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How to Write a Compare and Contrast Essay

Many students have experienced the situation of developing a vast and meaningful paper for the first time. However, there are different types of essays, and precisely the question about writing a compare and contrast essay is among the sharpest ones. Therefore, our team has created a detailed guide with examples and additional materials to help students understand the core peculiarities of compare and contrast essay format, structure, outline, and more.

What is a compare and contrast essay?

A compare and contrast essay is a type of academic writing that highlights the ways in which two subjects are similar or different. Comparing the items means finding out the similarities between them, while contrasting is focused on the differences. Accordingly, the content of your paper depends on the purpose of writing, as you either compare or contrast the particular objects and describe the results of it in the paper.

A compare and contrast essay takes a significant place among the common essay types. Teachers frequently assign students with essays of this kind to learn of their attitude to different subjects and abilities to analyze details.

The primary goal of writing a comparing and contrasting essay is to highlight the core aspects of two issues, subjects, events, etc. In other words, the aim is a comparison between subjects. The core particularity of any compare and contrast essay is a deep analysis of each issue.

Many college disciplines assume writing comparison and contrasting essays. Philosophy, history, sociology, psychology, and many others are among them. However, applying this kind of essay is not limited to college or university. Such areas as journalism, politics, marketing, and many others use compare and contrast essays to analyze sharp and sensitive topics.

How to organize the ideas in compare and contrast essay

A compare and contrast essay is unique in the manner of explaining your thoughts to the reader, as there are two ways concerning the organization of the ideas in the main body.

The first one is block arrangement. Each body paragraph is focused on a particular topic and uses the shared aspect(s) to compare it to the other topic. For instance, if you write about two favorite car models and compare them using several aspects (class, speed, size, etc.), you will have to dedicate the first paragraph to highlighting the aspects related to one car only. The second paragraph will be dedicated to describing the same aspects concerning the other car. In the third paragraph, you may write a conclusion based on the evaluation of two topics and their main points. In this way, using block arrangement, you will concentrate on two different topics and highlight the differences or similarities between them comprehensively.

The second one is point-by-point arrangement. Each paragraph is focused on a particular aspect of both topics, which narrows two topics down to patterns. For instance, if you write about the same car models, you will have to dedicate the first paragraph to comparing or contrasting the class of both cars, the second – to their speed, and the third – to their size, and so on. In conclusion, you will evaluate the results of the investigation, suggest potential improvements, or recommend a better car model.

How to write a compare and contrast essay

Speaking about writing a compare and contrast essay, the main recommendation is to dedicate enough time to preparations. The prewriting stage takes time because this type of essay assumes deep analysis that requires extensive research on more than one subject.

Choose the topic wisely

Start preparing to write a comparing and contrasting essay and select the right topic that will inspire you. If some ideas are suggested in the teacher’s guides, choose from them. If the task is brainstorming to generate a unique topic by yourself, use the following recommendations:

  • Note that the topic will define the direction of analysis. Therefore, it would be best if you chose the subject wisely.
  • Use mind mapping if you are more visual than analytical. Go for a digital mind map from one of the apps on the Internet or take a big sheet of paper and draw your ideas. The connections between ideas will help you in analysis.
  • Make a list of core points on each subject, including the minor details, and after, you need to highlight the similarities and differences between them and analyze the information. This could also be one of the ways how to compare and contrast an essay.
  • Use a freewriting technique to let your mind flow and wake up your subconscious for unexpected ideas. To make the process effective, choose the main subject to think over – for example, the best TEDx speeches.

Provide research

One of the significant elements of preparing to writing a comparing and contrasting essay is looking for relevant information on a chosen topic. The research process will take you time as you have to collect data from various sources and do it for both subjects of your comparison.

Start with creating a list of actual sources and writing down all information you can reach easily – for example, blogs, websites, books, magazines, etc. If your subject requires deeper investigation and work with rare data from closed libraries, write these sources down in a separate list.

How to start a compare and contrast essay

After you’ve chosen the method for arranging your essay, it’s time to get started with your writing. What is your main focus in the introduction section?

You need to present two topics that are being contrasted or compared in a short manner. Provide some background, but do not focus on the details, as they are to be highlighted later. Augment your introduction with an effective thesis statement that should present the topic and the argument to the reader. For example:

There is a wide range of benefits provided by Walmart and Safeway, but Safeway is a significantly more appropriate option, as it offers organic produce, ecologically friendly products, and special prices on a great number of goods.

