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English 11-12

How To Write A Comparative Essay | Year 12 Eng Adv Module A: Textual Conversations

In this article, we will show you how to write a comparative essay, including Module A requirements, different comparative essay structures, dos and don'ts, and an exemplar paragraph of both structures.

Are you confused about the difference between a Module A comparative essay and the other Modules’ essays? Well, you came to the right place! In this article, we will teach you how to write a comparative essay that will address the Module requirements and impress your markers!

 

How to write a comparative essay:

 

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What is a comparative essay?

Comparative essays are essays that require you to examine similarities and differences between two or more different texts to find key themes and messages.

This means that you will need to compare the text’s content, structure, techniques, themes, context and draw conclusions about shared or different ideas and values.

Remember, you will be expected to write paragraphs that compliment each other. This means that you can either write your essay in a divided approach or an integrated one. Don’t worry, we’ll discuss the pros and cons of these approaches in a moment.

Okay, let’s learn how to write a comparative essay!

 

Want a template to ace those comparative essays?

Download the FREE Comparative Essay Template for a clear scaffold of a comparative essay PLUS recommended word counts for each section and annotations of an exemplar essay.

 

Requirements of Module A: Textual Conversations

‘Textual Conversations’ is a good metaphor for Module A because you are required to analyse a pair of texts.

The first text is the original version, whereas the second text is usually a re-imagined/re-interpreted version of the original or a text that highly engages with the original.

For example, Shakespeare’s Richard III is the original and Al Pacino’s Looking for Richard film comments on the original, and Romeo and Juliet is the original, whereas Gnomeo and Juliet is a re-imagined text.

So,  the texts are having a (one-way) conversation as the newer re-imagined text is commenting on aspects of the older text.

Let’s take a quick look at NESA’s rubric to see what you need to do:

In this module, students explore the ways in which the comparative study of texts can reveal resonances and dissonances between and within texts. Students consider the ways that a reimagining or reframing of an aspect of a text might mirror, align or collide with the details of another text. In their textual studies, they also explore common or disparate issues, values, assumptions or perspectives and how these are depicted. By comparing two texts students understand how composers (authors, poets, playwrights, directors, designers and so on) are influenced by other texts, contexts and values, and how this shapes meaning.

Students identify, interpret, analyse and evaluate the textual features, conventions, contexts, values and purpose of two prescribed texts. As students engage with the texts they consider how their understanding, appreciation and enjoyment of both texts has been enhanced through the comparative study and how the personal, social, cultural and historical contextual knowledge that they bring to the texts influences their perspectives and shapes their own compositions.

By responding imaginatively, interpretively and critically students explore and evaluate individual and common textual features, concepts and values. They further develop skills in analysing the ways that various language concepts, for example motif, allusion and intertextuality, connect and distinguish texts and how innovating with language concepts, form and style can shape new meaning. They develop appropriate analytical and evaluative language required to compose informed, cohesive responses using appropriate terminology, grammar, syntax and structure.

By composing critical and creative texts in a range of modes and media, students develop the confidence, skills and appreciation to express a considered personal perspective.

Source: Module A Rubric from NESA website

Note: If you want to learn more about what Module A is, and break down the rubric, then check out our HSC Guide: Overview of Module A: Textual Conversations.

In simple terms, the Module requires you to focus on 3 main things:

  1. Identify the similarities and differences between the two texts
  2. Reflect on the context of the texts and consider how it creates meaning
  3. Analyse the form, style, composition, and language concepts.

It is crucial that you adequately incorporate these 3 requirements in your Module A essays. Let’s briefly go through what this means for you.

 

1. Similarities and differences

In the rubric, NESA asks you to explore the ‘resonances and dissonances’ between the two texts to find meaning. When you study the pair of texts together, their resonances and differences will be more noticeable.

So, as you are reading or watching your texts for the 2nd or 3rd time, write notes on the similarities and differences between them. Then categorise them by themes or ideas, and analyse them in more detail. This will help you find relevant and comparable evidence when you are writing your essays.

