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The Best Way to Write a Compare and Contrast Essay

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How to Write a Compare and Contrast Essay

Five Parts: Formulating Your Argument Organizing Your Essay Putting It All Together Sample Body Paragraphs Sample Essay Outline Community Q&A

The purpose of a compare and contrast essay is to analyze the differences and/or the similarities of two distinct subjects. A good compare/contrast essay doesn’t only point out how the subjects are similar or different (or even both!). It uses those points to make a meaningful argument about the subjects. While it can be a little intimidating to approach this type of essay at first, with a little work and practice, you can write a great compare-and-contrast essay!

Steps

Part 1

Formulating Your Argument

  1. Image titled Write a Compare and Contrast Essay Step 4

    1
    Pick two subjects that can be compared and contrasted. The first step to writing a successful compare and contrast essay is to pick two subjects that are different enough to be compared. There are several things to consider when choosing your subjects: [1]

    • You could pick two subjects that are in the same “category” but have differences that are significant in some way. For example, you could choose “homemade pizza vs. frozen grocery store pizza.”
    • You could pick two subjects that don’t appear to have anything in common but that have a surprising similarity. For example, you could choose to compare bats and whales. (One is tiny and flies, and the other is huge and swims, but they both use sonar to hunt.)
    • You could pick two subjects that might appear to be the same but are actually different. For example, you could choose “The Hunger Games movie vs. the book.”
  2. Image titled Write a Compare and Contrast Essay Step 5

    2
    Make sure that your subjects can be discussed in a meaningful way. “Meaningful” comparisons and contrasts do more than simply point out that “Topic A and Topic B are both similar and different.” A good compare and contrast essay will help your readers understand why it’s useful or interesting to put these two subjects together. [2]

    • For example, ask yourself: What can we learn by thinking about “The Hunger Games” and “Battle Royale” together that we would miss out on if we thought about them separately?
    • It can be helpful to consider the “So what?” question when deciding whether your subjects have meaningful comparisons and contrasts to be made. If you say “The Hunger Games and Battle Royale are both similar and different,” and your friend asked you “So what?” what would your answer be? In other words, why bother putting these two things together?
  3. Image titled Write a Compare and Contrast Essay Step 6

    3
    Brainstorm your topic. You probably won’t be able to jump straight from deciding on your topic to having a thesis, and that’s okay. Take a little time to brainstorm about how your chosen subjects are similar and different. This will help you see which points are the major ones you want to focus on, and can help guide you when you formulate your thesis.

    • A “Venn diagram” can often be helpful when brainstorming. This set of overlapping circles can help you visualize where your subjects are similar and where they differ. In the outer edges of the circle, you write what is different; in the overlapping middle area, you write what’s similar. [3]
    • You can also just draw out a list of all of the qualities or characteristics of each subject. Once you’ve done that, start looking through the list for traits that both subjects share. Major points of difference are also good to note.
  4. Image titled Write a Compare and Contrast Essay Step 7

    4
    Consider your main points. You won’t be able to provide a list of every single way in which your subjects are similar and/or different in your essay. (And that’s not the goal, anyway.) Instead, choose a few points that seem to be particularly important.

    • For example, if you are comparing and contrasting cats and dogs, you might notice that both are common household pets, fairly easy to adopt, and don’t usually have many special care needs. These are points of comparison (ways they are similar).
    • You might also note that cats are usually more independent than dogs, that dogs may not provoke allergies as much as cats do, and that cats don’t get as big as many dogs do. These are points of contrast (ways they are different).
    • These points of contrast can often be good places to start thinking about your thesis, or argument. Do these differences make one animal a superior type of pet? Or a better pet choice for a specific living situation (e.g., an apartment, a farm, etc.)?
  5. Image titled Write a Compare and Contrast Essay Step 8

    5
    Develop your thesis. There are many directions a compare-and-contrast thesis can take, but it should always make an argument that explains why it’s useful to put these two subjects together in the first place. For example:

    • Show readers why one subject is more desirable than the other. Example: “Cats are better pets than dogs because they require less maintenance, are more independent, and are more adaptable.”
    • Help readers make a meaningful comparison between two subjects. Example: “New York City and San Francisco are both great cities for young professionals, but they differ in terms of their job opportunities, social environment, and living conditions.”
    • Show readers how two subjects are similar and different. Example: “While both The Catcher in the Rye and To Kill a Mockingbird explore the themes of loss of innocence and the deep bond between siblings, To Kill a Mockingbird is more concerned with racism while The Catcher in the Rye focuses on the prejudices of class.”
    • In middle school and high school, the standard format for essays is often the “5-paragraph form,” with an introduction, 3 body paragraphs, and a conclusion. If your teacher recommends this form, go for it. However, you should be aware that especially in college, teachers and professors tend to want students to break out of this limited mode. Don’t get so locked into having “three main points” that you forget to fully explore your topic.

