Writing a Compare and Contrast Essay: Tips from 7 Experts

Writing a Compare and Contrast Essay: Tips from 7 Experts

Most students will be required to write a compare and contrast essay at some point.  A compare and contrast essay is simply an academic document that both compares and contrasts two or more items, concepts, or other subjects.  Compare and contrast reports should discuss both how items are similar and how they are different.

Compare and contrast essays are often difficult for students to write because they do not know where to start and where to stop.  Students are often unsure how many comparisons and contrasts to make during the course of their documents.  And, they are often unsure as to how to do so.

The number of comparisons and contrasts a student should make when writing a compare and contrast essay generally depends on the instructions given to students by the course instructor and the overall required length.  The course instructor might require that students make a certain number of comparisons and contrasts during the course.  Some instructors might require that students make a minimum number of comparisons and contrasts during the course of the report but leave the final number of comparisons and contrasts up to the pupil.  

Whatever the actual number of comparisons and contrasts within a compare and contrast essay, learners should be sure that they fit within the length limitations set forth by the instructor.  An instructor will generally assign a range of pages or words that students have to work within.  It is up to the student to make sure that their comparisons and contrasts fit within that range.

A one-page compare and contrast essay does not invite a great deal of discussion within the document.  Since papers are required to follow the basic paper formatting of introduction, paper body, and conclusion, students generally have only three body paragraphs for discussion.  A one-page paper with three body paragraphs invites the discussion of three separate comparisons and contracts.  

Students often have no idea how to present a compare and contrast article.  For instance, students wonder if they should list all comparisons first, and then all of the contrasts, or whether they should discuss one comparison and one contrast within each body paragraph.  Again, it is the length of the report which often determines how to present the compare and contrast article.  A one-page paper might be best presented by discussing one comparison and one contrast per body paragraph, for a total of three comparisons and three contrasts.  A longer paper can be broken up to discuss the comparisons first and the contrasts second, or vice versa.  Using more than one paragraph in a longer paper to discuss the aspects of the items being compared and contrasted is perfectly acceptable, and even encouraged as a longer paper invites a more in-depth discussion.

Viewpoint of Author #2

Most students will be required to write a comparative essay at some point in their academic career.  A comparative essay is an academic paper which compares two or more topics, items, concepts, and more.  The number of subjects compared in a comparative essay is generally discussed by the course instructor when the assignment is given.  Comparative essays seek to discuss how items or concepts are similar, not how they are different.

Comparative essays are generally easy to write and should follow the same basic paper structure as any other academic writing assignment.  A comparative report should have an introduction, a paper body, and a conclusion.  The introduction part of the document should introduce the topic and should contain a thesis statement which will be supported throughout the remainder.

The body of the document is where the student should discuss the similarities of the items being compared.  Although a comparative essay is intended to primarily discuss the how items are similar, there can be some, very basic, references to what makes the items different.  However, it is imperative that students keep discussions of differences to a minimum because then the report becomes a compare and contrast essay instead of a comparative article.

The conclusion of the comparative essay is where students should restate the thesis and wrap up the discussion.  This is generally where comparative essays give students trouble.  It's difficult to know when to stop comparing.  It is not necessary to compare each and every factor of the items or concepts.  Students should select how many comparisons to make based on the length.

For instance, in a one-page paper, students might want to select the number of comparisons based on the number of body paragraphs.  Since a one-page comparative essay generally has one introduction paragraph, three body paragraphs, and one conclusion paragraph, the student might want to highlight three short comparisons, one per body paragraph, or one in-depth comparison to discuss throughout the entire three body paragraphs.  Longer papers invite longer discussions and more comparisons.

Finally, comparative reports should follow the basic rules of report composition.  Students should proof their documents to ensure that they have followed the citation guidelines given to them by the instructor.  The report should also be proofed for grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors.  Paragraphs should hold complete thoughts and the document should be solid and well-written to ensure the best grade possible.

Viewpoint of Author #3

A comparison essay is one that a pupil writes in order to compare two or more works of literature, ideas, events, or topics.  Comparison essays are very popular academic works because they not only require learners to become familiar with a broad variety of subjects, but because they can also show a professor how well a student understands important concepts.

When a student creates a comparative assignment, the student needs to learn about a particular topic or work in depth.  Different academic subjects may require that learners write comparison essays on different topics.  For example, a comparison essay for a chemistry class may require that learners write about the process by which two different chemical compounds bond.  A comparison essay for an English class might require that students analyze character development in two works of literature by the same author.  Therefore, one comparison essay may not be written in the same way as another comparison article.