However, be careful to not fall into the trap of finding meagre links between the texts for the sake of comparing.

The evidence from both texts must have a strong connection to each other and are comparable!

 

Resonance (aka similarities)

Think of resonance like an echo or reverberation. When a text has a resonance, it usually means that some aspect of another text is appearing, reflecting or being referenced.

This can include themes, values, characters, storyline, setting, techniques, form, structure etc.

However, like an echo, the resonance doesn’t have to be exactly the same as the original; there can be slight alterations.

 

Dissonance (aka differences)

Dissonances refer to different or clashing things.

For example, Lion King is based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet. However, the setting, characters, and parts of the plot are entirely different.

Often, a composer changes an aspect of the original/previous text to make a commentary. This can be influenced by the shifting contexts of the newer text, which will affect the values and social issues explored in the text.

 

2. Context

Context is a crucial element of Module A: Textual Conversations essays. This is one of the key features that distinguish a Module A essay from the other Modules.

In simple terms, context refers to the circumstances surrounding a particular time or event. For Module A, it is the circumstances at the time of the text’s creation.

For instance, the context includes:

  • Composer’s personal life
  • Social and historical events/movements
  • Mainstream (or rising) values and ideology
  • Literary or artistic movements
  • Cultural or religious circumstances
  • Geographic place of the text’s production
  • Environmental circumstances
  • Political perspectives
  • Social conventions

These aspects of the context will ultimately influence the way a text is written, including:

  • Issues and themes: Main ideas within a text
  • Values: Moral and ethical positions and beliefs
  • Societal assumptions: Presumed knowledge that the audience should already know
  • Perspectives: Different angles to view and explore a text
  • Textual conventions: Accepted practices, or styles of writing

When you are analysing both texts, you need to explore how the composer’s context ultimately shape their texts and compare the two. What you will find is that some things stay the same over time and many others change. These are important points to remember when you are writing your comparative essays.

blog-english-year-11-12-how-to-write-comparative-essays-module-a-hero-context

 

3. Form, style, composition, and language concepts

Like every essay, you will need to analyse the texts’ form, style, composition, and techniques and see how it creates meaning and why.

The rubric asks you to explore, interpret, analyse and evaluate the following:

  • Form: Form refers to the mode of production (eg. film, poetry, novel etc). You will need to examine techniques, patterns, and conventions that are specific to the form (eg. sound and angles in a film)
  • Style: The specific way a text is arranged to create meaning, including words, sentences, and images. Style helps distinguish individual composers (eg. Margaret Atwood has a different style of writing compared to Jane Austen) and different historical periods (eg. Shakespeare writes differently from modern composers).
  • Composition: This refers to the combination of various elements (eg. literary techniques) to make a whole text.
  • Language concepts: These are literary techniques that create meaning like motif, allusions, and intertextuality.

Note: Definition is taken from NESA’s glossary.

It is crucial that your analyses explore all these aspects to demonstrate your strong understanding of the two texts.

 

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Different structures: Integrated vs divided

While similar, not all comparative essays are the same – some take an integrated approach others a divided. As you already know, essays begin with an introduction, then body paragraphs and end with a conclusion. This is also the same for Module A comparative essays.

However, there are different ways to structure your body paragraphs to draw out the resonances and dissonances between the two texts. They are integrated responses – with a discussion of both texts in a paragraph – or divided responses – analysis of each text in discrete paragraphs.

It’s important to remember that there is no right or wrong structure (neither will get you higher or lower marks); only the one that works for you!

Both structures have their pros and cons. Let’s see what they are, and the steps for how to write a comparative essay using both structures.

 

Integrated:

An integrated essay will require you to analyse both texts within each themed body paragraph.

Here is a flow chart for you to visualise it:

comparative essay on mrs dalloway the hours essay scaffold integrated approach

If you choose to write an integrated response, you can either analyse the texts in an alternating manner or analyse them in two sets of evidence.

