Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”
But, don’t let Ol’ Teddy or that compare and contrast essay get you down. Compare and contrast essays are a great way to expand your knowledge on two subjects. And, with a little guidance, they can be fun and easy to write.
Besides, what does Theodore Roosevelt know? All he ever did was invent the teddy bear.
Wait, what? He was president? We let the teddy bear inventor lead the free world? Never mind. Let’s forget I said that. It’s time to learn how to write a compare and contrast essay!
What Is a Compare and Contrast Essay?
First, let’s make sure we all understand the basics of a compare and contrast essay. Rest assured, you will come across this type of paper at some point in your academic career, if you haven’t already. A compare and contrast essay asks you to look at the similarities (compare) and differences (contrast) between two or more items or concepts.
At first glance, this will not appear to be difficult. It may seem easy to look at Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un and notice the surface-level differences and similarities.
The compare and contrast essay often asks you to go beyond the surface, to perform a critical analysis of the two subjects, and to begin to understand the underlying tendencies and characteristics. By doing so, you not only better understand the two subjects, but you reveal the concepts and connections, and possibly what makes them the way they are.
How Can I Organize My Ideas?
Depending on the prompt assigned, you may find your mind is overwhelmed by the myriad similarities and differences related to your subjects. Instead of just shoving them all into an essay with the subtlety of a dictator with daddy issues throwing a tantrum, let’s see if we can organize them beforehand.
My favorite organization tool for a compare and contrast essay is the Venn diagram. This writing tool allows you to clearly organize the similarities and differences of two subjects with two simple, overlapping circles.
I suggest you draw a big Venn diagram on a piece of paper and write everything you can think of that fits in the three sections. Once it is packed full of aspects of each subject, you can then think about which ones are the most important to your paper. What do you want to focus on? What interests you about these two areas? Which similarities and differences best relate to the prompt, or the course in general? Which pieces of information support the argument that you are presenting?
For example, if you are comparing and contrasting two novels, you may want to take a look at how the two stories and the characters within them relate in terms of a certain theme. Do the two works support each other on a certain subject? If so, perhaps those aspects are the ones that should be presented in your paper.
Once you have narrowed your focus, you can then identify the points in your Venn diagram that you will include in your paper.
Remember that having fewer points to discuss is usually better. The more you have, the less space you will have for analysis.
On the other hand, if you are able to narrow your focus to a couple of similarities and differences that really highlight the point you are trying to prove, you leave more space for discussion of those points.
How Should I Structure a Compare and Contrast Essay?
I’m all for creativity. If you have a new and interesting angle you would like to approach the essay from, then do it.
In all of my time teaching English, I’ve never lowered the score of a paper because a student was thinking outside the box and intentionally trying something new and different.
Of course, the key word here is “intentionally.” If you don’t know what you’re doing, that’s going to come through in the paper. If you already know how to write a compare and contrast essay, however, then you can be free to let your creativity run wild.
So, what is the easiest way to do it? People may have varying opinions, but in this instance I think it is best to follow the K.I.S.S. acronym. K.I.S.S. stands for…uh…um. What is it again?
Kaleidoscopes Influence Scared Stoners?
No, that’s not it.
Kittens Inspire Sylvester Stallone?
True, but that’s not what I had in mind.
Kardashians Induce Sectarian Savagery?
Perhaps, but that’s another issue.
This is too complicated. I don’t remember. Let’s forget it. What I’m trying to say is, when you are structuring your essay, just keep it simple, you silly goose. I feel like I was so close. Oh, well.
It doesn’t get much simpler than the 5 paragraph essay, and in the case of the compare and contrast essay, it works perfectly. In fact, it lines up with our Venn diagram in an incredible fashion. The 5 paragraph essay includes an introduction, 3 body paragraphs, and a conclusion. The Venn diagram gives us 3 gorgeously clear sections to work with, which will fit nicely into that 3-paragraph-body format.
Will You Give Me an Example of How to Write a Compare and Contrast Essay?
Well, I have some good news for the bold typing friend who lives in my head, and anyone else who may be reading: I will, indeed, give you an example.
Our example compares and contrasts the Kibin.com editing service with the average online editing service. Although there are many similarities and differences, we will focus on just this one for the sake of giving an example.
So, the introduction paragraph of your five paragraph compare and contrast essay will, besides introducing your topic and hooking your reader like Ali in his prime, present a solid thesis that guides the rest of your paper.
