What is a comparative essay?
A comparative essay asks that you compare at least two (possibly more) items. These items will differ depending on the assignment. You might be asked to compare
- positions on an issue (e.g., responses to midwifery in Canada and the United States)
- theories (e.g., capitalism and communism)
- figures (e.g., GDP in the United States and Britain)
- texts (e.g., Shakespeare’s Hamletand Macbeth)
- events (e.g., the Great Depression and the global financial crisis of 2008–9)
Although the assignment may say “compare,” the assumption is that you will consider both the similarities and differences; in other words, you will compare and contrast.
Make sure you know the basis for comparison
The assignment sheet may say exactly what you need to compare, or it may ask you to come up with a basis for comparison yourself.
- Provided by the essay question: The essay question may ask that you consider the figure of the gentleman in Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations and Anne Brontë’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. The basis for comparison will be the figure of the gentleman.
- Developed by you: The question may simply ask that you compare the two novels. If so, you will need to develop a basis for comparison, that is, a theme, concern, or device common to both works from which you can draw similarities and differences.
Develop a list of similarities and differences
Once you know your basis for comparison, think critically about the similarities and differences between the items you are comparing, and compile a list of them.
For example, you might decide that in Great Expectations, being a true gentleman is not a matter of manners or position but morality, whereas in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, being a true gentleman is not about luxury and self-indulgence but hard work and productivity.
The list you have generated is not yet your outline for the essay, but it should provide you with enough similarities and differences to construct an initial plan.
Develop a thesis based on the relative weight of similarities and differences
Once you have listed similarities and differences, decide whether the similarities on the whole outweigh the differences or vice versa. Create a thesis statement that reflects their relative weights. A more complex thesis will usually include both similarities and differences. Here are examples of the two main cases:
- Differences outweigh similarities:
While Callaghan’s “All the Years of Her Life” and Mistry’s “Of White Hairs and Cricket” both follow the conventions of the coming-of-age narrative, Callaghan’s story adheres more closely to these conventions by allowing its central protagonist to mature. In Mistry’s story, by contrast, no real growth occurs.
- Similarities outweigh differences:
Although Darwin and Lamarck came to different conclusions about whether acquired traits can be inherited, they shared the key distinction of recognizing that species evolve over time.
Come up with a structure for your essay
- Alternating method: Point-by-point patternIn the alternating method, you find related points common to your central subjects A and B, and alternate between A and B on the basis of these points (ABABAB …). For instance, a comparative essay on the French and Russian revolutions might examine how both revolutions either encouraged or thwarted innovation in terms of new technology, military strategy, and the administrative system.
A Paragraph 1 in body new technology and the French Revolution B Paragraph 2 in body new technology and the Russian Revolution A Paragraph 3 in body military strategy and the French Revolution B Paragraph 4 in body military strategy and the Russian Revolution A Paragraph 5 in body administrative system and the French Revolution B Paragraph 6 in body administrative system and the Russian Revolution
Note that the French and Russian revolutions (A and B) may be dissimilar rather than similar in the way they affected innovation in any of the three areas of technology, military strategy, and administration. To use the alternating method, you just need to have something noteworthy to say about both A and B in each area. Finally, you may certainly include more than three pairs of alternating points: allow the subject matter to determine the number of points you choose to develop in the body of your essay.
When do I use the alternating method? Professors often like the alternating system because it generally does a better job of highlighting similarities and differences by juxtaposing your points about A and B. It also tends to produce a more tightly integrated and analytical paper. Consider the alternating method if you are able to identify clearly related points between A and B. Otherwise, if you attempt to impose the alternating method, you will probably find it counterproductive.
- Block method: Subject-by-subject patternIn the block method (AB), you discuss all of A, then all of B. For example, a comparative essay using the block method on the French and Russian revolutions would address the French Revolution in the first half of the essay and the Russian Revolution in the second half. If you choose the block method, however, do not simply append two disconnected essays to an introductory thesis. The B block, or second half of your essay, should refer to the A block, or first half, and make clear points of comparison whenever comparisons are relevant. (“Unlike A, B . . .” or “Like A, B . . .”) This technique will allow for a higher level of critical engagement, continuity, and cohesion.
A Paragraphs 1–3 in body How the French Revolution encouraged or thwarted innovation B Paragraphs 4–6 in body How the Russian Revolution encouraged or thwarted innovation
When do I use the block method? The block method is particularly useful in the following cases:
- You are unable to find points about A and B that are closely related to each other.
- Your ideas about B build upon or extend your ideas about A.
- You are comparing three or more subjects as opposed to the traditional two.
College Essays include a complete sequence of activities and exercises that will guide and help students, step by step, in the process of comparing and contrasting two subjects in a standard essay format. It is highly suggested for the students to have at least basic knowledge of essay structure and constituents before working on the essay in order to understand the concepts better.
A comparison displays how two topics are alike or similar; a contrast displays how two topics are dissimilar or different. Students must identify adequate statements for contrast essay and write appropriate thesis statements and concluding statements to end the comparison and contrast essay. Essay writing in short will give students practice in clear and logical reasoning.
What are Contrast Essays?Back to Top
An essay academic essay consists of an introductory paragraph or the introduction, three supporting paragraphs called the body, and a concluding paragraph or conclusion. All five paragraphs must be associated to discuss one single topic. Writing an essay helps students to sort out and consolidate ideas, and think them through clearly. A comparison and contrast essay observes the similarities or one can call it “compares” and/or “contrasts” differences between two items in order to make a point. Below are few examples of comparison and contrast ideas:
- Compare / contrast two professions
- Compare / contrast two colleges
- Compare / contrast two bikes
In all the cases the similarities and differences lead to a convincing definite conclusion which is an important feature of the comparison and contrast essay. This essay focuses on a common thought process, as we tend to use it in our day to day lives whenever we make decisions.