Assuming that you need a minimum of 12 pieces of evidence per essay (which you do!) and you have 3 body paragraphs, this is what the two options look like:

  • Alternating:
    • Text 1 – (1 evidence)
    • Text 2 – (1 evidence)
    • Text 1 – (1 evidence)
    • Text 2 – (1 evidence)
  • 2 sets of evidence:
    • Text 1 – (2 pieces of evidence)
    • Text 2 – (2 pieces of evidence)

To successfully do this, ensure that your evidence from both texts is complementary or related to one another.

Here are the pros and cons of writing an integrated response:

Pros Cons
  • You remember to draw strong comparisons between both texts because you are analysing the complementary evidence side-by-side
  • This method allows readers to see a direct comparison without having to recall previous evidence or arguments.
  • Paragraphs can get quite long and chunky
  • Sometimes students might not delve into their analysis with enough depth because they’re moving onto the 2nd text too quickly
  • You might need to analyse 3 themes, as opposed to 2, if you want to have 3 body paragraphs.

 

blog-english-year-11-12-how-to-write-comparative-essays-module-a-compare

 

Divided:

A divided approach means that you will analyse 1 text in 1 body paragraph, as opposed to 2.

To write an essay using the divided approach, you will need to develop 2 main arguments (themes). Then dedicate a paragraph for each text, per idea. So, you will have a total of 4 body paragraphs.

Here is a flow chart to help you visualise this approach:

The most common mistake with the divided approach is that students often forget to draw direct links to their other text/paragraph. So, they end up writing a body paragraph that analyses 1 text but doesn’t compare the two.

Remember to always draw direct links between both paragraphs!

Here are some useful comparative words/phrases that will help you draw these explicit connections:

Referring to another paragraph Similarities Differences
As previously discussed/explored Similar to Contrastingly
As aforementioned This is mirrored in On the contrary
The earlier discussion of In the same way However
Comparably Unlike
In the same way Whereas

Note: Connective phrases/words that highlight similarities and differences should be consistently used in both the integrated and divided approaches.

Now that you know how to write a divided approach essay, here are the pros and cons of a divided approach:

Pros Cons
  • Each paragraph is shorter
  • You only need to analyse 2 themes
  • Easier to delve into a single text in depth
  • It’s much easier to forget to draw strong and meaningful connections between 2 texts; you may end up writing a paragraph that solely focuses on 1 text without linking it to the other text.
  • This approach might have a higher wordcount because you need to repeat some information from the previous paragraph to properly compare the texts.

 

Dos and Don’ts

Now that we know what you need to include in your essays and the different essays structures, let’s summarise the dos and don’ts of writing a Module A essay.

 

Do:

  • Find examples that are complementary and comparable
  • Always draw explicit and direct links between the 2 texts (especially if you’re using the divided approach because it’s easy to forget to make the direct link)
  • Use connective words/phrases to make your comparisons more explicit
  • Remember to always link to the Module A rubric requirements
  • Analyse the form, composition, style and language concepts of the texts

 

Don’t:

  • Arbitrarily compare 2 pieces of evidence that have meagre links with each other
  • Switch between two different structures
  • Forget to reflect on both composer’s contexts and see how it influences their composition of the text

 

Example of a paragraph

When you write a body paragraph, remember to use TEEL to structure your analysis and argument. That is:

  • Technique: Introduce your technique/evidence
  • Example: Provide an example (quote or description of technique used)
  • Effect: How does the technique develop meaning? Analyse it.
  • Link: Link the technique and analysis to your thesis/topic sentence and Module rubric.

Now that you know how to write a comparative essay, let’s take a look at some sample paragraphs. We’ll explore an integrated paragraph and a divided paragraph.

Let’s use Shakespeare’s Richard III and Al Pacino’s Looking for Richard as an example.