Part 2

Organizing Your Essay

  1. Image titled Write a Compare and Contrast Essay Step 9

    1
    Decide on a structure. There are several ways to organize a compare-and-contrast essay. Which one you choose depends on what works best for your ideas. Remember, you can change your organization later if you decide it isn’t working. [4] [5]

    • Subject by subject. This organization deals with all of the points about Topic A, then all of the points of Topic B. For example, you could discuss all your points about frozen pizza (in as many paragraphs as necessary), then all your points about homemade pizza. The strength of this form is that you don’t jump back and forth as much between topics, which can help your essay read more smoothly. It can also be helpful if you are using one subject as a “lens” through which to examine the other. The major disadvantage is that the comparisons and contrasts don’t really become evident until much further into the essay, and it can end up reading like a list of “points” rather than a cohesive essay. [6]
    • Point by point. This type of organization switches back and forth between points. For example, you could first discuss the prices of frozen pizza vs. homemade pizza, then the quality of ingredients, then the convenience factor. The advantage of this form is that it’s very clear what you’re comparing and contrasting. The disadvantage is that you do switch back and forth between topics, so you need to make sure that you use transitions and signposts to lead your reader through your argument.
    • Compare then contrast. This organization presents all the comparisons first, then all the contrasts. It’s a pretty common way of organizing an essay, and it can be helpful if you really want to emphasize how your subjects are different. Putting the contrasts last places the emphasis on them. However, it can be more difficult for your readers to immediately see why these two subjects are being contrasted if all the similarities are first. [7]
  2. Image titled Write a Compare and Contrast Essay Step 10

    2
    Outline your essay. Outlining your essay will help you work out the main organizational structure and will give you a template to follow as you develop your ideas. No matter how you decided to organize your essay, you will still need to have the following types of paragraphs: [8]

    • Introduction. This paragraph comes first and presents the basic information about the subjects to be compared and contrasted. It should present your thesis and the direction of your essay (i.e., what you will discuss and why your readers should care).
    • Body Paragraphs. These are the meat of your essay, where you provide the details and evidence that support your claims. Each different section or body paragraph should tackle a different division of proof. It should provide and analyze evidence in order to connect those proofs to your thesis and support your thesis. Many middle-school and high-school essays may only require three body paragraphs, but use as many as is necessary to fully convey your argument.
    • Acknowledgement of Competitive Arguments/Concession. This paragraph acknowledges that other counter-arguments exist, but discusses how those arguments are flawed or do not apply.
    • Conclusion. This paragraph summarizes the evidence presented. It will restate the thesis, but usually in a way that offers more information or sophistication than the introduction could. Remember: your audience now has all the information you gave them about why your argument is solid. They don’t need you to just reword your original thesis. Take it to the next level!
  3. Image titled Write a Compare and Contrast Essay Step 11

    3
    Outline your body paragraphs based on subject-to-subject comparison. Let’s say you’re working with the following statement: “When deciding between whether to go camping in the woods or spend a day at the beach, one should consider the following points: the weather, the types of activities each location offers, and the facilities at each location.” A subject-by-subject comparison would deal first with the woods, and then with the beach. This method of organization can be unwieldy, so if you choose it, be sure not to let your paragraphs become page-long lists of points about each subject. You can still have a paragraph per point about each subject; you’ll just put all the paragraphs about each subject together. A subject-to-subject body paragraph outline could look like this: [9]

    • Introduction: state your intent to discuss the differences between camping in the woods or on the beach.
    • Body Paragraph 1 (Woods): Climate/Weather
    • Body Paragraph 2 (Woods): Types of Activities and Facilities
    • Body Paragraph 3 (Beach): Climate/Weather
    • Body Paragraph 4 (Beach): Types of Activities and Facilities
    • Conclusion
  4. Image titled Write a Compare and Contrast Essay Step 12

