What I was reading:
The “What’s the Difference?” and “__________ vs __________” posts from Mental Floss are excellent examples of a unique take on descriptive and explanatory writing. Some recent examples are:
Calzone vs. Stromboli: What’s the Difference?
Em Dash vs. En Dash v., Hyphen: What’s the Difference?
What’s the Difference Between a Sound and a Noise?
What’s the Difference Between Hard and Soft Water?
What Moves I Notice the Writers Making:
As I read these four texts, I can identify many of the qualities of effective description and explanation:
- Explaining how something came to be: “Calzones originated in Naples as a portable alternative to pizza. The name translates to ‘pants leg’ because customers can enjoy the doughy package while walking around rather than sitting down to eat pizza with a knife and fork.”
- Explaining how something works: “Groundwater sourced near porous rocks, for example, will contain more minerals, while water from glaciers has almost none. If your water picks up calcium and magnesium in large amounts en route to your tap, it’s considered hard water.”
- Describing the relationship between the two subjects: “While all noise is sound, not all sound is unwanted noise. It can also be subjective. If you love heavy metal, that’s pleasant sound. If you hate it, it’s noise.”
- Using details supported by research and/or outside sources: “According to Bon Appetit, the biggest factor separating strombolis from calzones is how they’re assembled.”
- Including a classification system: “According to the US Geological Survey, anything below 60 mg/L is soft, up to 120 mg/L is moderately hard, 121 to 180 mg/L is the hard stuff.”
- Incorporating figures or data: “…but if the calcium is over 100 parts per million (ppm), you’re likely to notice something seems a little off.”
I also noticed several craft moves that are not specific to descriptive and explanatory writing:
- Starting with similarities to introduce differences: “Strombolis and calzones are pizzeria staples for a reason—they consist of many of the same ingredients as a pizza and can easily be assembled using dough scraps and leftover toppings.”
- Organizing information with subheadings that group details: “Em Dash vs. En Dash” “En Dash vs. Hyphens”
- Providing a variety of examples: “This includes compound words like old-fashioned and left-handed; longer phrases like merry-go-round and run-of-the-mill; and numbers like twenty-seven and two-thirds.”
- Incorporating a bullet list of examples: “You should opt for a hyphen over a dash in these situations as well:
- To signal that a word is continued on the next line.
- To signal that a word is being spelled out, letter by letter.”
- Beginning by connecting with what readers probably already know or believe about the topic: “Few people say, ‘That’s a lovely noise,’ for example, or ‘What’s all that sound?’ If those present as clunky to your ear, you’re halfway toward figuring out the difference between the two words and when to use each.”
- Introducing a topic with a question: “So what exactly is ‘hard’ water, and how does it actually differ from ‘soft’ water? Also, what counts for just plain water?”
- Closing by circling back to previous examples: “If you love heavy metal, that’s pleasant sound. If you hate it, it’s noise.”
- Defining technical or subject-specific vocabulary: “As its name suggests, an em dash is roughly the length of the letter M, while an en dash more closely matches an N. A hyphen is shorter still.”
Possibilities for Writers:
This type of “What’s the Difference Writing” combines elements of explanatory and descriptive writing. It invites students to write about a topic of interest that allows they to share their insider knowledge or to write to satisfy their curiosity about a “What’s the difference?” topic they’ve been wondering about. The __________ vs. __________ structure can be used as a framework for students compare two texts on a similar subject or theme, two perspectives, or two pieces of writing in the same form or by the same author.