There are different effective ways how to start a compare and contrast essay. Our recommendation is to develop the main thesis. This stage will make a transition from the preparation stage to outlining and drafting.

After you state a practical topic and provide research on both subjects of your paper, you will require developing the core idea that will be highlighted in the text. The best way to generate a main working thesis is by looking for a relation between two subjects of comparison. Note that the main thesis for a compare and contrast essay does not need to be short. You can add 2-4 sentences and use them during writing. Ensure that you have enough arguments to support your main statement/statements.

Compare and contrast essay outline

Creating a compare and contrast essay outline is an important step in writing a paper. Here are the three core types of approachs to structuring an essay:

Points

By comparing your subjects point by point, you will easily define their core aspects and represent them to readers. Each new paragraph must contain new points. This approach makes the essay exciting and informative.

Subjects

If you want to build the comparison by highlighting the similarities and differences of subjects separately, the subject-by-subject approach is what you need. Choose this method to expose each side of both issues consequently.

Comparison

This approach assumes that first, you compare, and after, contrast. This is the most popular approach used by many students. It allows focusing mainly on the differences of the subjects.

To create an effective compare and contrast essay outline, follow the advice and writing tips below. There are four elements to consider:

Introduction

An introduction for a compare and contrast essay must include the following: introduction sentence with a bold statement, rhetorical question, unexpected fact, anecdote, etc. You have to include obligatory information about the goals of writing this essay in the introduction.

And finally, if you know how to write an introduction for a compare and contrast essay, you are aware that you have to include the representation of both subjects of comparison.

Body paragraphs

It’s time to move to the main body. As you remember, there are two methods for organizing your compare and contrast essay – let’s have a closer look at them and analyze some examples.

In block arrangement, begin each body paragraph with a topic sentence that invites the reader’s attention to a particular aspect of the first subject. Considering our first example with Walmart, your topic sentence might sound as follows: Walmart is considered to be one of the cheapest supermarkets thanks to a wide range of special offers and sales offered on a regular basis. Develop a theme based on the topic sentence, and write as many paragraphs as you need to cover all the aspects of the first topic. However, remember that it is not recommended to use more than three aspects. After the first subject is discussed comprehensively, follow the same structure and highlight the second topic.

In point-by-point arrangement, open each body paragraph with a topic sentence that discusses a certain aspect in both topics, and contrasts and compares the manifestation of the aspect in each topic. If you decide to use this arrangement, your topic sentence could be as follows: Walmart offers a wide range of special prices and sales, unlike Safeway, whose products consist of chemicals that bring harmful effects to the ecology. Expand the topic sentence and provide several supporting arguments in each paragraph.

Acknowledgment

This section is not obligatory and could be included in the paper if some opposite points of view relate to the topic. These arguments could influence the goal of writing; therefore, you need to involve them in the text. The closing points of the acknowledgment must lead to the last element of the outline, which is a conclusion.

Conclusion

A conclusion aims to sum up the similarities and differences of both subjects. You must include the highlights and core facts in a summary. Do not add new information. The exception is your ideas for future essays or research.

Your conclusion should consist of three elements: summarizing the main aspects, providing a general evaluation or suggesting future developments, and proving the significance of the topic. Do not repeat any arguments or add any new information, just underline the significance of differences or similarities provided, and show their relevance to your thesis. For example: With its wide range of special prices, Walmart represents a more appropriate place for shopping than Safeway.

Once you have outlined your paper, pay attention to the compare and contrast essay format.

Usually, the teacher provides requirements on the formatting in the instructions. Pay attention to what format is needed: APA, MLA, or Chicago/Turabian. If you do not pay enough attention to the comparing and contrasting essay format, you might score lower grades.

Compare and contrast essay writing video guide

To give you more tips on writing compare and contrast essays, we recommend you watch this video on our YouTube channel:

Stages of writing a compare and contrast essay

Now you know all the essential theories for writing a great compare and contrast essay. It’s time to open a new file in your favorite text editor and get to writing. Follow this step-by-step guide to create an awesome essay:

  1. Carefully consider the topic. The first step toward an effective compare and contrast essay is carrying out research, reviewing the topics available, and choosing two subjects that are worth deeper investigation.
  2. Prepare a list of aspects worthy of comparison. Use it as a basis for evaluating your topics and developing an argument. Can’t find the similarities and differences independently? Drawing a Venn diagram will help you!
  3. Turn the key points into a central statement. Based on the evaluation of two topics, come up with an effective argument and transform it into your thesis sentence. You should explain whether your subjects of choice extend, complicate, correct, contradict, corroborate, or debate with one another. The thesis is a central component of the paper, which is why in this sentence you should explain which subject is better or worse and why. Do not forget to introduce the aspects used for evaluating the topics, as in the following example: Most notably, classical music and jazz differ in tempo, manner of playing, audience, and purpose, yet the two have a close connection, as both satisfy human aesthetic needs in high-quality music.
  4. Work on the basis of the paper: the outline. Sketch out the most important points from the list of similarities and differences and your thesis statement.
  5. Fill in the textual details to augment the outline. After your outline is complete, you should just support each aspect by the evidence from the publications you’ve read or the results of your personal investigation and experience.
  6. Prepare an introduction. It should consist of the hook sentence (extraordinary beginning) and background information on the topic of your choice. Put your thesis statement into the last sentence of the introductory paragraph.
  7. Choose the structure of arranging the arguments in the main body according to the purpose of the paper. For instance, if you want to investigate the differences and similarities between the topics in general, block arrangement will be more appropriate for you. However, if you want to focus on the details and compare them between two topics, then point-by-point arrangement is the best option.
  8. Write body paragraphs according to the chosen structure. Now it’s time to return to the outline provided above and just follow all the points mentioned. Do not forget about topic sentences: they are similarly important in any structure type.
  9. Edit and proofread. Though students often skip this step, we strongly recommend you to dedicate some time and proofread the paper. Omit using a colloquial style, as the way you speak in a day-to-day routine must never be reflected in your academic papers.

Guidelines and Tightening Your Essay

Coming up with an awesome topic offhand can be quite difficult, so here are the examples of topics that represent a great choice for this type of academic writing.

Private vs. public educational institutions: which type provides a better quality of education?
Soda water vs. energy drink: compare and contrast their benefits and impacts.
Living in the city vs. living on the farm: compare modern tendencies with earlier times.
Being a manager vs. being a leader: compare and contrast their functions and qualities.

Some more handpicked compare and contrast essay topics

We understand that creating topics for compare and contrast essays is not accessible. Therefore we want to help you with many practical and correctly stated issues. Find our ideas for you below:

  1. Compare the first mission to the Moon and the second one.
  2. What similarities exist between the world before 2020 and after it?
  3. How can Star Trek be related to Star Wars?
  4. What differences and similarities exist between in-person conversations and texting?
  5. Compare and contrast the influence of working out and dieting on a person’s weight.
  6. Find the similarities and differences between Apple TV and Netflix.
  7. Compare and contrast the prerequisites of World War I and World War II.
  8. What similarities exist between agoraphobia and claustrophobia?
  9. Compare and contrast the Ego and Superego.
  10. What differences and similarities exist between autism and down syndrome?

Mistakes to avoid while writing a compare and contrast essay

When all preparations are done, it’s time to get to writing. Oh, wait, here’s one more thing to consider before you start: the following is a list of mistakes you want to avoid preemptively. Make sure you don’t:

  • Start the paper without a distinct idea in mind. This mistake is the most glaring, as it influences the logical organization of the ideas and can leave your paper without any significant results from comparing and contrasting.
  • Try to connect two organizational methods. In each compare and contrast essay, the structure is the most important component. Choose either block or point-by-point arrangement before writing, not during the process.
  • Fail to select a proper topic. Make sure that your topic is specific enough to provide you with a broad field for analysis and comparison. Do not choose widely discussed topics, as it would be difficult to make your paper plagiarism-free.
  • Defend a subjective point of view. Even if you are sure that one item is significantly better in comparison with the other, you should use relevant facts to support your position and stay objective.
  • Choose two equal subjects for comparison. It does not really matter whether your items are similarly good, bad, beneficial, or harmful, but if they really are equal, then exploring which of them is better would be a real challenge.
  • Forget to link the ideas with transitional words. In a compare and contrast essay, connectives carry out very specific functions: they do not only make the flow of ideas logical, but also help the writer to switch the focus from one point to the other.
  • Ignore the demands of academic style. Remember that your essay should be written in a formal language (without slang and conversational expressions), plagiarism-free, and without any grammar, punctuation, and spelling mistakes.

Compare and contrast essay writing checklist

And finally, let’s go through a short checklist before you submit your paper to make sure everything is perfect.