The comparison or contrast essays should make a point or serve a purpose. Often such essays do one of the following: ƒ
- Clarify something indefinite or not well understood. ƒ
- Lead to a fresh understanding or new way of observing something. ƒ
- Bring one or both of the subjects into shriller focus. ƒ
- Show that one subject is better than the other.
Comparison/ Contrast Essay OutlineBack to Top
In a Comparison or contrasted essay select objects that are related in some way, so they can be compared or contrasted. Choose a process of progress that works well with organizing idea. Use precise and relevant examples for support. Give equal conduct to both components that you is being discussed. Compare according to a single planned idea. Use transitional words or phrases to help readers understand the similarities and differences in the subject. Conclude the paper by restating or paraphrasing the thesis, summarizing the main points, and give the reader the final ‘so what’ - of the major similarities and/or differences discussed.
- The two subjects must make sense to compare or contrast. For instance you can compare two soccer teams , but not a cricket team and soccer team. By way of selecting a topic, remember that a student is not supposed to be describing the two things they’re writing about.
- The introduction should state the reason for comparison or contrast for instance which is the most desirable or lesser desirable of the two.
- The thesis statement should clearly represent the two things to be compared or contrasted such as the subject and the main points or criteria for the comparison or contrast.
- The main points must be grammatically parallel.
- The main points or criteria must apply to both items.
The Purpose of a Compare and Contrast EssayBack to Top
The thesis statement is, the controlling idea of the entire essay. It also acts as the main idea of a compare and contrast essay. It is the sentence that controls and summarizes the direction and the content of the essay. At the same time, the thesis sentence associates the introduction paragraph with the body of the essay. In the comparison and contrast essay, the student must give their OPINION in the thesis statement.
- The student is required to take a stand and tolerate it through the essay.
- The thesis statement provides control, strength, and direction to the body of the essay.
- The direction and control is achieved by Parallel Structures.
- The thesis statement is not the heading or the title of the essay.
- Thesis statement organizes and outlines the ideas for the body paragraph.
- The thesis statement is not a individual announcement.
- Never use expressions such as “In this essay I am going to compare, my essay is about…” in a formal essay.
- The conclusion brings the paper to an ordinary natural and beautiful end, sometimes leaving the reader with a final thought on the subject.
Connectors that show similarities or comparisons
- In addition
- Compared to
- Just as
- As well as
- Same as
- At the same time
Connectors that show differences and contrast
- On the contrary
- On the other hand
- Even though
- In contrast
Basic Methods for Organizing Comparison / Contrast Paragraphs
- If you let X and Y stand for the two subjects being compared, then you can use the block method in which you tell all about X, then tell all about Y. Thus you discuss X in a block and Y in a block.
- If you let X and Y stand for the two subjects being compared, then you compare them point by point. Every time you say something about X, you also say something about Y – right in the same sentence or in the sentence immediately following.
The Point by Point MethodBack to Top
The Point by Point method is also called the alternating method or slice method which makes a comparison of the items one point or criteria at a time. The main topic or theme statement or sentence aims on the point being used as the base for comparison rather than the item. A comparison of one point of a subject with a point of the other subject is called the Point by Point Method.
- Keeps each set of ideas, arguments, thoughts for discussion
- The reader does not have to remember as much facts and figures.
- Keeps the paper undoubtedly well planned and organized
- Avoids summary
- Can appear automatic and monotonous
- Does not provide a combined discussion or conversation of the two sides
Point 1 - discuss A
Point 1 - discuss B
Discussion about overall links between A and B
Point 2 – discuss A
Point 2 - discuss B
Discussion about overall links between A and B
Block MethodBack to Top
Block Method describes all the similarities in the first body paragraph and then all the dissimilarities and differences in the second body paragraph. A presentation of all facts and supporting details about one topic followed by the facts and supporting details about the second topic
- Offers the complete picture of the two sides
- Can be more effective if the essay is short and covers a general issue
- Does not appear as monotonous and boring
- If the writer is not careful it tends to become a summary
- The paper is not always organized clearly
- Is not successful for papers over 3-4 page
Point 1 - about A
Point 2 - about B
Point 1 about B (with discussion about relation to A)
Point 2 about B (with discussion about relation to A)
Structure of a Compare and Contrast EssayBack to Top
- Body Paragraphs
Comparison or Contrast Essay TopicsBack to Top
- Apple vs. Microsoft
- Republican vs. Democrat
- Monarchy vs. Presidency
- Childhood vs. Adulthood
- Communism vs. Capitalism
- Mozart vs. Beethoven
- Friends vs. Family
- Newton vs. Einstein
- Go on Vacation vs. Stay at Home
- Halloween night to prom night.
- Christopher Columbus to early astronauts.
- Living on a farm to living in the city.
- Being a teen to being a toddler.
- Your experiences before and after giving up a bad habit
- The car you own and the car you dream of owning
- Your best birthday to your worst birthday.
ExerciseBack to Top
Choose one of the essay topics, and write a comparison or contrast essay.
- Compare or contrast two musical styles, such as jazz and reggae.
- Compare or contrast two restaurants.
- Compare or contrast doing research at the library with doing research on the Internet.
- Compare or contrast living on campus with living off campus.
- Compare or contrast raising children in a city and raising children in a small town.