Compare and contrast is a common form of academic writing, either as an essay type on its own, or as part of a larger essay which includes one or more paragraphs which compare or contrast. This page gives information on what a compare and contrast essay is, how to structure this type of essay, how to use compare and contrast structure words, and how to make sure you use appropriate criteria for comparison/contrast. There is also an example compare and contrast essay on the topic of communication technology, as well as some exercises to help you practice this area.
What are compare & contrast essays?
To compare is to examine how things are similar, while to contrast is to see how they differ. A compare and contrast essay therefore looks at the similarities of two or more objects, and the differences. This essay type is common at university, where lecturers frequently test your understanding by asking you to compare and contrast two theories, two methods, two historical periods, two characters in a novel, etc. Sometimes the whole essay will compare and contrast, though sometimes the comparison or contrast may be only part of the essay. It is also possible, especially for short exam essays, that only the similarities or the differences, not both, will be discussed. See the examples below.
There are two main ways to structure a compare and contrast essay, namely using a block or a point-by-point structure. For the block structure, all of the information about one of the objects being compared/contrasted is given first, and all of the information about the other object is listed afterwards. This type of structure is similar to the block structure used for cause and effect and problem-solution essays. For the point-by-point structure, each similarity (or difference) for one object is followed immediately by the similarity (or difference) for the other. Both types of structure have their merits. The former is easier to write, while the latter is generally clearer as it ensures that the similarities/differences are more explicit.
The two types of structure, block and point-by-point, are shown in the diagram below.
Object 1 - Point 1
Object 1 - Point 2
Object 1 - Point 3
Object 2 - Point 1
Object 2 - Point 2
Object 2 - Point 3
Compare and Contrast Structure Words
Compare and contrast structure words are transition signals which show the similarities or differences. Below are some common examples.
Criteria for comparison/contrast
When making comparisons or contrasts, it is important to be clear what criteria you are using. Study the following example, which contrasts two people. Here the criteria are unclear.
Although this sentence has a contrast transition, the criteria for contrasting are not the same. The criteria used for Aaron are height (tall) and strength (strong). We would expect similar criteria to be used for Bruce (maybe he is short and weak), but instead we have new criteria, namely appearance (handsome) and intelligence (intelligent). This is a common mistake for students when writing this type of paragraph or essay. Compare the following, which has much clearer criteria (contrast structure words shown in bold).
Below is a compare and contrast essay. This essay uses the point-by-point structure. Click on the different areas (in the shaded boxes to the right) to highlight the different structural aspects in this essay, i.e. similarities, differences, and structure words. This will highlight not simply the paragraphs, but also the thesis statement and summary, as these repeat the comparisons and contrasts contained in the main body.
Title: There have been many advances in technology over the past fifty years. These have revolutionised the way we communicate with people who are far away. Compare and contrast methods of communication used today with those which were used in the past.
Before the advent of computers and modern technology, people communicating over long distances used traditional means such as letters and the telephone. Nowadays we have a vast array of communication tools which can complete this task, ranging from email to instant messaging and video calls. While the present and previous means of communication are similar in their general form, they differ in regard to their speed and the range of tools available.
One similarity between current and previous methods of communication relates to the form of communication. In the past, both written forms such as letters were frequently used, in addition to oral forms such as telephone calls. Similarly, people nowadays use both of these forms. Just as in the past, written forms of communication are prevalent, for example via email and text messaging. In addition, oral forms are still used, including the telephone, mobile phone, and voice messages via instant messaging services.
However, there are clearly many differences in the way we communicate over long distances, the most notable of which is speed. This is most evident in relation to written forms of communication. In the past, letters would take days to arrive at their destination. In contrast, an email arrives almost instantaneously and can be read seconds after it was sent. In the past, if it was necessary to send a short message, for example at work, a memo could be passed around the office, which would take some time to circulate. This is different from the current situation, in which a text message can be sent immediately.
Another significant difference is the range of communication methods. Fifty years ago, the tools available for communicating over long distances were primarily the telephone and the letter. By comparison, there are a vast array of communication methods available today. These include not only the telephone, letter, email and text messages already mentioned, but also video conferences via software such as Skype or mobile phone apps such as Wechat, and social media such as Facebook and Twitter.
