What Is a Compare and Contrast Essay?
Unlike other types of essays (see top 10 essay types), a compare and contrast essay is used to explore both the similarities and the differences between two subjects by comparing and/or contrasting them against each other.
Compare and Contrast Essay Outline
To serve their particular purposes in an effective manner, a compare and contrast essay must communicate in an efficient manner. This means that compare and contrast essays should start with an opening paragraph, which will directly state what the writer is trying to say. Afterward, they can move onto the body, which will support the opening paragraph by providing supporting evidence. Once the supporting evidence has been listed, compare and contrast essays can conclude by reemphasizing their opening paragraphs in order to produce a lasting impression on the mind of the reader.
With that said, a compare and contrast essay cannot be completed without conducting a comparative analysis, which the writer can use to lay out their thoughts about the subjects before sorting them into a neat and organized form. Fortunately, this process is as simple as creating a Venn diagram (see below) before filling it with the characteristics of the subjects, while making sure to put shared characteristics in the overlapping area. Once the writer is satisfied with their brainstorming, they can sort through the characteristics for the ones with the most relevance to the point that they are trying to make, which is important because weaker arguments can actually drag down their stronger counterparts when placed in the same essay.
How to Write a Compare and Contrast Essay
How to start a compare and contrast essay? Students are normally assigned a topic to write on, yet sometimes professors give their students the freedom of selecting the topic on their own. In the latter case choosing one out of top compare and contrast essay topics can become a challenge. While working on the topic selection it is important not to choose two totally unrelated subjects, otherwise finding similarities can get problematic. Start out with a subject that has some basic similarities, e.g. two novels, two paintings, speeches etc.
Looking for the things to compare and contrast? Here is a list of top 30 compare contrast essay topics:
TOP 30 COMPARE AND CONTRAST ESSAY TOPICS
Once you have chosen what to write on in your comparison essay, brainstorm ideas and try to write down every single one of them, choosing those that are relevant to the topic. You might want to divide your sheet of paper into two main sections and start jotting down everything that comes to your mind, including similarities and differences.
Writing Phase - Venn Diagram
An effective technique for finding similarities and differences is using a Venn diagram. A Venn diagram is a scheme that represents logical relations between two objects. Graphically it can be depicted as two overlapping circles, each of the circles denoting some entity. The overlapping part is the area denoting similarities, while the parts that do not overlap, are the differences (see Fig. 1).
Fig. 1. Venn Diagram: Comparing Apples and Oranges (Compare and Contrast Essay)
A very important point in writing an effective compare and contrast essay is a correct selection of the lines of comparison: if you are comparing two objects, you should be comparing them against one and the same parameter. For example, looking at the picture above you will see that oranges and apples are compared in regards to things like origin, place of growth, a thickness of peel etc. All of these features are inherent in both objects. If you say that an apple is different from an orange because an apple is green and the orange is juicy, you will be “comparing apples and oranges” – this time in the figurative meaning of "likening two incomparable things".
Organization: Typical Structure of a Compare and Contrast Essay
The opening paragraph should state the essay’s subjects as well as its thesis statement about those same subjects. From that point on, the body of a compare and contrast essay tends to be structured in one of two ways:
The first way: a writer can list the characteristics of one subject and then the characteristics of the other before bringing them together by analyzing their similarities and differences. This means that the body of the essay will begin with a number of paragraphs about one subject, continue with a similar number of paragraphs about the other subject, and then finish with a crucial paragraph that will use the listed characteristics to compare and contrast the two subjects.
The second way: a writer can list the similarities between the subjects and then the differences between the same. This means that the body of the essay will begin with a number of paragraphs about their similarities and finish with a number of paragraphs about their differences. With this structure, there is no need for an analysis at the end because its content is spread throughout the preceding paragraphs.
Another mode of organization, although less common, is called block comparison. According to this pattern, you will be required to separate the body of your compare and contrast essay in two parts. The first part of the body will be dedicated to Object A, while the other half will be centered around Object B. Together with the introduction and the conclusion, the overall essay length will be 4 paragraphs. In case of block comparison the overall essay structure will take the following form:
Once the body of the essay is complete, its conclusion should restate the thesis statement but in a more confident manner because it has proven its point. Sometimes, a conclusion will summarize the preceding paragraphs for a bolder and blunter emphasis, while other times, a conclusion will let them provide their support in a more implicit manner.