A common problem in compare and contrast essays is a weak thesis statement. It seems logical to write something like, “This paper will compare and contrast Kibin.com with other online editing services” or “There are many similarities and differences between Kibin.com and the average online editing site.”
Although these statements may be true and describe what your paper is about, they are way too vague. It is like writing, “This is an essay that will use words in a structured way to bring attention to something you may or may not already be aware of.”
Okay. Well. That’s great, but your readers already know that, and now they are upset that you wasted the amount of time it took to read it. That’s 5 seconds of their lives that they can never get back, and, if they are as begrudging as I am, they may never forgive you for it (I will destroy you, BuzzFeed, if it is the last thing I do!!!).
So, instead, we want to present a thesis that is specific, proposes an argument, and gives a bit of insight into your analysis.
For example, “Although there are many editing services available online, Kibin.com’s commitment to providing high-quality editing that never overcharges sets it apart from the rest.”
See the difference?
In your Venn diagram, you will have several points and examples from the two subjects. Once you have narrowed them down to the ones that best fit the theme of your paper, you will be able to clearly organize them in the body of your paper. There are a few different ways that you can present these similarities and differences in your paper, but each fits really well into our essay structure.
One way of organizing the information is to
- First paragraph: present aspects unique to subject A
- Second paragraph: present aspects unique to subject B
- Third paragraph: show how aspects A and B are similar
In this example, we would start by discussing how Kibin.com has developed its own software for counting words, ensuring that the customer is never wrongly overcharged.
Then, in the next paragraph, we could address the point that most other editing services use Microsoft Word’s word counter, resulting in customers being wrongly charged for things like numbers and icons.
Then, the third paragraph would be dedicated to how the two subjects are alike.
Another idea is to dedicate a paragraph to each point. As long as you have narrowed your focus to a small number of points, you may find that your essay flows better if you dedicate the extra space for the analysis of each point.
Learn more about how to create a compare and contrast outline.
There are many ways you could accomplish writing your compare and contrast essay. This is a chance for you to be creative. Don’t be restricted by the idea that the body of your essay must have 3 paragraphs. As long as you address the similarities and differences, and how they relate to your thesis, the body of your essay will have served its purpose.
In the conclusion paragraph, you get a chance to restate your thesis and the conclusions that you have arrived at through your research and the writing of your paper.
Wrap up your ideas so that there aren’t any loose ends, and don’t add any new information at this point. If, while writing your conclusion, you think of an important piece of evidence that needs to be included, you’ll need to find a place for it in the body of your paper.
Don’t panic if you can’t find a place for it to seamlessly fit in. Remember, writing is a process that requires several steps.
Those steps usually (if not always) include writing multiple drafts of your paper. If you finish the first draft, but something doesn’t feel quite right, shoot it over to the great folks at Kibin.com. Not only will they correctly count your words, but they will help you take your writing to the next level.
Here’s a Quick Rundown
Psst... 98% of Kibin users report better grades! Get inspiration from over 500,000 example essays.
Throughout your academic career, you'll be asked to write papers in which you compare and contrast two things: two texts, two theories, two historical figures, two scientific processes, and so on. "Classic" compare-and-contrast papers, in which you weight A and B equally, may be about two similar things that have crucial differences (two pesticides with different effects on the environment) or two similar things that have crucial differences, yet turn out to have surprising commonalities (two politicians with vastly different world views who voice unexpectedly similar perspectives on sexual harassment).
In the "lens" (or "keyhole") comparison, in which you weight A less heavily than B, you use A as a lens through which to view B. Just as looking through a pair of glasses changes the way you see an object, using A as a framework for understanding B changes the way you see B. Lens comparisons are useful for illuminating, critiquing, or challenging the stability of a thing that, before the analysis, seemed perfectly understood. Often, lens comparisons take time into account: earlier texts, events, or historical figures may illuminate later ones, and vice versa.
Faced with a daunting list of seemingly unrelated similarities and differences, you may feel confused about how to construct a paper that isn't just a mechanical exercise in which you first state all the features that A and B have in common, and then state all the ways in which A and B are different. Predictably, the thesis of such a paper is usually an assertion that A and B are very similar yet not so similar after all. To write a good compare-and-contrast paper, you must take your raw data—the similarities and differences you've observed—and make them cohere into a meaningful argument. Here are the five elements required.