– Have you provided brief background information on the topics being compared or contrasted?
– Is your background information precise and laconic?
– Have you included the thesis statement into the last sentence of the introduction? Does your thesis contain an argument that you defend?
– Have you used evidence to support each idea presented in body paragraphs?
– Have you chosen a proper method for idea arrangement (point-by-point or block) and followed it comprehensively?
– Does your method of organizing ideas correspond to the example provided in the outline?
– Does your conclusion consist of three key components – summary of the main aspects, general evaluation of the topics, and significance of the comparison and contrast?
– Do the results of your investigation have any practical value and meet the requirements of the audience?

Compare and contrast essay sample to see the structure

We have prepared for you the following text to help understand the core principles of writing such essays. In addition, you can check this great sample of a compare and contrast essay on our blog.

Online vs Face-to-Face Learning

Internet-based technological advances have transformed the academic world throughout the past two decades by developing online learning methods, which effectively reduce significant barriers that previously hindered access to higher education by promoting a more affordable and accommodating alternative to traditional learning (Hurlbut 249). Traditional or face-to-face instruction is still widely viewed as the gold-standard method of education, based on the assumption by educators that there are considerable differences in the quality and outcomes in online instruction and learning compared to traditional education (Hurlbut 249). Contrary to this assumption that face-to-face instruction facilitates superior quality and academic outcomes, research has consistently found that students enrolled in online courses perform equally as well or better in comparison to students enrolled in face-to-face classes, with researchers suggesting this trend will continue to increase over time (Hurlbut 249; Shachar and Neumann 326; Wu 9).

The debate over traditional versus online learning as the preferred method of education has persisted for over 20 years, as each successful finding presents new challenges and considerations for each method (Hurlbut 251). Through close examination of research regarding these methods and academic outcomes, researchers have consistently found that, on average, there is little difference between the method of instruction and academic achievement (251). Other researchers have found that students enrolled in online courses frequently outperform their counterparts enrolled in traditional courses. Researchers suggest this trend will continue throughout the next decade as colleges and universities increase online delivery methods into their curriculum (Hurlbut 248; Shachar and Neumann 326; Wu 9).

Nonetheless, most empirical research has found no significant differences in academic outcomes between face-to-face and online students, which suggests that unobserved factors may significantly affect student performance and educational outcomes regardless of which method of course instruction the student receives. A primary factor that has been substantially correlated to student success for online and face-to-face instructional formats is the student’s self-regulatory processes, or the student’s psychological, motivational, and behavioral processes used to achieve a specific academic goal (Wandler and Imbriale 1).

A student who actively engages in self-regulatory processes closely considers how they learn and which strategies will be most effective in achieving goals of academic success (Wandler and Imbriale 1). For instance, a student who engages in self-regulatory processes can effectively manage their time to complete a task, use specific strategies needed to complete the task, and seek help from others if necessary (1). However, students with limited self-regulatory skills may not recognize the importance of time management, organization, or help-seeking strategies, which significantly impacts the student’s performance and ability to succeed (Wandler and Imbriale 2).

Since its inception over 20 years ago, internet-based education programs have revolutionized the higher education system, offering an affordable and more accommodating alternative to traditional or face-to-face instructional methods. The debate between which delivery method of instruction is superior in facilitating higher student performance and academic achievement has led to widespread research, which has consistently found that, on average, students enrolled in online courses performed as well or better than their counterparts enrolled in face-to-face instructional formats. Therefore, it is imperative to shift away from deciding which instruction method is better or worse and instead provide students with the skills and strategies necessary to thrive regardless of the method of instruction.

Works Cited

Hurlbut, Amanda. “Online vs. Traditional Learning in Teacher Education: A Comparison of Student Progress.” American Journal of Distance Education 32.4 (2021): 248–266.
Schachar, Mickey, and Neumann, Yoram. “Twenty Years of Research on the Academic Performance Differences Between Traditional and Distance Learning: Summative Meta-Analysis and Trend Examination.” MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching 6.2 (2010). 318-334.10.12691.
Wandler, Jacob, and William Imbriale. “Promoting College Student Self-Regulation in Online Learning Environments.” Journal of Online Learning 21.2 (2021): 1–16. 10.24059/olj.v21i2.881.
Wu, D. Derek. “Online Learning in Postsecondary Education: A Review of the Empirical Literature (2013-2014).” Ithaka Strategies and Research. https://doi.org/10.18665/sr.221027.

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What else can we do for you for writing a great essay?

After reading our detailed guide, I hope that you know how to create an essay that will impress your professors in a good way. Take a look at more materials from our blog. For example, you can read the list of compare and contrast essay topics or samples of a compare and contrast essays.

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