 

Integrated approach example

Although achieved in different ways, both Shakespeare and Pacino explores the ability of humans to manipulate others for their personal gains. Shakespeare uses stichomythia between Richard and Lady Anne when Richard attempts to manipulate and seduce her,  emphasising his high ego and selfishness as he flippantly ignores Lady Anne’s disinterest in him. Shakespeare further highlights this through the rhetorical question in the soliloquy after Lady Anne leaves: “Was women in this humour ever woo’d / was women in humour ever won?”. Here, audiences realise that Richard holds a facade of love for Lady Anne in order to gain power from her social class; a clear sign of manipulation. Similarly, Pacino recreates this scene, using the same stichomythia and rhetorical question, whilst adding chiaroscuro lighting on Pacino’s face. This symbolises how Richard holds an angelic exterior whilst pulling the strings behind the scenes for selfish reasons. Thus by mirroring Shakespeare’s techniques and message, Pacino illustrates that humans in the modern day still attempt to manipulate others for personal gain. However, Pacino also adds another dimension to this scene. Unlike Shakespeare’s 17th century belief in fate and pre-determinism, Pacino plays with the idea of free will because his modern secular society now values ambition. He has Richard directly gaze into the camera to break the fourth wall, demonstrating Richard’s control and directorship within his storyline and in the real world. As such, through a comparative study between Shakespeare’s and Pacino’s text, it is revealed that manipulating others for personal gain is a human trait that still exists, despite shifting religious and cultural values.

Divided approach example

In Richard III, Shakespeare illustrated that humans use manipulative schemes for selfish reasons. In Shakespeare’s 17th century, society believed in fate and pre-determinism, meaning that people cannot challenge God’s will, and therefore, are either born good or evil. As such, Shakespeare characterises Richard as ‘evil’ due to his manipulative behaviour. He uses stichomythia between Richard and Lady Anne when Richard attempts to manipulate and seduce her,  emphasising his high ego and selfishness as he flippantly ignores Lady Anne’s disinterest in him. Shakespeare further highlights his manipulative and selfish attitude through the rhetorical question in the soliloquy after Lady Anne leaves: “Was women in this humour ever woo’d / was women in humour ever won?”. Here, audiences realise that Richard holds a facade of love for Lady Anne in order to gain power from her social class; a clear sign of manipulation. As such, Shakespeare’s illustrates how there will always be humans who are willing to sacrifice morality to manipulate others for their own personal gain.

Pacino also reiterates Shakespeare’s message about humans relying on schemes and manipulation for personal gain. However, he does so in a manner that is reflective of his modern secular society. Pacino recreates Shakespeare’s Lady Anne-Richard scene, using the same stichomythia and rhetorical question, whilst adding chiaroscuro lighting on Pacino’s face. This symbolises how Richard holds an angelic exterior whilst pulling the strings behind the scenes for selfish reasons. Thus by mirroring Shakespeare’s techniques and message, Pacino illustrates that humans in the modern-day still attempt to manipulate others for personal gain. However, Pacino adds another dimension to this scene. As previously mentioned, Shakespeare’s audience believed in fate and pre-determinism. So, since Pacino’s modern society now hold secular beliefs, he plays with the idea of free will instead; Richard directly gazes into the camera to break the fourth wall, demonstrating Richard’s control and directorship within his storyline and in the real world. As such, through a comparative study, it’s revealed that humans have the ability to sacrifice morality for personal gains.

 

Looking for your Module A text? Find it here:

We have articles that provide an overview of some Module A texts and analyse them. Take a look, and see if your text is here:

Keep your eyes out for our upcoming guide on

  • The Poetry of John Donne and Edson’s W;t

Written by Tammy Dang

Tammy is a former student of Matrix and is now studying Law / Media (Screen and Sound Production) at UNSW. She is a Digital Content Writer for the Matrix Education blog. Tammy aspires to become a lawyer in the future while continuing to run her art business.

 

© Matrix Education and www.matrix.edu.au, 2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Matrix Education and www.matrix.edu.au with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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