Frame of Reference. This is the context within which you place the two things you plan to compare and contrast; it is the umbrella under which you have grouped them. The frame of reference may consist of an idea, theme, question, problem, or theory; a group of similar things from which you extract two for special attention; biographical or historical information. The best frames of reference are constructed from specific sources rather than your own thoughts or observations. Thus, in a paper comparing how two writers redefine social norms of masculinity, you would be better off quoting a sociologist on the topic of masculinity than spinning out potentially banal-sounding theories of your own. Most assignments tell you exactly what the frame of reference should be, and most courses supply sources for constructing it. If you encounter an assignment that fails to provide a frame of reference, you must come up with one on your own. A paper without such a context would have no angle on the material, no focus or frame for the writer to propose a meaningful argument.
Grounds for Comparison. Let's say you're writing a paper on global food distribution, and you've chosen to compare apples and oranges. Why these particular fruits? Why not pears and bananas? The rationale behind your choice, the grounds for comparison, lets your reader know why your choice is deliberate and meaningful, not random. For instance, in a paper asking how the "discourse of domesticity" has been used in the abortion debate, the grounds for comparison are obvious; the issue has two conflicting sides, pro-choice and pro-life. In a paper comparing the effects of acid rain on two forest sites, your choice of sites is less obvious. A paper focusing on similarly aged forest stands in Maine and the Catskills will be set up differently from one comparing a new forest stand in the White Mountains with an old forest in the same region. You need to indicate the reasoning behind your choice.
Thesis. The grounds for comparison anticipates the comparative nature of your thesis. As in any argumentative paper, your thesis statement will convey the gist of your argument, which necessarily follows from your frame of reference. But in a compare-and-contrast, the thesis depends on how the two things you've chosen to compare actually relate to one another. Do they extend, corroborate, complicate, contradict, correct, or debate one another? In the most common compare-and-contrast paper—one focusing on differences—you can indicate the precise relationship between A and B by using the word "whereas" in your thesis:
Whereas Camus perceives ideology as secondary to the need to address a specific historical moment of colonialism, Fanon perceives a revolutionary ideology as the impetus to reshape Algeria's history in a direction toward independence.
Whether your paper focuses primarily on difference or similarity, you need to make the relationship between A and B clear in your thesis. This relationship is at the heart of any compare-and-contrast paper.
Organizational Scheme. Your introduction will include your frame of reference, grounds for comparison, and thesis. There are two basic ways to organize the body of your paper.
- In text-by-text, you discuss all of A, then all of B.
- In point-by-point, you alternate points about A with comparable points about B.
If you think that B extends A, you'll probably use a text-by-text scheme; if you see A and B engaged in debate, a point-by-point scheme will draw attention to the conflict. Be aware, however, that the point-by- point scheme can come off as a ping-pong game. You can avoid this effect by grouping more than one point together, thereby cutting down on the number of times you alternate from A to B. But no matter which organizational scheme you choose, you need not give equal time to similarities and differences. In fact, your paper will be more interesting if you get to the heart of your argument as quickly as possible. Thus, a paper on two evolutionary theorists' different interpretations of specific archaeological findings might have as few as two or three sentences in the introduction on similarities and at most a paragraph or two to set up the contrast between the theorists' positions. The rest of the paper, whether organized text- by-text or point-by-point, will treat the two theorists' differences.
You can organize a classic compare-and-contrast paper either text-by-text or point-by-point. But in a "lens" comparison, in which you spend significantly less time on A (the lens) than on B (the focal text), you almost always organize text-by-text. That's because A and B are not strictly comparable: A is merely a tool for helping you discover whether or not B's nature is actually what expectations have led you to believe it is.
Linking of A and B. All argumentative papers require you to link each point in the argument back to the thesis. Without such links, your reader will be unable to see how new sections logically and systematically advance your argument. In a compare-and contrast, you also need to make links between A and B in the body of your essay if you want your paper to hold together. To make these links, use transitional expressions of comparison and contrast (similarly, moreover, likewise, on the contrary, conversely, on the other hand) and contrastive vocabulary (in the example below, Southerner/Northerner).
As a girl raised in the faded glory of the Old South, amid mystical tales of magnolias and moonlight, the mother remains part of a dying generation. Surrounded by hard times, racial conflict, and limited opportunities, Julian, on the other hand, feels repelled by the provincial nature of home, and represents a new Southerner, one who sees his native land through a condescending Northerner's eyes.
Copyright 1998, Kerry Walk, for the Writing Center at Harvard University