    4
    Outline your body paragraphs based on point-by-point comparison. This is the more common method used in the comparison and contrast essay. [10] You can write a paragraph about each characteristic of both locations, comparing the locations in the same paragraph. For example, in this case, you could write one paragraph describing the weather in both the woods and the beach, one paragraph describing the activities in each location, and a third describing the facilities in both. Here’s how the essay could look: [11]

    • Introduction
    • Body Paragraph 1: Discuss first difference between woods and beaches: climate/weather.
      • Woods
      • Beach
    • Body Paragraph 2: Discuss second difference between woods and beaches: types of activities.
      • Woods
      • Beach
    • Body Paragraph 3: Discuss third difference between woods and beaches: available facilities.
      • Woods
      • Beach
    • Conclusion
  5. Image titled Write a Compare and Contrast Essay Step 13

    5
    Outline your body paragraphs based on compare then contrast. This type of organization works best for when you want to emphasize the contrasts between your subjects. First, you discuss how your subjects are similar. Then, you end with how they’re different (and, usually, how one is superior). Here’s how your essay could look with this organization:

    • Introduction
    • Body Paragraph 1: Similarity between woods and beaches (both are places with a wide variety of things to do)
    • Body Paragraph 2: First difference between woods and beaches (they have different climates)
    • Body Paragraph 3: Second difference between woods and beaches (there are more easily accessible woods than beaches in most parts of the country)
    • Body Paragraph 4: Emphasis on the superiority of the woods to the beach
    • Conclusion
  6. Image titled Write a Compare and Contrast Essay Step 14

    6
    Organize your individual body paragraphs. Once you’ve chosen an organizational method for your body paragraphs, you’ll need to have an internal organization for the body paragraphs themselves. Each of your body paragraphs will need to have the three following elements:

    • Topic sentence: This sentence introduces the main idea and subject of the paragraph. It can also provide a transition from the ideas in the previous paragraph.
    • Body: These sentences provide concrete evidence that support the topic sentence and main idea.
    • Conclusion: this sentence wraps up the ideas in the paragraph. It may also provide a link to the next paragraph’s ideas.

Part 3

Putting It All Together

  1. Image titled Write a Compare and Contrast Essay Step 15

    1
    Use your brainstorming ideas to fill in your outline. Once you’ve outlined your essay, it should be fairly simple to find evidence for your arguments. Look at the lists and diagrams you generated to help you find the evidence for your comparisons and contrasts.

    • If you are having trouble finding evidence to support your argument, go back to your original texts and try the brainstorming process again. It could be that your argument is evolving past where it started, which is good! You just need to go back and look for further evidence.
  2. Image titled Write a Compare and Contrast Essay Step 16

    2
    Remember to explain the “why.” A common error many writers make is to let the comparisons and contrasts “speak for themselves,” rather than explaining why it’s helpful or important to put them together. Don’t just provide a list of “ways Topic A and Topic B are similar and different.” In your body paragraphs as well as your conclusion, remind your readers of the significance of your evidence and argument.

    • For example, in a body paragraph about the quality of ingredients in frozen vs. homemade pizza, you could close with an assertion like this: “Because you actively control the quality of the ingredients in pizza you make at home, it can be healthier for you than frozen pizza. It can also let you express your imagination. Pineapple and peanut butter pizza? Go for it! Pickles and parmesan? Do it! Using your own ingredients lets you have fun with your food.” This type of comment helps your reader understand why the ability to choose your own ingredients makes homemade pizza better.
  3. Image titled Write a Compare and Contrast Essay Step 17

    3
    Come up with a title. “Essay Number One” may say exactly what the paper is, but it’s not going to win any points for style. A good essay title will preview something about the paper’s argument or topic. Depending on your audience and the situation, you may make a joke or a pun, ask a question, or provide a summary of your main point.

  4. Image titled Write a Compare and Contrast Essay Step 18

    4
    Take a break. One of the most common mistakes student writers make is to not give themselves enough time to take a step back from their essays for a day or two. Start early so that you can let your finished draft sit for a day, or at least a few hours. Then, come back to it with fresh eyes. You’ll find it easier to see holes in your logic or organizational flaws if you’ve had time to take a break.

