Academic Writing: Contrasting – How to Describe Differences

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In a previous post, I have written about how to describe similarities when you are asked to compare two periods/authors/novels/situations/… to one another. Of course, this raises the question of how to describe differences between any two or more things and how to contrast them with one another. Here is a list of numerous expressions and phrases you might want to consider employing in your next term paper or essay.


NounsCollocationsExample sentences
contrasta direct, marked, sharp, stark, striking, great contrast
to provide a (adjective) contrast
There is still a sharp contrast between East and West Germany.
Hamburg provides a great contrast to its rather rural surrounding areas.
differencea considerable, crucial, essential, fundamental, major, marked, significant, striking, substantial difference
the main difference
to find, notice, observe, show a (adjective) difference
There are substantial differences in employment rates in different parts of the United Kingdom.
Sociologists have long observed a significant difference in the living conditions of whites and Blacks in the US.
distinctiona clear, crucial, fundamental, sharp distinction
to draw, make a distinction
It is reasonable to draw a distinction between biological sex and social gender identities.
There appears to be a clear distinction between oral and written literature.
the contraryto prove the contraryScientists have proven the contrary to be true.
the oppositeto affirm, suggest the oppositeThe present research results suggest the opposite of what scholars have maintained for more than a century.
the reversethe reverse is true, validWhile French is considered to be a prestigious language by the majority of the European population, the reverse is true for Arabic.



AdjectivesCollocationsExample sentences
contrastingcontrasting views, opinionsI will begin this essay by examining two contrasting views on the Vietnam War.
differentappear, seem different
distinctly, markedly, radically, rather, significantly, strikingly, entirely, quite, slightly, subtly different
different from
different to
a different approach, view, opinion
from a different angle
to different degrees
A rather different approach was taken by Angela Davis, a counterculture activist who is a professor at the USCS in its History of Consciousness Department.

Lakoff’s approach to similarities among languages is distinctly different from that of Chomsky.
differingdiffering needs, effects, approaches, results, interests, opinions, views, conditionsThe two examples reflect widely differing perspectives.
unlikeentirely, very much unlikeThe current situation at the Mexico-United States border is very much unlike that of the borders within the European Union.
contraryto run, seem contrary to
completely, entirely, quite, directly contrary
contrary to expectations, popular belief
The results run entirely contrary to our expectations.
oppositeopposite effect, view, tendencyState interventions might help the job market to recover, however, they might also have the opposite effect.
reversereverse directionThe trend appears to be going in the reverse direction.



VerbsCollocationsExample sentences
contrastcontrast with
contrast sharply, strongly, markedly, starkly
His analysis contrasts sharply with how most other scholars view this.
differdiffer from
differ considerably, greatly, markedly, significantly, slightly, widely
While the two claimed to have incompatible views, in fact, their opinions only differed slightly.
compare(as) compared with
(as) compared to
when compared to
Her opinion becomes more comprehensible when compared to Miller’s.
distinguishdistinguish between
distinguish sth./sb. from
clearly, sharply, carefully, easily, readily distinguish
difficult, hard, impossible, possible, important to distinguish
It is important to distinguish between nationalism and patriotism.
In this paper, I will distinguish between three analytical categories.
Her analytical precision distinguishes her from other scholars.
differentiateclearly differentiate
important, easy, possible, difficult to differentiate
differentiate from
differentiate between
In the first chapter, I will differentiate between social and economic factors.
It is difficult to differentiate this product from its predecessor.



AdverbsExample sentences
by/in contrastAn estimated 31 to 42% of the Indian population eat a vegetarian diet. In contrast, only approximately 5% of US Americans prefer not to eat meat.
by/in comparison75 % of the working population in Germany are employed in tertiary sector. By comparison, only 33% of the working population in Vietnam is active in the services sector.
on the other handOne of the main focuses of Adeyemi is the social implications of genetic testing. Nguyen, on the other hand, concentrates on the ethical implications.



PrepositionsExample sentences
unlikeUnlike public sector agencies, NGOs have a tradition of setting up cooperation networks.
as opposed toSocialists view freedom as a concrete situation as opposed to a purely abstract ideal.
as against1041 petitions are still under consideration as against 689 the previous year.
in contrast toIn contrast to various other experts on the subject, Bleyhl maintains that French teachers should not focus on grammar.
in comparison withSmall and mid-sized enterprises bear an administrative burden that is disproportionate in comparison with big enterprises.
contrary toContrary to popular opinion, immigrants are not driving down wages across the board.
versus/vs.Regarding the issue of Christianity versus Islam there is a major problem.



ConjunctionsExample sentences
whileWhile some mothers might prefer to stay at home, many of them do not get the chance to decide otherwise due to the non-availability of affordable child-care.
whereasThe majority of students of French are women, whereas the majority of academics teaching it are men.
butOne could argue that this assumption is true, but this would certainly be simplistic.


Source: Macmillan English Dictionary for Advanced Learners (2007): “B. Comparing and Contrasting: Describing Similarities and Differences.” London: Macmillan, IW 7-9.



2 Antworten zu “Academic Writing: Contrasting – How to Describe Differences”

  1. Thank you for this informative article! I have one question: Don’t I need to first say „on the one hand“ before I can say „on the other hand“?

    • Hi! First of all, I’m happy you found the article useful! Regarding your question: No, in fact, you do not explicitly need to mention „the one hand“ before using „on the other hand“ because if your argument is logical and easy to follow, your reader will be able to infer it. Think of the expression „on the other hand“ as a synonym for „however“.