Comparing and contrasting
One fundamental academic skill is the ability to compare two things and determine their similarities and differences. Think of the phrase 'compare and contrast' - it appears frequently in essay titles.
But, even if a contrast is not explicitly required in an assignment, the ability to compare things is crucial in almost all areas of academic study; for example, to understand the unique characteristics of a particular theory or to draw parallels between situations or events.
Try this activity, preferably with someone else so that you can pool ideas and stimulate each other's thinking.
Think of two things. (You can do this as either an abstract activity, in which case choose two everyday objects, as in the example given below, or you can instead turn this into a more concrete activity by choosing something academically relevant, such as two important figures or theories within your discipline.)
- A pair of scissors
- A dog
Make a list of all the things the two items have in common - the more imaginative and tenuous the better.
- Have associations with hair
- Can be found in many homes
- Could be lifted by an extremely strong man
- Are portable (see previous)
Look at your list of commonalities and try to identify the most defining one - the connection that is closest to capturing the essence of their relationship.
- Their domesticity: i.e. both can be found in many homes
Now think instead about the major differences between the two items and make another list.
- One is animate, the other inanimate
- One is organic matter, the other inorganic
- One is animal, the other mineral
- One is large, the other small
- One is noisy, the other noiseless
Identify the most defining difference.
- Their nature: i.e. one is animate, the other inanimate
Now take one of the items and think of something very similar to it.
- A dog
- A cat
Make a list of all the differences between the two similar items.
- Different animals
- Different shapes
- Different appearance
- Different behaviour
- Different habitats
- Different diets
- Different associations
- If desired, repeat with increasingly similar items.