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Supporting Details: How to Use an Analogy
Common Core: CCSS.ELA

Supporting Details: How to Use an Analogy

Author: Linda Neuman

This lesson discusses how analogies can be used as supporting details.

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Life is like a box of chocolates...

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Life is like a box of chocolates...

“…you never know what you’re gonna get.”

When Forrest Gump uttered that now-famous remark, everyone immediately understood what it meant.  Life CAN be compared to a box of assorted chocolates—each day is different, you may expect one thing but get something else instead, some days are wonderful, others you don’t care for all that much.  And so on.  It was a clever analogy that stuck.

An analogy draws comparisons between different factors in two dissimilar things.  As a writer, you could use an analogy to help illustrate or clarify a complex or unfamiliar concept.   Or you could base your entire paper on one analogy, making it part of your thesis statement.

How do you find a good analogy?

For clarification purposes:  You will need to choose something that it is already clearly understood by your audience, to compare to a concept you want your audience to be more clear about. 

Example:  To help your reader comprehend economics, you could compare the economy to a forest, and government measures to control the economy to the Forest Service trying to control forest fires.  Fires that burn out of control could be runaway inflation, threatening to ruin our economic process, while trained personnel and equipment to prevent or extinguish fires could be stricter regulations or penalties for those who are fueling or enabling inflation. 

But without a few small fires now and then, the forest gets too thick with undergrowth which will act like a blast furnace when a fire does break out.  In this way, you can use your analogy to question whether heavy regulation and penalties ultimately do more harm than good.

For a thesis:  You will need to choose an analogy in which the similarities far outweigh the differences, and which you can prove with other types of supporting details.

Example:  You can draw an analogy between football and war.  Both deal with offense and defense, ground-gaining to win, downs that are the equivalent of battles.   They both have platoon-like systems, with generals (coaches), officers (quarterbacks and defensive callers), soldiers (linemen), etc.

You could use this analogy to show that a certain novel written about football was actually meant to be a statement about war.  But you will need to have more evidence than the analogy alone to convince your reader:  is it pro-war or anti-war? What evidence can you point to for proof? Did the author have a life-changing experience with war that inspired the story?

Cultural differences

Beware of differences in cultural expressions and norms when using analogies.  For example, Australians have an entirely different concept of football: other than the name, it bears very little resemblance to the game played in North America or Europe. If you mentioned quarterbacks, linemen, or downs, they wouldn’t be expected to understand the terminology; these are not elements of football in Australia, which more closely resembles a gang rumble than a war.

Know who your audience is, and only use an analogy you are sure they'll be able to follow.

Finally, analogies cannot stand alone. They can help clarify, and they can be thought-provoking, but they do not actually prove anything. If you use an analogy, you must back it up with other types of evidence that support the analogy as being valid.

Analogy is a powerful cognitive tool for learning about new concepts based on existing knowledge.  It can also convince people to think differently.  So help your reader see things the way you see them by coming up with a great analogy.