throughout your essay.
  • At the end of your comparison paragraph do a summative linking sentence for both texts.
  • Then, move onto your next paragraph.

Paragraph Structure in a simplified structure is:

  • Summative sentence links both texts
  • Text 1 – analysis
  • Comparative link
  • Text 2 analysis
  • Links to context and critics embedded and engaged with
  • Summative sentence to link both texts
  • Continue with this structure for a range of quotes

Sophisticated linking devices between paragraphs: 

  • Use a word or phrase from the end of the previous paragraph to signpost that you are aware you have to move on, but that there is cohesion in the overall structure.
  • Clearly demarcate (state) in the introduction what each section of the essay will cover and stick to the same chronology as is in the introduction, using this to guide your essay structure.
  • Link back to the initial question and make a summative statement for both the texts at the start of each new point/paragraph

Concluding an essay: 

  • Summarise what you have said throughout the main body of the essay
  • Avoid adding new information.
  • Make sure both texts are linked
  • Make sure you have answered the question.

An example conclusion using the same question as the introduction: 

Both poems ‘Mean Time’ and ‘Nostalgia’ reflect on time as a device that has taken something away from the persona’s. However as ‘Time’ itself is an abstract construct created to give meaning to life by mankind, perhaps Duffy’s intention when focusing on time in these poems is to show us that time is what we make of it. Both poems create a sense that losing sleep over regrets and things that have happened is futile and we should maybe focus on the important things in life instead and not worry about the passing of time so much. 

Thanks and hope this is useful – Miss Strachan


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