In order to create an effective comparative assignment, the student needs to first understand what he or she will compare.  In many cases, a professor will define what he or she would like his or her students to write about.  In other cases, learners will need to come up with their own topics for comparison.  Students should understand the specific requirements of an assignment prior to beginning their comparison essays.  

The general format for a comparison essay will be similar, no matter what the student is comparing or for what subject.  Comparison reports should begin with an introduction that includes information about the topics, a brief background of the topics, information about why the student is comparing two topics or works, and a thesis.  The comparison report should be in third person.

The thesis should state the purpose.  For example, if a student is writing about two literary works, a thesis might be something like, "Character development in Book A was more effective because the author included more background information about the characters than in Book B."  The body of the document would then discuss why the student believes that Book A was more effective than Book B.  Each paragraph should include new information that supports the thesis.

A comparison report is different from a traditional article because the thesis and the format are both different.  In a traditional article, the format of the report resembles an inverted triangle, with important information introduced in the beginning and specific conclusions introduced at the end.  Each paragraph of a traditional assignment follows the same format, as well.  Also, in a traditional article, the thesis generally follows an "if, then" statement, wherein the author states that if something occurs, then a certain thing happens.  

In a comparative assignment, students may not use "if, then" statements to compare two topics or works.  Instead, they may just provide a play-by-play comparison.  An "if, then" statement may not always be an effective way to compare two topics or works.  Because the student may wish to provide a play-by-play comparison, rather than drawing a specific conclusion, the student may not follow an inverted pyramid structure when writing comparison essays.  Therefore, traditional articles and comparison essays may have a very different structure, purpose, and format.

Viewpoint of Author #4

In a compare and contrast essay, your goal is to take two or more concepts or items and discuss their similarities and differences.  In order to write a compare and contrast essay, you will need to first select the two items or concepts that you will write about.  When selecting concepts or items to write about, be sure to pick topics that actually have similarities rather than those that are complete opposites.

After determining the two ideas or concepts you will discuss in your compare and contrast essay, you should make a list of all of the things the two items or concepts have in common.  List every common factor the items share, even if you will not necessarily discuss them all in your article.  Next, brainstorm all of the similarities between the two items and make an additional list.

When writing the actual compare and contrast essay, you want to avoid simply writing one paragraph with all of the similarities and one paragraph with all of the differences.  Rather, you should write a cohesive essay in which some of the similarities and differences may be discussed in one paragraph.  One method for doing this is to start the paragraph with a similarity and then discuss how they are different despite these similarities.  For example, if you are comparing and contrasting cats and dogs, you might start a paragraph off by discussing the fact that they are both animals.  Then, you can go on to say that, although they are both animals, cats are generally smaller in size and come in different colors and patterns.  

In many cases, compare and contrast essays are written in order to highlight the differences between two seemingly similar concepts or ideas.  Therefore, you might start off the compare and contrast essay by discussing the similarities and then you can spend the remainder of the report discussing how the two ideas or concepts are actually different.

Regardless of how you choose to format the body, a compare and contrast essay will still need to have a solid introduction and conclusion.  The introduction takes place in the first paragraph, in which your thesis is also introduced.  The thesis generally asserts that the two ideas or concepts are similar yet quite different.  

The conclusion should also consist of just one paragraph.  This paragraph should revisit the thesis, though it should be written in a different way than how it was written in the introduction.  Finally, you should "wrap up" the report with the final sentence or two.

Your goal when writing a compare and contrast essay is not to persuade the reader to choose one of the concepts or items.  Rather, you are simply presenting factual information regarding the similarities and differences regarding the items.  In order to create an article with a true impact, you should focus on the subtle differences that may not be as obvious to the reader.  That way, you will present an article that will really get the reader to think about the topic in a new way.

Viewpoint of Author #5

A compare contrast essay is one of the most commonly assigned essay forms.  It requires the writer to assess the similarities and differences of two or more texts, ideas, or other objects of study in a thorough and academic way.  A compare contrast essay is not simply an article that outlines the ways the two objects of study are different.  As its name suggests, a compare contrast essay must uncover both similarities and differences.

Effective compare contrast essays often require more effort in their preparation than in their execution.  This is because the writer must devote significant time to considering the similarities and differences between the two objects.  Compare contrast essays are not designed to merely point out the obvious; rather, they are intended to provoke creative and analytic consideration.  For instance, it is not enough to point out that Robert Frost's "Home Burial" and Billy Collins' "No Time" are both poems.  Anyone who glances at these two works would be instantly aware that they are both poems.  The compare contrast report should seek to uncover interesting and often nuanced similarities and differences in order to bring new insight to both texts.