    • Reading your essay aloud can also help you find problem spots. Often, when you’re writing you get so used to what you meant to say that you don’t read what you actually said.
  5. Image titled Write a Compare and Contrast Essay Step 19

    5
    Review your essay. Look out for any grammatical errors, confusing phrasing, and repetitive ideas. Look for a balance in your paper: you should provide about the same amount of information about each topic to avoid bias. Here are some things to consider before you turn in your paper:

    • Avoid bias. Don’t use overly negative or defamatory language to show why a subject is unfavorable; use solid evidence to prove your points instead.
    • Avoid first-person pronouns unless told otherwise. In some cases, your teacher may encourage you to use “I” and “you” in your essay. However, if the assignment or your teacher doesn’t mention it, stick with third-person instead, like “one may see” or “people may enjoy.” This is common practice for formal academic essays.
    • Proofread! Spelling and punctuation errors happen to everyone, but not catching them can make you seem lazy. Go over your essay carefully, and ask a friend to help if you’re not confident in your own proofreading skills.

Part 4

Sample Body Paragraphs

  1. Image titled Write a Compare and Contrast Essay Step 20

    1
    Write a body paragraph for a point-by-point compare and contrast essay. Here is a sample paragraph for a body paragraph that uses point-by-point comparison:

    • “When one is deciding whether to go to the beach or the woods, the type of activities that each location offers are an important point to consider. At the beach, one can enjoy the water by swimming, surfing, or even building a sandcastle with a moat that will fill with water. When one is in the woods, one may be able to go fishing or swimming in a nearby lake, or one may not be near water at all. At the beach, one can keep one’s kids entertained by burying them in sand or kicking around a soccer ball; if one is in the woods, one can entertain one’s kids by showing them different plans or animals. Both the beach and the woods offer a variety of activities for adults and kids alike.”
  2. Image titled Write a Compare and Contrast Essay Step 21

    2
    Write a body paragraph for a subject-by-subject compare and contrast essay. Here is a sample paragraph for a body paragraph that uses subject-by-subject comparison:

    • “The beach has a wonderful climate, many activities, and great facilities for any visitor’s everyday use. If a person goes to the beach during the right day or time of year, he or she can enjoy warm, yet refreshing water, a cool breeze, and a relatively hot climate. At the beach, one can go swimming, sunbathe, or build sandcastles. There are also great facilities at the beach, such as a changing room, umbrellas, and conveniently-located restaurants and changing facilities. The climate, activities, and facilities are important points to consider when deciding between the beach and the woods.”

Sample Essay Outline

Community Q&A

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  • Question
    How should I start the essay?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer

    Start out by naming both of the things you are comparing. For example, with apples and oranges, start out by saying, “Apples and oranges have many differences.” Before creating the body paragraphs, name a few trivial differences that are different from the main ones on which you plan to focus.
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    How should I conclude the essay?
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    Community Answer

    To conclude an essay, you might summarize your argument. Then you’ll want to show your reader why your paper is significant and finally, leave them with something new to think about.
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  • Question
    How do I start an introductory paragraph?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer

    Start with a hook to draw your reader into the essay. Introduce your topic with a few sentences that explain what you’ll be writing about and end with a sentence that helps you transition into the first body paragraph.
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  • Question
    What would be the connector for contrast?
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    Some connectors could start with, “Although,” “Even though,” “While these are the differences…”
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    How can I build my vocabulary?
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    You can read books, as books increase your comprehension skills and your vocabulary. You can also try to engage in conversations with your teachers and peers to increase your vocabulary and discussion skills.
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  • Question
    How do I compare two poems?
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    When comparing poems, you should look into things particular to poems: figurative language, linguistic devices, rhyme, meter, themes and tone and mood. Compare and contrast all of these and see if any interesting similarities or differences pop up. If it is relevant to your arguments, you could also give some context regarding to the writers of the poems.
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    You may quote the text itself. Ask your teacher how she prefers you annotate it.
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    It depends on the assignment and the specifications that your teacher gave you.
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    You can say this, “My brother has many traits. He is kind, caring, etc.” “He” and “Brother” are 3rd person.
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    Quick Summary

    To write a compare and contrast essay, start by choosing 2 subjects to compare, like a film and the book it’s based on or 2 different animals. Then, think about how your subjects are similar and different and outline what you come up with. Once you’re ready to write your essay, present a specific similarity or difference at the beginning of each paragraph and go on to explain why it’s important. Try to come up with an overall theme or argument that you can refer to in each paragraph to tie everything together and make your essay more meaningful.

    Did this summary help you?

    Tips

    • Collect your sources. Mark page numbers in books, authors, titles, dates, or other applicable information. This will help you cite your sources later on in the writing process.
    • Don’t rush through your writing. If you have a deadline, start early. If you rush, the writing won’t not be as good as it could be.
    • Use reputable sources. While Wikipedia may be an easy way to start off, try to go to more specific websites afterwards. Many schools refuse to accept Wikipedia as a valid source of information, and prefer sources with more expertise and credibility.

