8.1 Choosing comparisons based on an audience

6 min readjanuary 18, 2023



AP English Language ✍🏽

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This study guide will cover the use of comparisons to advance a writer's purpose. We'll discuss how to effectively employ comparisons to make your writing more persuasive and engaging. We'll also explore strategies for improving your own writing by incorporating comparisons into it in order to draw out desired emotions, connect with readers, and make complex concepts easier to understand. By the end of this study guide, you should have a better understanding of how to apply comparisons to advance your own writing goals.

Types of Comparisons

First, let’s get acquainted with the types of comparisons you may use in your writing.
  • Simile: figure of speech that compares two different ideas or things that are similar in some way using the words “like” or “as.”
    • Example: Her happiness shone like sunshine to her friend.
    • More complex example: King Lear was like a storm, raging and tumultuous one moment, and then strangely serene the next.
  • Metaphor: figure of speech that makes a comparison between two unrelated things or ideas without using the words “like” or “as.” The goal is to make the reader look at one thing in a new way.
    • Example: Her happiness was sunshine to her friend.
    • More complex example: King Lear was a storm, raging and tumultuous one moment, and then strangely serene the next.
  • Analogy: a type of reasoning that compares one concept to another based on similarities. It can make an unfamiliar idea easier to understand by providing a comparison that people can relate to.
    • Example: Studying for a test is like packing for a vacation: it’s best to be prepared.
    • More complex example: Handwriting is like a bridge that connects thoughts and ideas to the physical world. By teaching handwriting in school, we are giving students the tools they need to turn their ideas into tangible creations.
  • Anecdote: short story or humorous account of an incident, typically one that is personal or biographical in nature. Anecdotes often involve a witty remark or amusing observation of human behavior and are usually based on real events.
    • Example: A man was out for a jog when he noticed a frog hopping across his path. He stopped to watch it, amused by its determination.
    • More complex example: Once, when King Lear had been ruling for many years, he decided to divide his kingdom among his three daughters. His youngest daughter, Cordelia, refused to flatter her father as her sisters did and instead spoke honestly about the love she had for him. In a fit of rage, King Lear disowned her and banished her from his kingdom.
These are the primary four comparison techniques that College Board suggests in the official AP Lang CED. There may be others that you’ve learned about in your classes, but for now, we’ll stick to these.

Usage in Essay Writing

Now that we’ve defined each of the four comparison techniques, let’s break them down and discuss how they can be applied to advance your argument.

1. Using Similes

Firstly, let’s look at similes. Similes can be used to enhance an argument in an essay by providing vivid imagery and adding emphasis to the point being made. For example, if you were arguing that the play “King Lear” serves as a cautionary tale about the consequences of unchecked pride, ambition, and greed, you could use a simile such as: "King Lear's story is like a flashing red light, warning of the dangers of unchecked power and pride." This metaphor provides a colorful image that emphasizes the warnings the play illustrates. The image of a flashing red light is easy to picture and understood by the reader. 
By using similes, you can make your arguments more powerful and effective.

2. Using Metaphors

Next, we’ll look at metaphors. Metaphors can be used in essay writing to create vivid images and communicate complex ideas in a creative way. For example, if you were arguing that challenges are an integral part of life, you could use a metaphor like: “Life is a roller coaster—there are highs and lows, unexpected twists and turns, and at the end you come out stronger than you started,” which communicates the idea of resilience and growth better than simply saying “life is difficult.” 
Ultimately, metaphors can help an essay stand out by making it more interesting and engaging for readers.

3. Using Analogies

Analogies can strengthen essay writing by providing readers with an effective means of understanding complex concepts. By comparing and contrasting two seemingly unrelated ideas, analogies can help explain difficult topics in simple terms, making them more accessible to a wider audience. 
Additionally, analogies can provide vivid imagery that will make your writing more engaging and memorable for readers. For example, if you were to argue that handwriting instruction is important in schools, you could write the following analogy:
“Handwriting instruction in schools is like a toolbox: it provides students with the necessary skills and resources to express themselves on paper in a clear and coherent manner. Just as a handyman needs a variety of tools to perform their job, so do students need a good understanding of handwriting to be able to effectively communicate their ideas and opinions.” 
Analogies can create a strong bond between the reader and the subject matter, allowing them to connect on a deeper level with the overall message of the essay.

4. Using Anecdotes

Anecdotes can strengthen an essay by providing concrete examples that readers can relate to. A good anecdote should be relevant to the main point of the essay, so it's important for you to think about how the anecdote can illustrate your argument. In addition, anecdotes can humanize a topic and make it easier to discuss difficult or complex ideas in a way that's both accessible and interesting. 
For example, if you are writing an essay about the importance of protecting endangered species, you could use an anecdote that tells a story of how one species was saved from extinction due to the efforts of conservationists. This would illustrate your point and make it easier for readers to understand how important it is to protect these species. Similarly, if you are writing about the struggles that undocumented immigrants face, you could tell a story about a family who has been affected by the current immigration system. This would help readers to empathize with the issue and better understand the complexities involved. 
By using anecdotes, you can make your essay more personally engaging for the reader and accessible.

Test Yourself

Write a simile, metaphor, analogy, and anecdote that could be used to support the following argument: The language we use has a significant impact on how we think and understand the world around us. Remember to make sure that the comparisons you use in your writing are actually relevant to your argument, rather than just filling up the space.

Effective vs. Ineffective Comparisons

How do you know your comparison is actually contributing something meaningful to your writing? Ask yourself the following questions:
  • Does the comparison paint a vivid picture for the reader to understand my point?
  • Have I provided enough context for my comparison so that it makes sense to my reader? 
  • How does the comparison add to the overall flow of my writing? Does it interrupt any of my points?
  • Does the comparison offer a unique perspective or insight? 
  • What is the effect I want the comparison to have on the reader?
  • Have I avoided using cliches or overused comparisons?

Impact on Writing

Using comparisons can help:
  • Establish a sense of familiarity between you, the writer, and the audience 
  • Illustrate your argument more clearly and vividly to the audience 
  • Provide examples that the audience can easily grasp 
  • Help persuade the audience to take action or see things from a different perspective


This study guide covered the use of comparisons to advance your argument writing. We discussed how to effectively employ comparisons to make writing more persuasive and engaging. The four primary comparison techniques discussed were similes, metaphors, analogies, and anecdotes. They can provide vivid imagery, create stronger connections with the reader, and make complex topics easier to understand.
Browse Study Guides By Unit
🤔Exam Skills
🥇Unit 1 – Claims, Reasoning, & Evidence
🗂️Unit 2 – Organizing Information for a Specific Audience
👀Unit 3 – Perspectives & How Arguments Relate
🔚Unit 4 – How writers develop arguments, intros, & conclusions
🎀Unit 5 – How a writer brings all parts of an argument together
👥Unit 6 – Position, Perspective, & Bias
🥊Unit 7 – Successful & Unsuccessful Arguments
😎Unit 8 – Stylistic Choices
😈Unit 9 – Developing a Complex Argument
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