Compare and Contrast Essay

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Compare and contrast essayCompare and contrast essay is a type of essay that is meant to compare any two items and/or contrast them, i.e. analyze them critically finding and pointing out dissimilarities. Typically, such essays can be only comparative, – written with the purpose of looking at similarities only; or they can be contrasting, –aiming to find and point out the differences. In some rare cases they can comprise both comparison and contrast.


Educational Purpose

Compare and contrast essay is a powerful educational tool that teaches students to apply critical analysis, notice similarities and point out differences. This type of essay writing might seem useless and purely ‘theoretical’ at first; nevertheless it helps students to acquire and develop important analytical skills. Every one of us does at least a dozen of compare/contrast operations on a daily basis: from selecting fruit a local grocery story to choosing a piece of clothing, deciding which of the cars to buy or what school to attend. If you take a closer look, you will notice that compare and contrast operations are everywhere. Consequently, learning not only to compare and contrast, but being able to express it clearly, is one of the critical skills to acquire during school and college years.



The structure of a typical compare and contrast essay can change depending on the pattern in takes. Patterns can be two: point-by-point pattern and block pattern. In case of a point-by-point pattern the essay will contain 5 full paragraphs which are the introduction, three body paragraphs and a conclusion. In case of a block pattern the essay will be four paragraphs long and will consist of an introduction, two body paragraphs and a conclusion.


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. 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".


As it has already been mentioned earlier, there are two main ways to organize your compare and contrast essay. The first organization pattern is called point-by-point comparison. This mode of comparison will result in your essay having 5 paragraphs. In it, you will need to consecutively compare and contrast each of the similarities and differences in the given objects. In this case the comparison pattern will take the following form:

  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

Additional Tips on 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, both, too

The cue words signaling contrast are:

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

Post-Writing Phase

You should never consider your essay completed without looking at it in the post-writing phase. As soon as you are done writing, put it aside for a while and take another look at it a little later. A fresh look will allow you to spot errors that have escaped your attention in the past. During a second or a third pass you will also want to improve the style and the flow of your paper, so this stage should never be ignored. Make sure your paper is free of typos – running a spell checker is always useful for this purpose. After you have re-read your paper for a couple of times and made the necessary improvements, the essay is good to go.

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