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Ultimate Guide to Writing a Compare and Contrast Essay

January 24, 2016 - Posted to Writing

Content guide to compare and contrast essay

The Ultimate Guide to Writing a Compare and Contrast Essay

The point of a compare and contrast essay is to describe and explain the similarities and the differences between two things, usually nouns – people or groups of people, events, situations, concepts/ideas, philosophies, and so forth.  While this answers the question of what is compare and contrast essay writing, it is only the beginning. While the structure of such an essay still means you have an introduction, body, and conclusion, the body structure itself has several options, and so the compare and contrast essay format must be decided before you ever begin to write.

Steps for Writing a Compare and Contrast Essay

Pre-Writing

Obviously, you must determine a topic for your essay. If you have full freedom to select your own topic, you will want to choose a topic that you know a great deal about (this cuts down on the need for research), and one that really interests you. Many students choose humorous topics, because the essay is just more fun to write.

Compare, Contrast, or Both

The next decision is whether you will be just comparing your two items, just contrasting them, or doing both. Usually, this is pre-determined by the assignment itself, so be certain you understand the assignment. This will impact how your structure your essay in the body paragraphs.

Organize Your Information

The best pre-writing organization for a compare and contrast essay is a Venn diagram. This provides a great visual. Brainstorm all of the similarities and place them in the area that is common for both circles. Then, brainstorm the differences and place them in the opposite outside parts of the circles. Write down everything, no matter how silly it may seem at first. Once you have everything down on the diagram, you can eliminate those elements that do not seem too important and combine those that are closely related.

Easy Organizational Patterns

If you are addressing only similarities or only differences, then each similarity or difference will be given a separate paragraph.

If, on the other hand your essay compare and contrast must do both, then you might wish to have only two rather lengthy paragraphs – one for the similarities and one for the differences. The order in which you decide to place these paragraphs should be based on what you think is most important. If similarities are most important, then that body paragraphs should go first, and vice versa. On the other hand, if your conclusion is going to re-state a thesis that they are more alike than different, then you might want to put the similarities in the paragraph closest to the conclusion.

Your Introductory Paragraph

The purpose of your introductory paragraph is no different than the ones you write for other essays. You need to introduce you topic and then develop a thesis statement. Your thesis statement might be that, although there are similarities between the two elements/items you are comparing and contrasting, the differences far outweigh them. Or, you may take the opposite position. For example, if you were going to compare and contrast jocks and nerds, you might determine that while there are similarities (human beings, students, etc.), the differences are more important and more numerous (values, priorities, gear, clothing, goals, etc.). This would be your thesis.

Your Concluding Paragraph

You will want to state your thesis again and comment that you have “proved” it. Other things to consider including:

  • Could understanding the similarities and differences benefit your reading audience?
  • Will understanding the similarities and differences work to eliminate biases on the part of your reading audience?
  • What would you like for the reader to take away from your comparison and contrast?

Popular Essay Topics for College Compare/Contrast Essays

We refer to popular essay topics for college as the types of essay assignments that you are likely to get in courses other than English comp. In a political science class, for example, you might be asked to compare and contrast democratic socialism with authoritarian socialism. In a history class, you might be asked to compare and contrast the Vietnam and Iraq Wars. In a sociology class, you might be asked to compare/contrast sub-groups within a particular culture, or Generation X with the millennial generation. In a science class, you might compare/contrast solar and wind power or nuclear fission and fusion. The possibilities are too numerous to list here.

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