The word “relevance” has a similar meaning to the word “relate.” For example, what is the relation between a Gala apple and a Granny Smith apple? They are first and foremost apples.  They grow from the ground. They are edible. We pick them for the purpose of eating.  They contribute to the physical sustaining of our earthly bodies. The list goes on and on.

Let’s examine this within a literary context. What is the relation between Faulkner’s novels and Toni Morrison’s poetry? Within their writings are examples of how the Negro negotiates life in the south amongst whites and blacks. Again, the list goes on and on.

Now substitute the word “relation” in place of “relevance” and ask, “What relevance does Faulkner’s novel have to Toni Morrison’s poetry?” This question implies the following: 1) If we place Faulkner’s novel side by side with one of Toni Morrison’s poems, then what will we find? 2) What is the connection between the two? 3) What is the one thing that links the two of them together?

When you examine a work for an assignment, you will always have to provide an answer for how one literary work connects to another. For example, What is the larger connection the novel has to present-day society? is a typical test question for an essay exam. Although the teacher will change a few words and incorporate other elements into the question, the essence of the question is still “relevant” to your understanding of how to make connections, how to show the relevance of some thing to another thing.

For such a task of demonstrating “relevance,” you are always comparing, not necessarily contrasting. However, within the one thing you are using to compare with another thing, you can point out obvious differences (contrasting). In the example of the apples, the Gala and the Granny Smith are still both apples. This is an independent variable that never changes. This is comparing. However, their differences in color and taste, and the way farmers grow them, represent dependent variables; they change and you can point this out as difference. This is contrasting.

For the most part, when you are examining the relevance of one thing to another, compare the two things. Outline the first thing; and outline the second thing. Determine how each thing measures up to the other. What is the connection between the two things? What relevance, or connection, do both things have to other things (i.e., other types of apples or “fruit”)? By answering these questions, you will find how useful comparing is to the process of revising your essay and demonstrating relevance.

Copyright 2011 Regina Y. Favors. All Rights Reserved.

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