Compare and Contrast Essay

Updated: Mar 22, 2016

Comparison/contrast essay help you to hone your writing, analytical and observation skills. The more comparison/contrast essays you write, the better you are at it.

What is Compare and Contrast Essay?

Unlike other types of essays, compare and contrast essays are used to explore both the similarities and the differences between two subjects by comparing and/or contrasting them against each other.

Educational Value of Comparing and Contrasting

The three main functions of the compare and contrast essays are: organize information, teach something new, make things memorizable and comprehensible

Compare and contrast essays see so much use because comparing and contrasting two subjects is one of the most natural forms of human thinking.

As a result, it makes things easier to understand for most people, meaning that they can progress further into their studies in exchange for less time as well as less effort.

Better still, comparing and contrasting can use existing knowledge as a tool with which to teach something new, which can turn even the most challenging of subjects into something both comprehensible and memorizable. Finally, comparing and contrasting is a useful tool for processing information into a neat and organized form, making it useful not just for academic writing but also life in general.

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How to Structure Compare and Contrast Essays

To serve their particular purposes in an effective manner, compare and contrast essays must communicate in an efficient manner. This means that compare and contrast essays should start with an opening paragraph, which will directly state what the writer is trying to say. Afterward, they can move onto the body, which will support the opening paragraph by providing supporting evidence. Once the supporting evidence has been listed, compare and contrast essays can conclude by reemphasizing their opening paragraphs in order to produce a lasting impression on the mind of the reader.

Comparative Analysis

With that said, compare and contrast essays cannot be completed without conducting a comparative analysis, which the writer can use to lay out their thoughts about the subjects before sorting them into a neat and organized form. Fortunately, this process is as simple as creating a Venn diagram before filling it with the characteristics of the subjects, while making sure to put shared characteristics in the overlapping area. Once the writer is satisfied with their brainstorming, they can sort through the characteristics for the ones with the most relevance to the point that they are trying to make, which is important because weaker arguments can actually drag down their stronger counterparts when placed in the same essay.

Pre-Writing Phase

Students are normally assigned a topic to write on; yet sometimes professors give their students the freedom of selecting the topic on their own. In the latter case choosing an essay topic can become a challenge. While working on the topic selection it is important not to choose two totally unrelated subjects, otherwise finding similarities can get problematic. Start out with a subject that has some basic similarities, e.g. two novels, two paintings, speeches etc. Here are some sample topics for compare and contrast essays:

Simple topics:

  • Compare an apple with an orange – what do they have in common? What are the differences?
  • What is better – an American or a Japanese car?

Difficult topics:

  • Compare features of iPad3 and Samsung Galaxy Tab and determine which is more functional? Why?
  • Compare DNA sequences of chimps and humans. What are the similarities and what are the differences?

Once you have chosen what to write on, brainstorm for ideas and try to write down every single one of them, choosing those that are relevant for the topic. You might want to divide your sheet of paper into two main sections and start jotting down everything that comes to your mind, including similarities and differences.

Venn Diagram - An Effective Tool for Writing Comparison and Compare Essays 

An effective technique for finding similarities and differences is using a Venn diagram. A Venn diagram is a scheme that represents logical relations between two objects. Graphically it can be depicted as two overlapping circles, each of the circles denoting some entity. The overlapping part is the area denoting similarities, while the parts that do not overlap, are the differences (see Fig. 1).

Venn Diagram: Compare Apples and Oranges (Compare and Contrast Essay)

Fig. 1. Venn Diagram: Compare Apples and Oranges (Compare and Contrast Essay)

A very important point in writing an effective compare and contrast essay is correct selection of the lines of comparison: if you are comparing two objects, you should be comparing them against one and the same parameter. For example, looking at the picture above you will see that oranges and apples are compared in regards to things like origin, place of growth, thickness of peel etc. All of these features are inherent in both objects. If you say that an apple is different from an orange because an apple is green and the orange is juicy, you will be “comparing apples and oranges” – this time in the figurative meaning of "likening two incomparable things".

Organization: Typical Structure of a Compare and Contrast Essay

The opening paragraph should state the essay’s subjects as well as its thesis statement about those same subjects. From that point on, the body of a compare and contrast essay tends to be structured in one of two ways:

  • First, a writer can list the characteristics of one subject and then the characteristics of the other before bringing them together by analyzing their similarities and differences. This means that the body of the essay will begin with a number of paragraphs about one subject, continue with a similar number of paragraphs about the other subject, and then finish with a crucial paragraph that will use the listed characteristics to compare and contrast the two subjects.
  • Second, a writer can list the similarities between the subjects and then the differences between the same. This means that the body of the essay will begin with a number of paragraphs about their similarities and finish with a number of paragraphs about their differences. With this structure, there is no need for an analysis at the end because its content is spread throughout the preceding paragraphs.
  1. Introduction
  2. Origin
    • Apples
    • Oranges
  3. Climate
    • Apples
    • Oranges
  4. Peel
    • Apples
    • Oranges

Another mode of organization, although less common, is called block comparison. According to this pattern, you will be required to separate the body of your compare and contrast essay in two parts. The first part of the body will be dedicated to Object A, while the other half will be centered around Object B. Together with the introduction and the conclusion, the overall essay length will be 4 paragraphs. In case of block comparison the overall essay structure will take the following form:

  1. Introduction
  2. Oranges
    • Origin
    • Climate
    • Peel
  3. Apples
    • Origin
    • Climate
    • Peel

Once the body of the essay is complete, its conclusion should restate the thesis statement but in a more confident manner because it has proven its point. Sometimes, a conclusion will summarize the preceding paragraphs for a bolder and blunter emphasis, while other times, a conclusion will let them provide their support in a more implicit manner.

Additional Tips on Essay Writing

Connection words and phrases that can and should be used for compare and contrast essay writing

An important thing about writing any essay is using special cue words that will make your essay more coherent and logical. In case of a compare and contrast essay you will need to use cue words signifying comparison, for example:

Like, compared to, similar to, similarly, by analogy, likewise, in the same way, as well as, both, too, at the same time, correspondingly, in addition, same as...

The cue words signaling contrast are:

Unlike, conversely, however, nevertheless, still, although, while, but, even though, although, despite, yet, regardless, on the one hand … one the other hand

Post-Writing Phase:

Once the first draft of an essay is complete, it is time for the writer to put on the finishing touches:


Proofreading is key factor, because errors can break the reader from the flow of the essay, thus robbing it of its power to persuade. Writers should always read through their own work to check for typos, spelling errors, grammar errors, as well as lines that should be rephrased for a better result. However, they should also get other people to proofread for them because their closeness to their writing can make it hard for them to pick up on its problems. After all, they already know what they are trying to say, meaning that they are not looking at their work with the same perspective as the reader.


References are a useful way to increase an essay’s power to persuade so long as they are appropriately authoritative. For example, referencing a politician is probably not going to be much use in a philosophy essay unless it is in the context of their philosophical writings. Furthermore, references are needed to use someone else’s arguments without taking credit for them in the process, which is necessary to prevent plagiarism. Not coincidentally, this also makes it easy for the reader to check the sources so that they will know, that somebody really said so, if the reader is skeptical. Finally, references should be done in the style that is appropriate for the essay’s subjects for the convenience of different people in different fields. For example, most essays about the sciences should use APA, while most essays about the humanities should use MLA since those are the conventions.

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