The best way to begin the process of writing compare contrast essays is to consider the main subject, point, or essence of each of the two subjects of study.  For instance, to focus on the poems above, the main subject of Frost's poem is the death of an infant child, and the main subject of Collins' poem is an adult child's thoughts about his dead parents.  By clearly identifying the main subjects, it becomes easy to see that regarding these poems, there is both a comparison and a contrast to be made in regards to primary subject matter: both poems address the death of family members, but they invert the subject of grief.  In one poem, a parents grieve for their child, and in the other poem, a child grieves for his parents.

Once general comparisons and contrasts have been made, it is helpful to perform a freewrite in order to uncover more nuanced similarities and differences about the two subjects.  A freewrite is a writing session in which the writer writes without stopping—literally without lifting his pen from the page—for five or more minutes.  A freewrite allows the writer's consciousness and sometimes sub consciousness to present itself on the page.  This helps to generate ideas that may not have been available to the writer through purely logical consideration of the subjects.

After performing a freewrite on each of the objects of study separately, the writer should read over the freewrites to see what types of ideas he or she may have uncovered about the two objects of study.  This will likely lead to more in-depth analyses of the two subjects that allow for further levels of comparison and contrast.

Viewpoint of Author #6

A comparison contrast essay is an assignment that requires students to evaluate many different sides to one situation or story.  Students will not only need to be able to draw similarities between two competing events, but students will also need to show why two different events are dissimilar.  Therefore, learners will have to perform a large amount of research in order to create effective comparison contrast essays.

The first step that students should take in order to create comparison contrast essays is to evaluate the project requirements.  Professors will have a list of particular project requirements that will need to be met.  For example, professors may require learners to compare and contrast two specific things, or they may require a comparison and contrast of more.  

Students may then select their project topic.  In most cases, learners can select their comparison contrast essay topics.  However, professors may sometimes assign topics.  Students need to make sure that they understand the topic before they begin the document.  

The nest step after receiving or deciding on a comparison contrast essay topic is for students to begin their research.  Students may want to investigate primary and secondary research representing multiple sides or points of view on the same topic.  From in depth comparison contrast essay research, learners should be able to develop a clear picture of the similarities and differences between a particular topic or set of topics.  

Students should keep journals during their research, especially for comparison contrast essays because they will need to frequently refer back to different similarities and differences.  Once the student is satisfied that he or she has performed a suitable amount of research, the student should outline the comparison contrast essay in depth.  

The comparison contrast essay outline will serve as a roadmap for the document itself and provide format and direction that the learner will be able to easily follow as he or she drafts the report itself.  The student should plan to create several drafts of the comparison contrast essay before completing the final document version.  Therefore, the student should allow plenty of time for revisions.  

There is a difference between a comparison contrast essay and other report forms.  In general, comparison contrast essays require learners to interact with two different subjects in equal manner.  Therefore, they must be familiar with two subjects.  However, many essays only require learners to be familiar with one subject in depth.  Therefore, they may require less research and knowledge to create.

Viewpoint of Author #7

A contrast essay is one in which a student needs to compare two different ideas, themes, facts, persons, or otherwise on several different levels.  Many students will have to create contrast essays for different courses.  However, contrast essays are not typical assignments that will be required of all pupils.

A contrast essay may be a somewhat normal assignment for students in a pre-medical program, legal program, or even an English program.  Basically, the idea of a contrast essay is that students compare the pros and cons or ideas presented in a variety of different ideas or themes.  For example, a student in a law program might have to write a contrast essay on the benefits and setbacks of settling a legal case versus perusing a legal case to the full extent in a court of law.  

When English students need to create contrast essays, they generally need to compare two similar literary works.  For example, a student may need to compare two works of Shakespeare to determine how they are similar.  The student may also have to perform research in order to draw conclusions about why the works are similar or different, especially if they have common themes, such as suicide or drowning.  

Contrast essays may be difficult for many learners to write because they require that students understand two different topics in depth.  Students should therefore, keep detailed notes as they research a topic.  They can then compare their notes to the notes that they kept during their research on a second topic to find similarities and differences.  

A contrast essay format should be the same as any report format.  Just because contrast essays use a variety of ideas and facts does not mean that they require their own separate format, though many learners may choose to segment their documents to make communicating information easier.  

A contrast essay assignment is often very similar to a literary report in which students need to compare two or more works of literature.  However, contrast essays are not the same as literature reviews because contrast essays always ask for comparisons and literature reviews only sometimes require comparisons.  

For example, some literature reviews can simply mention different literary works as they are important to the topic of the overall review.  These works do not need to be mentioned together or even compared in order for them to be pertinent to the literature review.  However, in a contrast essay, the various works would need to be reviewed side-by-side so that students can show differences and similarities.

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