Asking students to compare and contrast topics in essay form is commonplace, both in coursework and examinations.
This article will explain how to go about writing them and the different methodologies you can consider utilizing. In short, it will make your future essay composition more focused on what is being asked of you.
Definition: Compare-and-contrast essays
In brief, compare-and-contrast essays are defined as relatively short texts – no more than 3,000 words is typical – that compare people, propositions, ideas, or objects.1
Essentially, they’re used as a way to help people organize their thoughts within a written structure or format, which means they’ll be more analytical than simply listing what they know about a given subject.
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Compare-and-contrast essays: The introduction
Although not essential, many strong compare-and-contrast essays commence with a bold statement or question that sets up the argument to come. This will be stress-tested, as it were, by comparing and contrasting two or more – sometimes opposing – positions.
The introduction should cover what is being compared – two writers, multiple philosophical positions, or whatever else – so the reader understands the remit of the essay.
In some cases, it might be advisable to explain why two or more things should be compared and contrasted, perhaps because they are sometimes incorrectly viewed as similar.
Compare-and-contrast essays: The body
The next step with compare-and-contrast essays is to get into how two or more things can be said to be similar or dissimilar to one another. Effectively, this means comparing them and assessing who, where, why, and how they can be regarded in the same light and, conversely, when not.
Various methods can be employed to structure the body of compare-and-contrast essays but they must all focus on which precise examples have been chosen.
Compare-and-contrast essays: The conclusion
To write a good conclusion in compare-and-contrast essays, you should:
- Sum up the similarities between the subjects you have discussed.
- Point out what creates the most contrast between the subjects of the essay.
- Offer a final insight or opinion about whether contrasts outweigh similarities or vice-versa.
Structuring compare-and-contrast essays
As previously mentioned, compare-and-contrast essays can use different methodological styles, typically in their body.
There are three main techniques, as detailed below.
The block method is typically used in compare and contrast methods that deal with two subjects. In the first part, one is discussed, and in the second part, the other will feature.4
- Good for short essays
- A simple, easy-to-understand layout
- Not ideal for three or more subject matters
- Doesn’t bounce between subject matters
The alternating method also works well for comparing and contrasting essays with two subject matters at hand.
- Good for longer essays
- Doesn’t stick to one subject matter for too long
- Sometimes leads to formulaic writing
- Requires writers to have multiple examples to cite
Also known as point-by-point writing, this method can be used for any number of compared and contrasted subject matters.5
- Good for long and short essays
- Helpful for three or more subject matters
- Requires a similar number of similarities and contrasts for balance
- Offers less clarity of structure
Compare-and-contrast essays: Writing process
There are typically five steps to bear in mind when writing compare-and-contrast essays.6
Make a note of everything you know that is relevant to the subject matter at hand in a few words. Now arrange them in a Venn diagram. Differences should be fenced off on their own while comparable examples will be in the middle, intersecting section.
With your thoughts arranged, assess the argument you will subsequently make in your essay. Write this down in a summary statement of your intended thesis.
Choose a method
Plan how you will structure your essay and which of the aforementioned methods will work best for your thesis.
Write your essay
Next, it is time to commit your essay to paper. Begin with a strong introduction. Leave sufficient time for a concluding summary at the end.
Even strong compare-and-contrast essays can be let down by minor mistakes. Be sure to proofread yours before finishing.
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Tips for writing compare-and-contrast essays
Make writing compare-and-contrast essays easier by:
- Being clear about what a comparison and a contrast are in each example.
- Sticking to the subject matters at hand and not bringing in others.
- Try to give equal weight to all subject matters in compare-and-contrast essays or they may be liable to bias.
Compare-and-contrast essays are short academic texts that offer similarities and contrasts in two, often related subject matters.
Yes, you can. This may reflect in the structure you choose to employ, though.
Yes, when you compare something, offer an example. The same goes when contrasting.
Finish all compare-and-contrast essays with a summation of all the examples given, and offer an opinion that reflects the thesis of the essay.
1 Buttee College. “Writing A Compare/Contrast Paper.” VeryWellMind.” Accessed March 06, 2023. http://www.butte.edu/departments/cas/tipsheets/style_purpose_strategy/compare_contrast.html.
2 Bartleby Research. “What Is The Similarities Between Yeats And Sailing To Byzantium.” Accessed March 06, 2023. https://www.bartleby.com/essay/What-Is-The-Similarities-Between-Yeats-And-PCSDUG4NN6.
3 Garza, Mindy. “Keats and Yates – Poetry Comparison.” StudyMoose. June 02, 2020. https://studymoose.com/keats-and-yates-poetry-comparison-essay.
4 Bellevue College. “The Compare/Contrast Essay: What It Is and How to Construct One.” Accessed March 06, 2023. https://www.bellevuecollege.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/161/2014/09/compare-contrast-essays.pdf.
5 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “Comparing and Contrasting.” The Writing Center. Accessed March 06, 2023. https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/comparing-and-contrasting/.
6 MasterClass. “How to Write a Compare and Contrast Essay.” June 07, 2021. https://www.masterclass.com/articles/how-to-write-a-compare-and-contrast-essay.