HOW TO WRITE A COMPARE AND CONTRAST ESSAY
Additional Tips on Comparison and Contrast Essay Writing
Fig. 2. Comparison and Contrast Signifiers
Compare and Contrast Words
An important thing about writing any essay is using special cue words that will make your essay more coherent and logical. In the case of a compare and contrast essay you will need to use cue words signifying comparison, for example:
Words to compare: like, compared to, similar to, similarly, by analogy, likewise, in the same way, as well as, both, too, at the same time, correspondingly, in addition, same as, etc.
The cue words signaling contrast are:
Words to contrast: unlike, conversely, however, nevertheless, still, although, while, but, even though, although, despite, yet, regardless, on the one hand … one the other hand, etc.
Once the first draft of an essay is complete, it is time for the writer to put the finishing touches:
Proofreading is a key factor because errors can break the reader from the flow of the essay, thus robbing it of its power to persuade. Writers should always read through their own work to check for typos, spelling mistakes, grammar mistakes, as well as lines that should be rephrased for a better result. However, they should also get other people to proofread for them because their closeness to their writing can make it hard for them to pick up on its problems. After all, they already know what they are trying to say, meaning that they are not looking at their work with the same perspective as the reader.
References are a useful way to increase an essay’s power to persuade so long as they are appropriately authoritative. For example, referencing a politician is probably not going to be much use in a philosophy essay unless it is in the context of their philosophical writings. Furthermore, references are needed to use someone else’s arguments without taking credit for them in the process, which is necessary to prevent plagiarism. Not coincidentally, this also makes it easy for the reader to check the sources so that they will know, that somebody really said so if the reader is skeptical. Finally, references should be done in the style that is appropriate for the essay’s subjects for the convenience of different people in different fields. For example, most essays about the sciences should use APA, while most essays about the humanities should use MLA since those are the conventions.
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Compare-and-Contrast Essays: 3 Keys to Helping Students Get Better Grades on CompositionsBy Caitrin Blake • February 21, 2017
Whether they’re comparing a book to a film adaptation or contrasting two speeches, students inevitably get many compare-and-contrast essay assignments throughout their academic careers.
Students need to do more than report on how things are similar or different: The compare-and-contrast essay requires a sophisticated analysis of the source materials.
I’ve found that teaching students to prepare via prewriting, developing arguments and careful outlining helps them write much better compare-contrast essays.
Planning ahead with prewriting
Before writing the essay, students should take notes on the two source pieces they are comparing. That means setting up their notes in two columns so they can examine specific elements side-by-side before generating broader arguments.
For instance, if comparing a book to a film adaptation, students might want to compare elements such as plot, characters and story arc. A two-column note page allows them to comment on each one of these elements individually.
Students’ notes could compare and contrast how a particular character is portrayed and do the same with other plot elements they have selected. Having notes on each element they are comparing helps them develop stronger, more sophisticated arguments. This in turn helps set the stage for comparing and contrasting the overall source documents.
Developing an argument: Start narrow and go broad
After taking notes, students are ready to develop their arguments by comparing and contrasting individual elements in the source materials they are analyzing. Rather than saying all the characters are flat in the film adaptation, for example, students could look at each character and see what makes that character flat, or what part of their characterization makes that the case. Completing this process for each element gives students the evidence they need to review the bigger picture and develop their arguments.
How does this work in practice? The student might argue that while the film version ultimately presented the plot in a different order, the overall impact was the same because the film stayed true to the characters and the overall message of the original text.
Outlining the essay
After finalizing their notes and developing arguments, students need to determine how they will write the essay. Many students struggle with these types of arguments because they get too bogged down in the individual elements that are different and fail to present a cohesive thesis. Or they focus on the large picture and fail to substantiate their claims with evidence.
To avoid these problems, students need to develop a strong outline that presents the specific elements they want to compare. First, students must determine the small arguments about particular elements: “The film version of the book preluded the ending first, which ultimately grabbed the attention of the audience visually.”
From there, students can pull direct evidence from their notes to adequately support their claims. Their notes should detail the visual elements in both the film and the text.
This process helps them prove to the reader how the two differ and lets them develop deeper analysis. Students can actually point to how one representation is more meaningful than the other, which helps them to connect all their ideas together and support the thesis more thoroughly.
Compare-and-contrast essay assignments are so common in high school and college that they seem fairly obvious and easy to write at first glance. But students don’t always have an intuitive grasp that they need to do more than simply report — they need to analyze and look at the larger picture. That’s why it’s so important to teach them how to review the evidence carefully, build arguments, outline the text and push their analysis to the next level.
Caitrin Blake has a BA in English and Sociology from the University of Vermont and a master’s degree in English literature from the University of Colorado Denver. She teaches composition at Arapahoe Community College.Tags: High School (Grades: 9-12), Middle School (Grades: 6-8), Professional Development