In conclusion, methods of communication have greatly advanced over the past fifty years. While there are some similarities, such as the forms of communication, there are significant differences, chiefly in relation to the speed of communication and the range of communication tools available. There is no doubt that technology will continue to progress in future, and the advanced tools which we use today may one day also become outdated.
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Below is a checklist for compare and contrast essays. Use it to check your own writing, or get a peer (another student) to help you.
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Compare and Contrast Essay Writing
A compare and contrast essay is a type of essay which is used to explore both the similarities and the differences between two subjects by comparing and contrasting them against each other.
A comparison seeks to present the similarities of two objects whereas a contrast aims at exposing the differences between two objects. Compare and contrast essays are popular in academic writing. The comparison and contrast may be a fraction of an essay or may constitute the entire essay. An essay may include only a comparison, contrast or both. A contrast and compare essay’s goal may be to assist the readers to make a decision on a particular topic of argument. Another aim of this type of essay may be to develop critical and analytical thinking capacities in the minds of the audience.
COMPARE AND CONTRAST ESSAY RUBRIC
Compare and Contrast Essay Outline
A compare and contrast essay outline consists of an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. The introduction and conclusion are often standard paragraphs written at the beginning and end of an essay respectively. An introduction is an overview of the rest of the essay and should contain a strong thesis statement that comprehensively states the essay’s purpose.
There are two primary manners to outline or structure the body of a compare and contrast essay:
- The first way is using a block structure also called a subject to subject or a whole to the whole structure. In this fashion, an essay writer compares and contrasts all the information of a single subject or item first. The comparison and contrast of the second subject are listed after that and follows the same order as the first. A transition paragraph or sentence often divides the two paragraphs above.
- The second system is a point by point structure. In a point by point system, each point is discussed in a single paragraph. Both subjects are discussed under the same point in each paragraph. It is advised to start and end with the same subject for each point to maintain consistency. The type of structure used depends on the essay writer and the advantages of each structure. A point by point structure is clearer and more explicit whereas the block structure is easier to write.
60 SUCCESSFUL COMPARE AND CONTRAST ESSAY TOPICS
How to Start Compare and Contrast Essay
Once a teacher gives students the two subject to be compared and contrasted, the students first go out and seek information about both topics. The first step is to identify the differences and similarities in the information. Then a way to sort out and organize the above information is sought and utilized. The best and most common way of starting such an essay is to draw a Venn diagram. A Venn diagram is a very helpful organizational tool. It consists of two circles that overlap creating a single overlapping area and two non-overlapping areas.
The diagram is then used to filter the information. The similar properties of the two subjects are written in the overlapping area while contrasting features are written in their respective non-overlapping areas. One can also use a table to classify the information presented in a clear and manageable way. Tables are relatively straightforward and easy to use.
How to Conclude Compare and Contrast Essay
The conclusion of a compare and contrast essay should be able to summarize the major points presented in the body of the essay. It should, however, go beyond a simple analysis. The conclusion should be an evaluation of the points given above. It should present the overall aim of the essay’s discussion. Often, a paraphrased version of the thesis statement contained in the introduction is provided in the conclusion.
The concluding paragraph, in essence, should show the significance of why the essay writer compared and contrasted the two subjects that were in question. Moreover, the conclusion should contain a vivid presentation of the opinion of the essay writer on the topic of discussion.
Compare and Contrast Essay Writing Tips
A good topic should interest readers and hold their attention. It should also aid the writer to demonstrate his writing skills through the essay. The subjects to be discussed should also be easily comparable to make distinctions as clear as possible. Information on the two subjects should be wide reaching and easily acquirable to ensure the writer has plenty of material for the essay. Choosing the essay structure that suits the writer is an important part of writing a good compare and contrast essay. A proper outline gives the essay clarity and helps the organization of the work. The structure of the essay’s body determines the shape of the entire work.
The essay structure could highlight the writer weaknesses or strengths and should be decided with the utmost of care. Use of appropriate transitioning signals is crucial. These are words, phrases, and expressions that show the reader the relationship between subjects. Such words should be undoubtedly clear whether they indicate contrast or showcase similarities. Transition signals should also be placed at the correct point in a sentence or paragraph. Feel free to use this sample essay as a model for your own compare and contrast essay.
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