    Warnings

    • If you have external sources, make sure you always cite them. Otherwise, you may be guilty of plagiarism.

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    Sources and Citations

    1. http://www.roanestate.edu/owl/com_con.html
    2. http://writingcenter.unc.edu/handouts/comparing-and-contrasting/
    3. http://writingcenter.unc.edu/handouts/comparing-and-contrasting/
    4. http://writingcenter.unc.edu/handouts/comparing-and-contrasting/
    5. https://www.sbcc.edu/clrc/files/wl/downloads/WritingaCompareContrastEssay.pdf
    6. http://writingcenter.unc.edu/handouts/comparing-and-contrasting/
    7. http://leo.stcloudstate.edu/acadwrite/comparcontrast.html
    8. http://www.roanestate.edu/owl/com_con.html
    9. http://writingcenter.unc.edu/handouts/comparing-and-contrasting/
    10. http://writingcenter.unc.edu/handouts/comparing-and-contrasting/
    11. http://www.readwritethink.org/files/resources/interactives/compcontrast/

    Show more… (8)

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      • Conclusions

      • Writer’s Block

    • Academic Arguments

      • Understanding Arguments

      • Developing Arguments

      • Comparing & Contrasting

        • Overview
        • Address Both Similarities & Differences
        • Make Sure You Have a Clear Thesis Statement
        • Use Clear Transitions
        • Structure Your Paper
        • Include Analysis
        • Make Analogous Comparisons
        • Related Webinar
        • Web Page Feedback
      • Avoiding Logical Fallacies

      • Addressing Assumptions

      • Responding to Counterarguments

    • Revising

      • Revising in General

      • Revising Based on Feedback

      • Revising for Focused Ideas

      • Revising for Stronger Evidence

      • Revising for Effective Organization

      • Revising for Scholarly Voice

      • Revising for Grammar

      • Revising for Writing Goals

    • Proofreading

    • Reflecting & Improving

    Overview

    A compare and contrast paper discusses the similarities and differences between two or more topics. The paper should contain an introduction with a thesis statement, a body where the comparisons and contrasts are discussed, and a conclusion.

    Address Both Similarities & Differences

    Because this is a compare and contrast paper, both the similarities and differences should be discussed. This will require analysis on your part, as some topics will appear to be quite similar, and you’ll have to work to find the differing elements.

    Make Sure You Have a Clear Thesis Statement

    Just like any other essay, a compare and contrast essay needs a thesis statement. The thesis statement should not only tell your reader what you will do, but it should also address the purpose and importance of comparing and contrasting the material.

    Use Clear Transitions

    Transitions are key in compare and contrast essays, where you will be moving frequently between different topics or perspectives.

    • Examples of transitions and phrases for comparisons: as well, similar to, consistent with, likewise, too
    • Examples of transitions and phrases for contrasts: on the other hand, however, although, differs, conversely, rather than. For more information, check out our transitions page.

    Structure Your Paper

    Consider how you will present the information. You could present all of the similarities first and then present all of the differences. Or you could go point by point and show the similarity and difference of one point, then the similarity and difference for another point, and so on.

    Include Analysis

    It is tempting to just provide summary for this type of paper, but analysis will show the importance of the comparisons and contrasts. For instance, if you’re comparing two articles on the topic of the nursing shortage, help us understand what this will achieve. Did you find consensus between the articles that will support a certain action step for people in the field? Did you find discrepancies between the two that point to the need for further investigation?

    Make Analogous Comparisons

    When drawing comparisons or making contrasts, be sure you are dealing with similar aspects of each item. To use an old cliché, are you comparing apples to apples?

    • Example of poor comparisons: Kubista studied the effects of a later start time on high school students, but Cook used a mixed methods approach. (This example does not compare similar items. It’s not a clear contrast because the sentence does not discuss the same element of the articles. It is like comparing apples to oranges.)
    • Example of analogous comparisons: Cook used a mixed methods approach, whereas Kubista used only quantitative methods. (Here, methods are clearly being compared, allowing the reader to understand the distinction.

    Related Webinar

    • Building and Organizing Academic Arguments (webinar)

    • << Previous: Developing Arguments
    • Next: Avoiding Logical Fallacies >>

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